The street on which I lived as a child was on a moderate hill – not overly steep, but enough that you certainly knew you were walking up a hill. Our street fitted in with another to form a circle, so there were always two different ways to get home. The most direct way involved walking up the hill. The less direct way meant walking up more of the hill (in the other direction) and then turning and walking downhill for a while to reach the house. This was a bit of a no-brainer when walking, but riding a bike was a different story.
Which way to go? The shorter hill, right? Nope! Not for me. I needed to finish on that downhill run. I would choose to have a longer uphill ride just so I had that wonderful, free feeling of flying downhill at the end. As a bonus, I didn’t reach home tired and out of breath.
Yummy dinner and vegetables. When you’re a child, those two things rarely go together. But we have to eat our veggies. So what do we do? My mother used to tell the story of being shut in the bathroom until she ate her peas. She would pop them one by one down the floor drain. At other times she would hide them under her mashed potatoes and on a really good night, she would manage to slide the potatoes (with hidden peas) onto her brother’s plate. The mashed potato story stayed with me and I quickly learnt that if I ate my veggies first – if I was lucky, covered with potato or gravy – then I could enjoy the rest of the meal without the vegetable concern hanging over my head. I still eat my veggies first.
So what does this have to do with playing the piano? More specifically, practising the piano?
The peak-end rule states that our evaluation of past experiences tend to be based on their most intense point (best or worst), and how they end. In a 1993 study, Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman and colleagues asked a group of people to place their hands in uncomfortably cold water, but in two slightly different conditions. In one condition they had to keep their hand submerged in 14°C water for 60 seconds (which is not exactly comfortable). In another condition they were asked to place their hand in 14°C water for 60 seconds, but then leave it there for an additional 30 seconds while the temperature was gradually raised to 15°C. While 15°C is still unpleasant , is noticeably less painful than 14°C.
Given a choice, you would expect most people would choose the 60 seconds of pain rather than 60 seconds of pain + 30 more seconds of slightly reduced pain, right? But no. When given a choice of which trial to repeat, 69% of the participants chose to repeat the longer one – apparently perceiving that experience to be better overall, because of how the ending altered their perspective. Like riding up a longer hill just to experience the downhill run at the end.
We can use this philosophy to make piano practise less of a chore and make it easier to get ourselves to practise again. Save the best for last. Have a piece that you enjoy playing sitting on the piano ready for you to turn to once the more challenging parts of practise are over. Or finish practise with the piece that requires the least work. Set yourself up so that you end practise on a positive note and you will feel much more inclined to practise again the next day.
If you are considering music lessons for your child or for yourself, please contact me to discuss the options. Piano lessons are conducted at my studio in Wallsend, NSW.