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I can’t get myself to practice guitar

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I was upset. It was 8:48 AM and I was still lying in bed.

Last night plans were little bit different: I wanted to wake up early, get my guitar practice done and do a little songwriting.

But none of that was happening since I was not able to get up.

“Screw that,” I told to myself and I threw the blanket away.

I was furious.

“This is ridiculous,why can’t I get myself to practice in the morning? “

You would not want to meet me that morning. I was a wreck.

Even though I had all the drive and hunger for learning and improving myself, I was not following through. The person that I met in the mirror every morning was not the same motivated person that went to bed the day before.

I knew that motivation was not my problem; I was eager to learn, practice and compose, but somehow I was not able to realize this in the morning. At that time, I loved my bed more than I loved my guitar. I used to be an early riser but then life happened and I found myself getting up later and later. And the fact that I was sleeping a lot was not helping much – I didn’t feel energized at all.

The problem was that by the time I was ready to start playing and practicing, it was too late to do what I had intended because there was all this other stuff that must get done. So instead of having a focused practice session, I was just rushing through everything; suddenly there was so much I would like to do.

As I was thinking about all this, I was finally calming down a little bit. I took few deep breaths to feel more relaxed. “Being pissed about this situation won’t help so I rather get myself together. It is what it is, if I don’t like it, I am the one who can change it.”

So I made myself a cup of coffee, grabbed a pen and piece of paper and started to think about my current situation.

Why am I not able to wake up when the alarm goes off? Why do I procrastinate on the stuff that matters the most to me? Where did I lose my discipline and commitment?

Answering these questions made me realize that in order to change my current situation I don’t need to make some heroic changes. I don’t have to wake up at 3 AM to get where I want to get. I just need to do a couple of changes to my daily routine so the important stuff gets done as soon as possible.

From past experience I knew that massive change can be accomplished by applying few small changes and improving just few things. That’s how compound effect works.

As I was considering what changes do I need to make, I remembered a quote by Stanford psychologist B.J. Fogg:

There’s just one way to radically change your behavior: radically change your environment.

So simple and easy.

Instead of motivating myself, which would be useless in my situation since I had all the motivation that I needed, I started to look for ways how could I improve my environment in a way that would support my actions. And it didn’t take long to find bunch of them.

As you probably know, most actions that we do on a day to day basis are habitual, that means we do them on auto-pilot. If some of these actions are not helpful and we want to change them, the easiest way is to manipulate our environment so the unwanted behaviors are impossible to do. Think, not having internet connection in a place where you need to focus.

On the contrary, the behaviors that we would like to do more should be very easy to do.

Again, B.J.Fogg:

Goals are harmful unless they guide you to make specific behaviors easier to do. Don’t focus your motivation on doing Behavior X. Instead, focus on making Behavior X easier to do.

Based on B.J. Fogg’s advice here are four rules that I’ve incorporated to get my guitar practice under control again:

  • Have a dedicated place for your guitar practice session
  • Decide WHEN you are going to practice in advance
  • Decide WHAT you are going to practice in advance
  • Make EVERYTHING ready the day before

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Why practice as much as you can is a bad (and useless) advice?

10383089_758806197507067_750091800333921237_nA few years ago I decided to become the best guitar player possible. I wanted it so bad that I was ready to sacrifice everything to reach this goal.

At least so I thought.

I didn’t really understand what does becoming the best mean or what does it take; all I wanted was to prove to myself that I can become the best.

I said to myself:

“From now on, you are going to spend every free minute of your time playing and practicing guitar no matter what. No excuses, no whining.”

And so it happened. With my full time job as a guitar teacher, I’ve managed to cram 50 hours of guitar “practice” into every week. Yes, that’s 7 hours a day.

Every day.

I didn’t waste my time thinking too much about my plan. It seemed obvious that with my determination I will reap the rewards over time.

I practiced as much as I could. I practiced when I was happy and full of optimism, and I also practiced when I didn’t feel like it, when I felt lousy and tired.

Few months passed by and I started to become little impatient. I was not satisfied with the results I was getting. I had thought that by this time my hard work would show up. But somehow it didn’t.

I started to feel more and more frustrated. I started to doubt myself and my ability to ever become any good. Just thinking about picking up my guitar made me sick. I still practiced long hours but every minute spent practicing felt like living hell. There was no joy, no passion and no drive anymore. Slowly, but surely I was heading down. Rock bottom was waiting for me. And of course, few weeks later I hit it.

My impatience combined with frustration sucked all the joy out of my life. I didn’t enjoy playing the guitar anymore. It was just something I had to do. All those hours spent practicing guitar almost made me quit playing altogether. But down there in my despair I began to understand what went wrong and it started to become obvious to me that practicing a lot is not the answer to my problems.

Slowly I started to turn my practice habits around. The first and most important step was to cut the hours. Continue Reading →

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