In a study conducted some years ago teenagers were asked before their exam what mark they expected to get to assess how accurately their belief matched their result. They found that boys tended to over estimate their results where as girls underestimated. As a result the boys were disappointed with their mark and the girls were pleasantly surprised. Given the choice I think most of us would prefer to come in higher than expected but as always there is more to the story. The boys on average tend to be over confident but with out going into it here it is important not to confuse low expectations with low self esteem. Confidence is closely linked to self esteem so while we want to lower our expectations we don’t want to lower confidence.
Overestimating is part of the human condition
Many experts say that optimism is an essential part of our well being. We have all heard a thousand times that to be successful you need to be confident in your ability. Believe and you shall achieve they say. This is of course true to a large degree and an idea I regularly promote. Why would you attempt something that seemed unachievable? Even the most pessimistic person attempting the impossible believes there is a slight chance of success. The reality is we humans on the whole tend to over estimate our chances of success and this is a good thing but does have some negative side effects. The truth is most progress comes from people who over estimate their real chances of success but somehow end up beating the odds. If we were always realistic about our chances of success there would be very little progress. So what is the downside?
The downside of overestimating our ability
The bad news is our generous overestimations can lead us to disappointment as shown in the above example which can in turn lead us to abandon our goals. Nearly every book I have ever read on success talks about the need to accept and embrace failure. The underlying theme is almost always the same. Failed, failed, failed, failed, failed, success. Failure is just a necessary part of the journey. Failure they say is actually a good thing because it shows you are stepping outside of your comfort zone. When you succeed the first time at a new endeavour the odds are it was luck or the challenge was too easy. The problem is most of us don’t like failure. When we fail we beat ourselves up and often completely give up on our goal. I have seen this with guitar students many times and their decision to give up is never based on logic. It is an emotional decision.
Failure is a relative experience
The point of paragraph one was not to compare boys with girls but to demonstrate how success and failure are relative experiences. If you find yourself wanting to give up guitar on a regular basis I suggest you take a closer look at your expectations. Wanting to give up by the way is not unusual. I certainly went through it as a teen and often felt like guitar was not worth the time and effort. When students pick up the guitar they tend to believe on average that they will be a half descent guitarist within six months. Six months later they are questioning their progress and whether it is all worth it. It just seems to be going slower than expected. Their perceived lack of progress may be real or imaginary depending on their expectations. Either way the feeling is the same. They feel they have not met their expectations and are therefore a failure.
You are not alone
Successful actors, musicians, dancers, pilots, surgeons, sports people, politicians, business people have all doubted themselves at times. No matter who they are or how great you think they are they have all questioned their ability and their level of talent rarely has anything to do with it. It is their personal expectations that determine failure or success in their minds. If failure feels like the norm to you then try lowering your expectations. Remember that giving up on your dream to play guitar is almost always an emotional decision rather than being based on facts. Guitar takes time to learn of which every great guitar player can testify.