I say it in lessons all the time, science has a LOT to teach us about our lives as musicians. As a saxophonist, I refer to acoustics and physics almost daily, as I find it fascinating to see how science and music interact in a physical way through my instrument and my actions, but I think we can also take a lot from science when it comes to how we approach our careers and lifestyles too.
I’m going to use some of Sir Isaac Newton’s laws of physics to help me out today.
Disclaimer: Please also remember I am not a physicist as we do this. The point is not to do with me being a scientist, but rather to look at some laws of science that can make sense in our lives too.
SCIENCE # 1: NEWTON’S FIRST LAW:
Inertia. A body at rest tends to stay at rest, and a body in motion tends to stay in motion unless acted on by a net external force.
Prime example: your practice routine!
When you take a break from practicing for a few days/weeks/years, (hopefully not years if you’re planning to make a career from making music), how difficult is it to get back into the practice room and get started? It’s HARD right? The longer you are away from your instrument, the harder it is to get back to it. – A body at rest tends to stay at rest.
On the other hand, when you have a regular practice routine mapped out and you’re consistently into the swing of things, how easy is it to keep going? A body in motion tends to stay in motion.
Ha! If only it were that easy. But here’s the thing – you can use this law of inertia to your advantage. Do you ever feel like you’re in a rut and just CANNOT get motivated to start on a project that you know is going to require ongoing effort? Like, perhaps, a blog? If you do feel this way, you can actually activate this concept of “a body in motion tends to stay in motion” by doing something really small. Once you take that first step toward being in motion, it gets easier to keep moving forward. You literally just have to start and you’re on the way.
Of course nothing comes freely in the world, and the challenge with this comes when you face resistance in the process – this is when our motivation and momentum disappear- thanks to the pesky end of that law – unless acted on by a net external force.
Steven Pressfield talks about resistance in his book “The war of art” and I think he is addressing this “net external force” when he talks about “resistance”. Gay Hendricks calls this our “upper limit problem”, and honestly, its something that we ALL face, regularly. The thing to remember with this law, is that if you are experiencing that net external force or resistance while you are in motion, taking action, Newton states that you WILL STAY in motion.
SCIENCE #2. NEWTON’S SECOND LAW:
The acceleration of an object as produced by a net force is directly proportional to the magnitude of the net force, in the same direction as the net force, and inversely proportional to the mass of the object. Also known as F=ma
After reading that at least 35 times, (and googling “Newton’s second law – easy edition” because I haven’t studied any science since 12th grade), this basically means that the amount of acceleration you need to move an object is determined by its mass and force. Clearer right?
Yeah I know, let me explain this one.
We’re going to have to understand a little bit about the formula; F(force) = m(mass) x a(acceleration), so just stick with me.
This equation explains that in order to work out how much force you need to apply to an object, you have to understand not only the mass or weight of the object, but also the direction you want it to move (acceleration).
Looking at it another way, in order for you to accelerate an object in a specific direction , you need to account for both the mass, and the force required. For example; you have a heavy boulder to move. In order to work out how much force you need to apply, you have to understand its mass (is it a boulder made of rock, or a faux boulder?), and also the direction you’re trying to send it – is it going uphill, downhill or on a flat surface?
This formula actually works perfectly for us in terms of career trajectory. If you want to know how much work/force to put into the development of a project/skill/lifestyle, you need to understand a couple of things – what is the mass of the project (how BIG is it?), and what is your end goal? What is the direction/acceleration of the work?
Flipped around, if you know the scope/size of the project (mass) – you need to pay attention to not only how hard to work (force), but also to where that work is being applied (direction).
BOOM! Science! (again)
SCIENCE #3: NEWTON’S THIRD LAW:
For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction
THIS SCIENCE IS MY FAVOURITE OF ALL THE SCIENCES!
This third law is honestly what keeps me together much of the time. I mentioned Gay Hendricks’ book The Big Leap earlier, and this book was what introduced me to the idea of resistance, and helped me understand that progress is HARD (and that’s ok). It was the first time I’d heard this law used outside of the science lab, and I immediately integrated it into my thinking.
Newton’s law states that for every action you take, there is an equally opposing reaction that pushes back. There is pushback or resistance in equal measure. We all talk about life as a balance, and this is the equilibrium of your actions.
In a career, or in the practice room, this translates to “The bigger the goal, the harder the work“. I hope this isn’t surprising to anyone, but the reason I LOVE this third law is the permission and freedom it gives me when I’m hitting a wall.
Let me explain.
Since thinking about this concept, I have tuned in to my own responses to a lot of things in my work. One of these is the feeling that something is “hard”. When I am working on something that feels difficult, I have taught myself to think less about the fact that it is challenging me, and more on the idea that the pushback/resistance I’m feeling is because the task I am trying to complete is bigger than I have experienced previously.
When I am receiving a large amount of resistance to a project that I am passionate enough to apply science #2 above to, it’s actually a sign that I am making progress. If I am applying a lot of action into the work, I can expect to receive the equal amount of re-action to maintain the equilibrium.
If I stop pushing, the resistance disappears over time, but if you remember the first law above, you’ll also know that once in motion, that resistance is going to keep pushing back unless you push back. This is another reason you might feel that you’ve gone backwards on a project if you’ve stopped after encountering massive resistance. Emotionally, you likely have (at least temporarily)!
So, the reason I love this law is that not only can I predict and expect the resistance once embarking on a project (making it less scary overall), I know that the moment I start to feel it, I’m actually making enough progress and growing enough that the opposing forces feel the need to slow my roll. And when I get to this stage, I know that by continuing forward, something BIG is about to happen.
BOOM! Science the third!
So, let me recap for you.
Newton’s 3 laws of motion:
- Inertia. A body at rest tends to stay at rest, and a body in motion tends to stay in motion
- F=ma – Pay attention not only to how hard you work, but also the direction in which you’re applying that work!
- For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction
Try thinking about these in your work this week and let me know what you find. I never thought I’d love these laws of motion as a saxophonist or artist, but the more I pay attention, the more I get excited to see these things in the world around me!
I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!
Originally published at www.jessvoigtpage.com