If you ask any of my piano students what my favorite method of teaching is, they will tell you it is what I call the “3-2-1 approach.” It is a rather cumbersome activity that creates tremendous growth by repeating a phrase, line, or measure of music over and over again. First we do the phrase, line, or measure three times without mistakes (starting over at one each time we make a mistake), and then we proceed to two times with no mistakes, and then finally one time without a mistake. We do this until each time we play it through, we are able to do so without missing a note.
There are times, however, when this method is simply not enough to master a difficult passage of music. When this is the case, I do not have the student do the whole section three times; rather, I have them repeat each individual note in the section three times, then two, and so forth. This helps them break the music down just a little bit further and ‘tricks’ the brain into memorizing something that otherwise would have been too difficult.
Sometimes this can be like life: the same mistakes seem to keep creeping up on us over and over again. We oftentimes feel hardwired to repeat these mistakes and fall prey to the same painful weaknesses. Despite our efforts, we make the same mistakes again and again and again.
Why is this so?
Is it because, like the student, we aren’t giving enough individual attention and painstaking effort at replacing our weaknesses with strengths? Do we allow ourselves to become complacent because changing is too hard and we may simply have been ‘made that way’?
Or are we overwhelmed because the amount of change and growth necessary seems impossible?
Perhaps this is when we take a step back and simply hit one note over and over again until we get it right. Instead of trying to become perfect at everything, maybe we need to allow ourselves to become perfected a little at a time—maybe as little as one single note. Each of us will need to find our own path towards perfection with the help of our Savior, Jesus Christ. None of us will ever achieve perfection fully in this lifetime, but that doesn’t mean that we throw our hands in the air (or, in my case, bang the piano keys in frustration) and quit trying.
In the amazing talk by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, “Be Ye Therefore Perfect—Eventually,” we read:
“May I remind all of us that we live in a fallen world and for now we are a fallen people. We are in the telestial kingdom; that is spelled with a t, not a c. As President Russell M. Nelson has taught, here in mortality perfection is still ‘pending.'”
Isn’t that amazing? We aren’t asked to be perfect, we are simply asked to improve, try our best, and endure to the end. We keep trying a little at a time, often repeating the same mistakes, and then asking for forgiveness and strength to keep moving forward! He will always give us this strength after we have done all we can do, even if our efforts seem small and cumbersome. May we always remember to keep playing and keep striving at becoming the best versions of ourselves. It is, after all, “[His] work and [His] glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of men.”
My brothers and sisters, except for Jesus, there have been no flawless performances on this earthly journey we are pursuing, so while in mortality, let’s strive for steady improvement without obsessing over what behavioral scientists call “toxic perfectionism.”
Janette Beverley is a lover of life, family, music, and the gospel of Jesus Christ. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology with an emphasis in marriage and family therapy, and has five amazing children and one equally amazing husband. Janette is excited to be writing for LDS Blogs and sharing her love and passion for finding the miraculous among the mundane, the awe-inspiring among the obvious, and the uplifting among the underestimated. To read more of her work, you can visit Janette's personal blog here.