Coming to grips with the fretboard can be painfully difficult. Over the years, I’ve worked hard to make it easy not only for myself but for others. Having the right approach, from a psychological point of view, is key. If you try to do it out of sheer will-power, you’re as likely to fail at it as you are to fail at your resolution to cut carb intake in half or to go to the gym every single day. Let’s get specific by looking at what it takes to succeed at creating and modifying behavior: environment design, mindset and motivation.
Lewin’s equation and environment design
Kurt Zadek Lewin, the “founder of social psychology”, determined that behavior (B) is a function of personality (P) and environment (E).
B = f(P,E)
Personal traits often seem hard to change, so in the spirit of simplicity, we will start out by optimizing our environment to create a clear path to the behavior we’re after: picking up our guitar to get some practice down and to come up with musical ideas.
My initial environment hack, which has worked wonders for me, was to put a guitar right next to my bed so that it’s quite literally the first thing I see every morning. This not only creates a clear opportunity for me to pick it up and play, but doubles as a reminder to do so. Making it the very first thing I do every day ensures that playing guitar remains, in actual fact, my one true priority: this is huge.
To take things a little further and make playing guitar as straight forward as possible for myself, I’ve put another guitar (having to move it from one place to another would be counter to the spirit of the hack) on a stand right next to my computer, where I sit for hours every day while working. I now pick it up dozens of times every day in bursts ranging from a few seconds to minutes to hours at a time. Lots of ideas for songs have been born out of such spontaneous bursts of creativity.
Depending on your current beliefs on your ability to grok the fretboard and create music on the guitar, good environment design may or may not be enough to really get things going for you. Chances are that, unless you’re a Hendrix or Leo Browuer, you’ve got one or more lingering excuses holding you back: it’s now time to hack through the other element of Lewin’s equation, the bigger challenge of the two: personality.
Hacking the fixed mindset
Carol Dweck, Professor of Psychology at Stanford University says that:
In a fixed mindset students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb. In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it.
Now is as good a time as any to take a good deep look inside and be honest with yourself about your excuses. Turn off your phone and sit quietly for three minutes to you identify your top two or three excuses and write them down: go do it now, or you won’t!
Limiting self-belief and confusion work in tandem, locking guitar players who fall into their grip out of the party and into a continual downward spiral that is often compounded by physical injury . If you’ve got a fixed mindset regarding your ability to play guitar and move around the fretboard, the double-whammy hack of side-stepping resistance only to immediately hack the confusion mindset through carefully designed drills will blow your limiting beliefs to pieces. It takes only a few short weeks, at no more than a couple of minutes a day, for even people who’ve had such limiting beliefs for decades to completely change their attitude: once the two-headed monster of resistance and confusion is out of the way, motivation flows.
Motivation: the energy for action
Edward L. Deci, Professor of Psychology at the University of Rochester, defines motivation as the energy for action. As your ability not only to grasp the fretboard but to create music on it grows, so does your motivation. It is an upward spiral that feeds on itself, creating more and more internal energy to develop and grow as a musician and guitar player. As soon as you hack your way through both resistance and confusion, a new self-perpetuating cycle of motivation is set in motion. Anew self-sustaining loop closes on itself: this time, you’ve locked yourself into a growth cycle of knowledge, ability and creative energy.
- Make it easy for yourself to accomplish your goal through environment design: hack your behavior and motivation follows.
- Identify your self-limiting beliefs by looking in, and put them on paper. Know thy self, know thy enemy.
- Success breeds success: as your ability to play and create music on the fretboard grows, the greater the rewards, and the greater the motivation. Once you’re there, it’s easy to keep going!
Now go to the comments section below and share your biggest limiting belief, along with its story. How you came to believe that, what consequences it has had, and how you could use the principles above to change the story.
Next, we will take a deeper look at the details of the behavior hack through the lens of B.J. Fogg’s behavior model to ensure immediate success.
Thanks to Eli Kramer for pointing out Carol Dweck’s work!