When my daughter was born, I learned about FTT (failure to thrive), which refers to decelerated or arrested physical growth in infants.

But how about decelerated or arrested spiritual growth? Am I thriving and happy? Am I growing? Or am I just surviving?

Do my circumstances dictate whether I survive or thrive?

In this past month of continued intensity, I’ve learned two things: survival is motivated by fear, thriving by love. The choice is mine to make.

In the midst of generally thriving as a teenager, I chose to live in fear for 3 hours a day—morning and afternoon swim practice—with a coach who motivated with an intensity threat that crushed my energy. Every day I entered the pool with the fear that I wouldn’t survive the killer 6-mile workouts, or that my chest would be pounded yet again by his finger of steel. I marveled at my teammates who simply thrived (and kept our decades-long winning streak), fed by a higher energy inaccessible from my realm of fear.

If only I had known then that I had the choice to switch my focus from fear of imminent muscle failure to love of moving through water.

From surviving to thriving

Think about the times where you performed for a teacher or conductor who threatened you on any level. We’ve all been there. Survival is always the first priority. I retreated into the safety of the practice room and  practiced more. But how I practiced slowed my progress greatly. I learned how to play notes primarily from a fear of screwing up in performance. It wasn’t much fun, and was certainly a lot slower.

When I practice out of fear I waste time and energy:

  • wishing that things were other than they are.
  • fighting through mental, physical, and emotional tensions.
  • worrying about the future (or practicing failure in advance).

But when I practice with love instead of fear, everything simply goes much better. Yes, I still have to learn the same frustrating passage, but I have the choice of how I go about mastering it.

Here are 5 practical ways to thrive in your practice with love:

  1. Start with warm ups that feed your love of creating sound rather than starving it.
  2. Continue with music that first softens then broadens your heart. Feel your energy begin to rise.
  3. Give yourself the permission to fail or make mistakes even more than the day before. When you give yourself that allowance, subtle relaxation leads to greater and more rapid success.
  4. Ride the upward virtuous cycle of enjoyment, relaxation, and deeper focus (repeat).
  5. Do something new everyday outside of your musical practice: a new challenge, a new recipe, a new anything. This simple habit will help you stretch beyond what you think is possible.

In addition to practicing for upcoming performances, I’m back in the pool, pushing myself with new workouts and faster times, grateful for the opportunity to practice the love I have of movement through the water, the love I have of progress.

I choose to love. I choose to thrive.

The Choice to Survive or Thrive

3 thoughts on “The Choice to Survive or Thrive

  • March 30, 2019 at 9:55 pm

    Excellent post. Lessons to learn for life, for sure!

  • March 31, 2019 at 10:05 am

    Beautiful post! Shared on Sing Portland’s FB page. Thanks David!

  • April 2, 2019 at 2:45 pm

    David, I love this. When I was a runner I faced this for years and years and years. I remember a long run at Rancho San Antonio on the SF Peninsula where I was beating myself up for not feeling perfectly wonderful. Finally I heard Yogananda’s voice, concerned, relaxed, bemused: “You’re making it a lot harder than it has to be.” When I learned to work within the reality of the day, nudging my edges, the great miracle happened: I had many, many happy runs without that unfortunate tension.

    Same for just about everything in my life with spiritual practice. I always find God closer when I can relax and work within my realities and bring God THERE instead of assuming that I must always be a little bit better than I am, a little farther ahead, always measuring up to a standard that is (of course) just out of reach.

    Anyhow, you’re not alone. Thank you for this.


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