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  • Writer's pictureDavid Lane

The Reality of Trade-Offs: Decisions and Their Flipsides

(This is a revision of a post originally posted on my old blog on August 2, 2018)

While teaching lessons, I once found myself with an hour break to walk over to the nearby mall and do some quick browsing. I happened to walk past a gourmet cookie bakery. I went in with the intention of just getting a simple modest chocolate cookie, but instead I got a giant cookie with lemon icing, a $2 cookie! This photo isn't the very same cookie, but it's pretty close.

Yummy Lemon Cookie

The first bite was GREAT! Soft, sweet, lemony. I started eating it the moment I walked out of the cookie store as I headed towards the other end of the mall. I continued to eat as I walked. By the time I had passed 5 stores, let's say 200 feet at the most, the thrill was GONE! I was left with a few tremors and a feeling of guilt for shoving that whole thing in my mouth. It was a matter of time before I felt a total lack of energy after the sugar crash set in. Worst of all, the pleasure of the taste (the WHOLE reason I got it in the first place) was over! With this experience in my memory, I could approach a cookie like that right now, and ask myself one question before buying it. Is the 2-minutes of joy this cookie brings worth the hour or more of misery that will follow? Well, that's an easy answer when I phrase it like that. But when I want the easy craving at the time, I forget to step back and just ask: What's the trade-off here? And is it worth it? Wait! Isn't this a MUSIC blog? What does eating a giant cookie have to do with music? Bear with me. I'll get there eventually. Every decision...not nearly every decision, but EVERY decision in life comes with at least one trade-off.

Understanding ALL sides of Decisions

A trade-off is also known as the flip side. You can't do everything at once. Making a choice to do something denies you that chance to do something else. Back in the early days of TV, before streaming, before internet, before DVR, before VCR or other video recording, if you had time at 8pm to sit down to watch a television show, you had to choose which one to watch with the knowledge that you were not watching the other choices (at first, only 2, but later more). Here are some more examples.

  • Staying at home means you can't go to the beach. Going to the beach means you can't just stay home.

  • In NC, going to the mountains means you don't go to the beach (at least at the same time), and vice versa.

But those aren't great examples, because you're not making a hard choice in any case. What about when there's a harder choice? You have to address the decision in a way that lets you know the flipside and the consequences if any. For example:

  • I love the taste of sodas, and sometimes I just CRAVE one. I also happen to know that soda-drinking is one of the biggest triggers for causing me to get canker sores in my mouth. I almost never get them when I stay away from soda. So, would I rather have the few minutes of sweet taste, or avoid the not-certain-but-more-likely days of pain that will follow?

  • I like eating out. I also need to save money, and don't particularly like taking time to pack a lunch. What do I want more, the convenience of eating out or saving some money for something more meaningful?

  • This video I'm watching is really interesting, but it's getting very late, and I have to get up early in the morning. Is the enjoyment of the video worth the price of not getting much sleep?

You see where this is going? Making decisions requires mindfulness. Any decision has at least one trade-off if you take time to think about it. SO, what are the trade-offs related to your choices regarding practicing your music?

  • If you watch a television episode instead of practicing, you're making the decision that the entertainment and escapism is more important than the opportunity to get better at your instrument. Is that true?

  • If you play a video game instead of practicing, you're making the same choice. Is your goal to be really good at video games, or really good at your instrument?

  • Time at your instrument spent just playing old favorites is time that you could be spending working on your more challenging new music. You're choosing comfort over challenge. It's a common choice, but the trade-off of comfort is to not make progress.

  • If your time is diluted with such a variety of extracurricular activities other than music (martial arts, sports, church, drama, etc), you are accepting that you will most likely be acquainted with many experiences, but be less likely to get really good at any of them. I'm not attacking this lifestyle. It's certainly possible that you are okay with this. For many people, knowing a little of everything is more important than being selectively focused on a very few things. But have you at least considered this trade-off and decided if it's what you really want?

In summary: You can't do everything you want or even need. Giving your time to one thing means not giving it to something else. Striving for comfort denies yourself the struggle that makes you better. Sometimes, you may want to dial it down and enjoy that video game or TV show because the pleasure is worth missing the chance to improve at your instrument, at least for that one day every now and then. Sometimes you need the satisfaction of affirming your favorite pieces you've already learned more than learning something new. But I challenge you to at least BE aware of it. You can do just about anything you want, as long as you recognize what it is you're giving up in exchange, and are convinced that you've made the best choice.

This post and the associated podcast is sponsored by The Unstoppable Singer Summit, a free virtual event for singers who want to overcome the starving artist mentality. There are 45 speakers over 3 days (May 15-17). Registration is required and you can do so here:

You can listen to the Episode 21 of The Musician Toolkit here:

Or watch on YouTube here:


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