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  • Writer's pictureIngela Onstad

Looking for my motivation....

It’s been hard for me to practice during the pandemic. Most gigs have dried up or been postponed indefinitely and I find myself.....unmotivated.

I’m forty years old and started performing with some regularity at the end of high school, but especially in my undergrad degree. Whether it was voice recitals, studio classes or masterclasses, choir concerts, operas, church performances, whatever – there was always a regular amount of performing in my life. Heck, I think we could argue that even going to a voice lesson or coaching can almost be like a mini-performance, especially when we are doing it on higher levels with high expectations.

And then comes 2020. For the first time in 20-ish years, I find myself with only a (small) handful of livestreamed performances to prepare for. Now, I’m not looking for a pity party here because there have been a lot of gifts during this time. I’ve never had so much downtime as an adult, and I have honestly enjoyed taking a break for a while.

Kurtag Kafka Fragments for Soprano and Violin
One of my pandemic projects.Plus once canceled one. Plus red wine. Don't judge.

To be clear, I'm an advocate of taking a break if we need one. Contrary to popular belief, your artistic career will not end if you give yourself some space. But after a while, I found that my life felt a little more...empty than usual?

I didn’t sing much for the first few months of the pandemic, but I was preparing some difficult music for a possible live concert in July. However, once the reality of the pandemic sunk in and everything started closing down, I took quite a long break from practicing. In fact, it’s probably the longest break I’ve had since age 12 when I started regular voice lessons.

Now, here’s where I confess that I'm a person who only practices when she’s preparing for an upcoming concert or opera. But the funny thing is: I didn’t even realize this until the pandemic slowed everything down.

All of this got me thinking about intrinsic motivation versus extrinsic motivation. According to an article on VeryWellMind, intrinsic motivation is when we are “motivated to perform an activity for its own sake and personal rewards” and extrinsic motivation is being “motivated to perform an activity to earn a reward or avoid punishment”.

So with this in mind, I sat down and did some journaling on WHY I sing. I’ll first share my extrinsic motivators with you, as they were obviously doing all of the “heavy lifting” during the last twenty or so years.

My extrinsic motivators, in no specific order:

-money I make from performing

-seeing upcoming gigs on my calendar and feeling stressed

-wanting to have my music well-prepared in order not to embarrass myself

-enjoying being esteemed as a fellow professional by my colleagues

-wanting to put my education and skills to good use

Once all of these opportunities fell away, I had to do some re-thinking of my motivation. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the act of singing, but these extrinsic factors were so immediate, they often overshadowed the quieter intrinsic factors.

In order to identify my intrinsic motivation, I had to get re-acquainted once again with my “WHY”. I thought back to junior high and high school, back to when I had absolutely no idea where my singing path would lead or what it meant to devote my life to music. Why was I singing then?

Another question I contemplated: if I never sang another concert again, would I still sing? The answer was a resounding YES.

My intrinsic motivators:

-it FEELS good to sing

-I love creating and shaping sound made from my very own body

-I deeply enjoy the challenge of languages

-I love the poetry

-I love the collaboration with others

-working on music feels like solving a difficult puzzle and I love the challenge

-I get to experience a FLOW STATE when things are going particularly well

-I love expressing myself through sound and movement

-I feel healthier mentally, emotionally, physically (true story: I have a back issue which likely stems from poor core strength due to less singing)

-I value art and music and the meaning, joy, depth, and beauty it brings to the world

-I love slipping into a character or role

I mean, just look at my intrinsic list in comparison to my extrinsic list and notice how YOU feel inside while reading these. While reading the “extrinsic” list, I feel a sense of duty, obligation, heaviness. While reading the intrinsic list, I notice a sparkly, fun, curious, light sensation. It's almost as if the extrinsic list becomes the coveted "brass ring", but once I grab it, I need another......and another......and I'm always reaching for the next one.

I don't think the extrinsic motivators will ever be the true nourishment we need. They may be a side dish, so to speak, but they aren't the main course that our soul craves.

Just to be clear, the extrinsic motivators have their place. But perhaps it’s time to take a look at your own relationship with your craft and to ask yourself if you need a little more of the sparkly intrinsic factor in your life at this moment. And with that, I'm off to go practice :)

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