Years ago, whilst working as piano teacher, I noticed that many beginner students seemed to struggle with one particular thing. Focusing so hard on playing the notes on the page, they would rush from one to the next without allowing them to last their full length, often ignoring the rests altogether. It was as if the notes were all that mattered. It generally took a little while of learning and a bit more confidence for the person to become as comfortable about not-playing as playing. For a recognition to emerge that it was only through allowing everything to take the exact amount of time it needed – even if that meant waiting in silence* – that the piece of music could come alive.
Over the years I’ve noticed a similar tendency showing up in all sorts of other places. The sneaking suspicion that if we’re not doing something, we should be. The inclination to rush from one event from the next, as if it is only when conscious effort is involved that progress is being made.
Through playing eQuoo – The Emotional Fitness Game (created by recent podcast guest, Silja Litvin), I discovered that there’s a name for this tendency to think that doing something is better than doing nothing: the Action Bias.
Whether the pressure to act comes from within ourselves – as an attempt to escape uncomfortable feelings of uncertainty – or from others – like the goalkeeper who chooses to jump right or left in the face of a penalty shoot-out (despite the fact that statistically-speaking it would be better to stand still) simply because ‘doing something’ is expected – it can be hard to resist. And yet, it is so often from times of not-doing that good things emerge.
So here’s to allowing. To silence. To patience. To a willingness to tolerate uncertainty. Here’s to sitting through discomfort. To trusting the process. To planting a seed and allowing it to grow (without feeling the need to dig it up repeatedly, just to check that something’s happening). Not that I’ve ever done that, of course…
*Oh go on then. I can’t help resist linking to this. The ultimate in musical silence. (Some of the YouTube comments are pretty entertaining too…)