How to succeed on guitar by focusing on the process

Put the process before the goal.bigstockphoto_guitar_795723

The above concept is one that many of us find difficult but is a critical factor in learning guitar. The percentage of students of guitar  who actually reach their goals compared to the number who actually  take up guitar would have to be one of lowest compared with other instruments and perhaps most pursuits. My educated guess in around 5% of guitar students ever achieve their goals. Compare that to mountain climbers,  joggers and probably even dieters you can see it’s not a great result.

Understanding the process.

While there is no one simple answer as to why so many people give up guitar there are definitely some worthwhile answers to consider. One such answer that is worth discussing comes via Ellen J Langer (Harvard psychology professor and author of the book ‘Mindfulness’). Langer points out that when we focus children on goals (E.g. past a test, recite your alphabet etc) we are missing a very important element. The process. Often when we look at someone who is good at anything we are blind to the process that got them to where they are today. When children see another person pick up a guitar and skillfully execute a difficult song and don’t understand the process that got that person to that level of skill they can feel inferior which can lead them to stop trying and give up.


The sad reality is this childhood conditioning can be pervasive affecting many other areas of a child’s learning. But worst of all such conditioning usually carries over into adulthood. As adults the condition  is so automatic that we do not even notice it. This is where we are in a state of mindlessness. I have seen it many times. Adults enroll for guitar lessons. Pay for their first 5 lessons and by the 4th lesson their automatic conditioning has kicked in and is giving them 101 reasons why they can’t achieve success on guitar. “I am simply not good enough”, “I don’t have the time”, “I can’t afford the lessons”, “there were no talented musicians in my family so I must have no talent” or my favorite “I am too old”. Funnily enough at 14yo I thought I was too old.

Focusing on the process.

So the trick is to avoid obsessing about the goal and focus on the process. Goals are important of course but are greatly misunderstood. When pilots are flying planes they know the destination but they are focused on flying the plane in that moment. If they didn’t they may easily neglect something important and next thing you know the plane is in a downward spiral. I use this analogy because it describes what happens to most people who take up guitar. They are so busy focusing on the goal that they neglect what is in front of them. Instead of trying to play your favorite yet inappropriate (too difficult) song focus on learning a basic chord, scale or even just how to count in time. When you focus on the process or better still get lost in the process you suddenly wake up one day and find yourself at the destination (goal).

Hope that helps.

David Hart – Program Director

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