I think that most of us know people who appear to be bulletproof. They seem to have an undying belief in themselves and never seem to waver in the pursuit of their goals. They never seem to doubt themselves, even for a split-second. I admire them greatly.
Unfortunately, I can’t say that I’m like them. At various times in the process of learning guitar, I’ve hit certain obstacles that have caused me to doubt myself. Perhaps you can relate to this? Maybe at times, you’ve felt self-doubt when faced with learning something particularly challenging? Or maybe you even doubted your overall potential with getting good at guitar?
If that’s the case, then this article is for you. We’ll be looking at some specific strategies and understandings that will help you to build your self-belief and overcome any self-doubt that you might be feeling. But before we do that, I want to share an experience I had a long time ago. It was a major cause of self-doubt for me.
The Ear Training Nightmare
Pitch perception in the past was a real weakness of mine. This weakness made it impossible for me to work out music by ear. It also greatly hindered my progress in learning how to improvise.
Because I was lucky enough to recognise this weakness I decided to invest in an ear training course. Once the course arrived in the mail, I excitedly opened the package and started to diligently work on it for 30-minutes each and every day.
The really good thing about the course was that it was very structured and had tests that you had to pass before you were allowed to progress further. Unfortunately for me, I hit a major snag with the course once I reached the second test. The problem was that I just couldn’t pass the test. Each day I would do my 30-minutes of ear training practice and then resit the test. And each day I would fail the test. This pattern continued for months.
Can you imagine the frustration I was feeling? Here I was on just the second test of the course and I was totally stuck. The problem wasn’t that I was lazy. I had been diligently following the instructions, and doing the recommended practice. But I still couldn’t pass that damn test. In all honesty, I began to seriously doubt my ability to develop my ears.
Did I eventually pass the test? You’ll have to keep reading to find out. (I’ll be revisiting the story a bit later on). But for now, let’s take a look at some things that I feel help with overcoming self-doubt…
Respect The Work Involved
Many adults wanting to become good guitarists just don’t respect the work that is necessary. For example, I once had someone start lessons who had the goal of playing songs written by guitar virtuoso Steve Vai. I got really excited because I always enjoy teaching students that have ambitious goals. But this person immediately ruined this feeling of excitement by saying that they could only practice for 30-minutes or so on workdays because they had a demanding job.
So, let’s get this straight. Steve Vai has dedicated his entire life to music and guitar and practised 10+ hours a day in his formative years. And yet this person expected to play like Steve Vai on 30-minutes a day. Even Steve Vai couldn’t play like Steve Vai on 30-minutes a day. This is as ludicrous as a person saying that they want to become a billionaire and then finding out that their business plan is to set up a lemonade stand outside their house!
Although this is a really extreme example, it’s very important to recognise that reaching your guitar playing goals will probably take a lot of work. Possibly a lot more than you might think. If you don’t respect this fact, then it’s very easy to have unrealistic expectations. The problem with this is that these unrealistic expectations will cause you to doubt yourself even when you are actually making perfectly normal progress for the amount of practice that you’re doing.
Visualise The End Result
If I’m really struggling with something I will often take a few minutes each day to imagine myself being able to do it. I’ll close my eyes and try to see myself already being able to play what I am trying to learn. For me, I find that this helps me to stay motivated and excited about what I’m learning. And the more excited I am, the more likely I am to continue working hard.
Look At Past Successes
One of the best ways to overcome self-doubt is to look at all your past successes. If you’ve succeeded in the past with learning anything on the guitar, then you can definitely succeed in the future. Unless you’re a total beginner then you have succeeded with some things on guitar already. Each and everything you have learned and improved in the past is a small success. So write them all down, and give yourself permission to feel good about them.
Set Effort Goals
Let’s go back to the ear training problem I mentioned earlier. What I did to overcome the self-doubt was to change my goal from passing the test to practising ear training daily. In other words, I stopped worrying about passing the test and just focused on the goal of doing 30-minutes ear training practice a day. I also made sure that I congratulated myself at the end of every ear training session for the effort that I was putting in. This change in mindset made the learning process much more enjoyable and less frustrating. And yes, I did eventually pass the test. 🙂
Understand That Progress Isn’t Linear
It’s very important to realise that there is never a linear relationship between effort and progress on the guitar. Doing one unit of practice doesn’t automatically mean that you’ll gain one unit of progress. It just doesn’t work that way.
You need to understand that plateaus will happen. (Even if you’re getting lessons from a great teacher). Sometimes you won’t be making any visible progress for a period of time, and then for no good reason, you’ll jump to the next level of ability. It’s part of the game. If you’re expecting predictable, day-to-day progress that never varies, then you’ll be sorely disappointed.
Many guitarists when they hit a plateau get frustrated and stop practising the guitar for a long time. In some cases, they might stop practising for weeks or months. In my opinion, this is the worst thing to do, especially if you’re fairly new to guitar. Although taking a couple of days off is a great idea if you’re feeling burnt out, I feel it’s best to maintain your daily practice and focus on enjoying your practice sessions. Enjoy the process of learning the guitar and feel good about the fact you’re making the effort to improve. The progress will happen in due course.
Talk To Your Teacher
One of the biggest advantages of taking lessons is the encouragement and moral support your teacher can give you. But you need to communicate with your teacher how you’re feeling. Let them know if you’re doubting yourself. Chances are they’ve gone through similar things themselves. But they can’t help you if you don’t let them know how you’re feeling.
A Few Last Words
I hope you found this article helpful. There is definitely nothing wrong with experiencing self-doubt and feeling discouraged at times. It shows that you’re human. But it would be a great shame to allow that self-doubt to stop you from becoming the guitarist that you truly want to be!
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