In Part Three of this exploration of George Leonard’s ideas about mastery, I explored Leonard’s “five keys” to mastery. In this final post we’ll take a look at the demon that can block our way:  homeostasis.

Homeostasis – The Resistance to Change

Homeostasis, resistance to change, is common to all self-regulating systems, and that includes piano students and piano teachers. Homeostasis isn’t by itself a bad thing. It helps to keep things balanced and stable, in a condition of equilibrium. Yet homeostasis doesn’t know the difference between good change and bad change. It resists all change, period.

When you consider what is involved in mastering the piano and take homeostasis into account, it becomes much clearer why aspiring pianists struggle so much. We want to practice more, but we resist it too (and we don’t know why). We want to change the way we practice, but fall into our customary patterns. We teachers want to give our lessons a make over, but it’s easier to stick with the tried-and-true approach. In our drive towards change and improvement, we often unknowingly sabotage our own best efforts, says Leonard.

Once we know about homeostasis, what do we do about it? How do we make change and improvement easier? How do we make it last? Leonard suggests several strategies:

Be Aware of Homeostasis and How It Works

Expect homeostasis – it’s going to come up sooner or later. Don’t panic and give up. Keep practicing. If necessary, be willing to take one step back for every two steps you take forward.

Know That Homeostasis Can Appear in Disguise

Resistance to change can appear in disguise in others around us, for example, friends and family members. It may be as innocuous as our parent or partner making a negative comment about the amount of time we spend practicing the piano. Be aware, Leonard warns, that the people you love can “covertly or overtly undermine your self-improvement. It’s not that they wish you harm, it’s just homeostasis at work.” Awareness is the first line of defense.

Develop a Support System

Leonard suggests that the best support system consists of those who are going through a similar process. This might mean developing a community of fellow aspiring pianists. Such a community may be easier to find when we are younger. After college, we may need to make intentional efforts to establish and sustain a musical community that supports our best efforts, and to give back to that community. (One way to do this is by putting together a mastermind group.)

Maintain Physical Fitness

It goes without saying that serious pianists must pay attention to their physical health, as remaining fit, healthy and balanced is so important for actualizing one’s highest musical potentials.

Set Goals and Take Action

Leonard recommends making specific goals with firm deadlines as a way to energize one’s practice. It may also help to make these goals known to the people who are important to you.

Be Consistent

Consistency of practice, says Leonard, is the mark of a master. Yet we should also remember that mastery is not about perfection – an axiom that many musicians would do well to remember. What human being or musician, after all, is perfect?

And Finally, Be a Fool

We have all met people, obviously insecure about a subject, who compensate for their insecurity by striving to impress us with their knowledge, even as it’s obvious to us how little they know. These may be the people who have the most trouble with the process of mastery. Unwilling to expose their ignorance, they can’t be bothered to go through the arduous process required for mastery.

Psychologist Abraham Maslow found a childlike quality which he called “second naiveté” in people who had achieved a high degree of mastery. To become a master, says Leonard, we may have to first be a fool.

So be a fool. And become a master. May your process of mastery be enjoyable, fruitful and deeply fulfilling.


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