The Power of Positive Framing: Dos and Don’ts

from Anne Timberlake’s blog

Don’t think about an elephant!

Especially not its long trunk. And definitely don’t think about its grey ears. No tusks either!

Is it working? 

I’ll wager a recorder or two that the answer is no, and that there’s a large pachyderm currently sitting atop your consciousness.

It’s not your fault, of course—it’s the way our brains work. In trying to avoid thinking about something, or trying to avoid doing something, you’re automatically activating the mental representation of whatever it is you’re trying to escape.

And for those of us who are trying to break a bad playing habit, that’s a significant obstacle.

Fortunately there’s a simple solution.

Think of a gorilla.

Black fur, long arms, agile fingers…. Now the elephant is gone.

How does this translate to recorder playing? When I’m seeking to break a student’s bad habit, I’m most effective when I frame the task positively. Rather than asking the student not to do something, I ask the student to do something else.

Action as opposed to avoidance, doing as opposed to not doing. This can be a magical reframe. Instead of working to avoid an undesirable behavior (a difficult and often dispiriting task), the student is instead working toward adopting a desirable behavior (a challenging but inspiring task). A do, not a don’t.

Instead of asking a student to stop making breath accents, I ask for a beautiful and consistent airstream.

Instead of telling a student to stop rushing, I invite them to pay attention to every subdivision of the beat.

In my own playing, one of my struggles is not to break character so quickly at the ends of pieces and movements.

Recently, I realized I needed a reframe, and now, instead of working on not flinging down the instrument too soon, I’m working toward enjoying that particular stillness after the final note.