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Plateaued and not improving, losing motivation to practice?

I looked down and there it was.

My brand new guitar sitting in its case. I knew I should be practicing. I had promised it myself.

But somehow, you know…

I had to admit: “I am starting to lose my drive for guitar. I feel like I haven’t progressed in last two months.”

Suddenly I realized that I had been sitting in a plateau playing the same riffs and licks over and over. I couldn’t find it enjoyable anymore.  I’ve gotten extremely bored playing guitar and I felt that I can’t go any further like this.

“This sucks.”

Even though I had promised myself that this time it would be different, it wasn’t. And even with my brand new guitar I was not able to ignite my inner fire again.

I hit the rock bottom.

I didn’t have a clue what to do because I had never felt this low before.

And yet, here I am 10 years later, running this blog to help aspiring guitarist overcome plateaus and mental barriers.

You see, we all hit plateaus, we all feel lost and frustrated from time to time even though we love playing guitar. It’s perfectly normal to feel like this. The key is not to give up. No matter how hard things are, you cannot quit.

Imagine you are a mountain climber climbing up the Mt. Everest. You have just passed elevation of 8000 m and now you’re in the “death zone.”  It is 30 degrees below zero, wind is fiercely blowing into your face, you are exhausted and barely can breathe. You consciously know that at this elevation you are basically dying and yet you have to move forward.

Going back is not an option right now.

Even in these extremely cruel conditions you have to think clearly, otherwise you are in serious trouble. No matter how low you feel, you’ve got to put one foot in front of the other. And then repeat until you reach the summit. You know what you are after, now you just need to keep climbing. There is no doubt that your physiology has to be superb, but so has to be your mindset.

Every plateau and every mental barrier can be overcome with the right attitude and thoughtful planning.

In this article I want to show you how you can develop the kind of mindset that will help you move forward no matter how hard things are and I also share with you a 4 step process how to crush your plateaus and barriers.

How to strengthen your mindset?

So, how do we strengthen our mindset?

We do it by changing our perspective. Most of the time the obstacles and barriers we face are not that horrible. We usually experience some minor disadvantages or not optimal conditions. That’s how life works. The problem is that we interpret them as huge impediments.

And not only that.

We start to believe that those obstacles are here forever and we cannot do anything about it. We feel helpless and powerless and that makes the whole situation even worse. That’s why we need to change our perspective. We need to learn how to be more resilient no matter what is happening around us.

You don’t have to feel helpless; you can choose to feel whatever you like to feel. Yes, that’s right. It’s a choice. And you are the one who can choose.

There are several ways you can start strengthening your mindset:

A/ Start reading 10 pages of a good book a day. (Or as much as you like)

It doesn’t really matter if it is fiction or non-fiction. One thing that you’ll realize by reading more good books  is that your problems are not that unique. Every obstacle you are facing right now has been overcome by somebody in the past. History repeats itself.

I’ve already recommended few books that helped me in the past but if you feel like you really hit a wall I believe Meditations by Marcus Aurelius could be helpful.

B/ Put uplifting quotes and words of wisdom where you practice

I got this idea from Ryan Holiday and it helped me immensely to get my focus right. Try it and see for yourself. Below are some of my favorite quotes:

“Setbacks or problems are always expected and never permanent.” Ryan Holiday

“Would you have a great empire? Rule over yourself.” Publius Syrus

“Choose not to be harmed – and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed – and you haven’t been.” Marcus Aurelius

C/ Watch a good movie or inspiring TED talk.

D/ Go for a walk or run. Changing your physiology will help you change your mental state.

E/ Turn off your computer, take pen and paper and think.

F/ Do all of the above.

All of the above steps will help you with changing your perspective and maybe you’ll start to see light at the end of the tunnel.

Once you got a little bit of your drive back, you need to start working. You won’t improve without taking action. Now that you understand that every obstacle is an opportunity for you to grow, it will be much easier to put in the needed work.

Most aspiring guitarist won’t ever be satisfied with their progress because they have never defined what success for them looks like. If you don’t know where you are going, you can hardly ever arrive.

If you want to overcome you current plateaus, if you want to get your motivation and confidence back, you need to find your problem spots and then find ways how you can improve them. If only by 1%.

You know for sure that what you’ve been doing so far is not really working, so stop it.  It is time to try something new.

How to overcome plateaus?

Here’s the 4 step process to break through your plateaus: ( I cover this process in more detail in my course 7-days to Guitar Practice Mastery that you can get for free by subscribing to this blog.)

“There is no substitute for strategy and careful planning.” Robert Green, The 48 Laws Of Power


Step one: Pick a target

Ask yourself these questions:

What am I struggling with? What aspects of my playing am I not satisfied with? What are the possible reasons I am stuck at this level?

What do I want to accomplish? (If you cannot answer this question, ask yourself the opposite: How I don’t want my guitar playing to look like? What I don’t want?)

Jot down all the answers. Put it on paper to get better clarity.

Step two: Develop a plan of attack

Now, that you know what are your goals and dreams, prioritize them so it is crystal clear what you are after.

What are the most important aspects that once accomplished will make a massive difference in your playing? Is it rhythm or lead? Is it your ear or maybe fretboard orientation?

Decide what is/are the most important thing(s) for you and then find ways how you can reach them.

Maybe you can figure it out yourself, maybe you will have to find a guitar teacher that can help you. Whatever are your options the goal is to take you out of your current plateau. Choose the most painful aspect of your playing, the thing that you are struggling with the most and make it your strength.

Your playing is only as good as your weakest spots, so you need to take care of those.

Step three: Pre-commit for certain period of time

Since you know that you won’t become a fabulous guitar player overnight, you need to stick with your plan for certain period of time. In order to see what works and what doesn’t, you have to pre-commit (thanks to Josh Kaufmann for introducing me to this idea) to follow your plan for few weeks. You need to get some tangible results before you make an evaluation if this strategy works.

What I like to do is to pre-commit to work on individual problem spots for 20 hours. 20 hours is long enough to see improvements but at the same time it is not that long that I get bored. Test it and find out how much time works for you.

Wonderful thing about “pre-committing” is that you don’t need to wrestle with the tough spots forever.  You’ve got your goal, say 20 hours, and after the time is up, you are done. If you want to do more, you can but you don’t have to. If you do things right, 20 hours of deep and focused practice will produce some stunning improvement.

The reason why this works is that most of the time we try to avoid our weaknesses. We don’t really like to fail and make mistakes, even though we know how important that is for our progress. That’s why most of the time we overlook and neglect these problem areas. But once we start to apply sustained effort to improve these weak spots, we will see dramatic progress.

Step four: Analyze and repeat

After the time is up, analyze the results that you got. Ask yourself:

What worked well and what was a waste of time?

Should I keep going with the current plan or do I need to adjust it?

Did I reach my goals? If not, why is that?

What is stopping me now from becoming the guitar player I want to be?

Again, jot down your answers for better clarity and create your next plan of attack.

As I said before, we all hit plateaus from time to time. The key is not to get frustrated and desperate. The difference between guitar players who succeed and those who don’t can be clearly seen when the going gets rough. The successful ones don’t whine and complain, they see every obstacle as an opportunity to get better.

“The things which hurt, instruct.” Benjamin Franklin

If you are extremely bored with your playing, if you are losing motivation, if you feel like you haven’t progressed in past two months, change your perspective. See the wall in front of you as an opportunity for your musical growth.

Get yourself together and start working.


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3 Responses to Plateaued and not improving, losing motivation to practice?

  1. Greg September 17, 2014 at 3:20 pm #

    It’s short and sweet. Easy enough for a new player to understand and applicable to all levels of skill. 4 steps is something everyone can commit to. Good article Lukas.

  2. Lukas Kyska September 17, 2014 at 3:32 pm #

    Thank you Greg, glad you liked it!

  3. Matej Csornai September 25, 2014 at 1:53 pm #

    Great article Lukas. It’s well written and inspiring. Four steps are doable and achievable. I haven’t played guitar for years, but will definitely use these ideas and steps. I’ve just started using Josh Kaufmann’s idea on different skill and see the results already. It is working.

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