That’s me – playing my cello in Central Park!
When I tell people that I have two parallel, seemingly unrelated careers – one as a math mastery mentor/joyful learning expert, and the other as a bad-ass cello diva and pioneering performer – it’s not uncommon for their eyes to light up and for them to exclaim, “OF COURSE! Math and music are SO connected! That makes so much sense. It’s normal if you’re good at one to be good at the other!”
But… to be totally honest… the ways I experience math and music, they’re so, so different from each other. And I spent a LOT of my life in environments where I didn’t think I was “good at” either of them.
So it took me a while to realize the connection between the two.
The way I LEARN music and the way I LEARN math? It’s the exact same process.
And it’s the exact same process I guide my students through.
And this mastery process is REALLY different from almost all of my formal math education and musical training, which involved a lot of:
bludgeoning yourself with the material until your eyes glaze over
overloading your brain
trying to be perfect
relying exclusively on analysis, verbalization, and intellectualization
trying to meet someone else’s pace
stumbling through it even though you didn’t really get it
not even realizing how disconnected you were from the material because you were just superficially “learning” everything
feeling fundamentally flawed and ashamed
worrying that “I don’t have what it takes”
Suffice it to say, this approach did not work for me!!! And I’ve found it doesn’t work for my students either.
However, I have discovered a process that actually DOES work for me – and for my math students.
And it’s sooooo different from what I just described.
It’s like a completely different mindset.
It’s so different that I actually named it.
THE MASTERY MINDSET.
Here are the elements of a MASTERY MINDSET:
First. Adopt a growth mindset. Believe (or, if that seems impossible, you can just start with being willing to consider the possibility) that what you’re trying to do is not about talent. Whether it’s math or music, it can be mastered with incremental, deliberate, and persistent effort.
Second. Have a FLOW orientation. What I mean by this is, you want to stay in the “sweet spot” between being bored (it’s too easy) and being overwhelmed (it’s too hard). If you’re bored or anxious, nothing’s wrong with you – you just need to adjust what you’re doing so it’s harder or easier, as necessary.
Third. Incrementalization. Just take a sweet little morsel of material at a time. Just one little piece. Practice it until it becomes internalized, automatic. Until it becomes part of your body, part of your being. Then add a little chunk onto that. Continue this slow and steady process and you will find you are extremely prepared.
As an example, the way I used to learn music, I’d sit for hours in front of a music stand playing a piece from the printed music. Trying to figure out the tricky parts with my mind. So much mental effort, so much time, but it didn’t result in true security or true mastery. Covering the score in instructions and sticky notes. I listen to recordings from that period in my life and I can literally hear myself worrying.
Now, I don’t use a music stand or try to learn a big chunk at a time. I put the music on the floor, and I’ll lean over and play just a measure or two. Then I’ll practice just that, only looking at the music when I need to, until it’s automatic.
Then, when I’m away from the music and my instrument, I visualize the physical motions of playing that little chunk. The next day, when I’m back at my instrument, I check that that little bit is still internalized, and then I’ll add a little bit on.
If there’s a tricky part, I let my body find a solution with its own experiments. If a solution doesn’t come right away, I don’t freak out about it or try to force anything. I just trust that over time a way to do it beautifully will emerge from continuing to engage.
While it might seem “slower,” it results in deep, unshakeable preparation, and performances full of power and conviction. And, in the end, I’ve found I learn the material WAY faster.
Fourth. Let it be pleasurable. This might sound crazy, but there’s an additional piece I think is necessary to a mastery mindset: deciding to let it be pleasurable.
For one thing, the first three things – having a growth mindset, a flow orientation, and incrementalizing all create an intrinsically enjoyable learning experience.
And, additionally, I have found that deciding to do things in a way that is deliberately pleasurable creates deeper learning and also gently feeds your own enthusiasm.
This is great way to keep yourself from reverting to old “non-mastery” conditioning of overloading yourself, overworking, or trying to match someone else’s pace.
If you find yourself start to go into that, stop. Ask yourself, how can I do this in a way that is pleasurable?
Deciding to let my learning be pleasurable has completely supercharged my musical ability and my performances, and completely changed my experience of learning math. Like, I no longer allow myself to do the old things that didn’t work, because “this is not pleasurable” is a giant red flag that I am reverting to old patterns.
All of the energy that was going into the stuff that doesn’t work (slaving, bludgeoning yourself, hating on yourself, feeling like you don’t have what it takes) can be released. When it doesn’t suck anymore, all of that energy you spent on resisting doing it because it sucked is now freed up for you to actually learn, and enjoy what you’re learning.
Fifth. You become a mastery-seeking person. Once you experience true mastery, you no longer want to settle for “just getting through it” or going through the motions or having something finished to turn in. Now that you’ve tasted what it’s like to really, deeply internalize something, you start to seek that in all of your learning experiences.
Would you like your passionate, creative kid to be mentored in developing their own mastery mindset with math and with life? Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll get you started with my very special application process to explore whether my magical one-on-one math tutoring programs are a fit for you and your family!
Don’t back down
What changes when someone believes in you?
I just can’t keep this a secret any longer
Do you wish your kid could feel like Albert Einstein?