Lately I have been working on some new guitar techniques that are taking me “outside my comfort zone.”
Working on new things can be very unsettling – for all of us. Sometimes feeling like a beginner is fun, but at other times a lot of mental resistance comes up.
(If I tell you what it is you’ll laugh…basic thumb picking. Yep, I can do crazy funk stuff, but some basics still kick my butt..)
Thoughts of quitting started to spring up on their own, without my wanting them to…
- “It’s such a waste of time”
- “It’s just not my thing, I should focus elsewhere”
- “I didn’t grow up with it”
- “I should just focus on what I am good at”
- “There are so many other people who do this well”
- “I’ll never get it!”
Why can’t we just keep chipping away at learning new things without any mental resistance?
As it turns out, wanting to quit and run away is a natural reaction to going outside one’s comfort zone.
There’s actually a very good reason that these thoughts come up…
(And at the end of this post I will give you 3 techniques to “defuse” this type of negative thinking so you can chip away at new things, out of your comfort zone and understand what’s happening inside you.)
Your 2 Selves: The Observer & The Thinker
I am currently reading The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living: A Guide to ACT the author Russ Harris explains this.
To start, let’s say that we have 2 selves – the observing self and the thinking self.
The observing self watches and it does not judge:
“I played a wrong a note in this spot.” No emotions, just the fact.
The thinking self then chimes in and loves to judge:
“If I keep making mistakes like this wrong note…
I will be a failure,
I might be rejected,
I might not make a living,
Everyone will think I am a fraud,
I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to do this and maybe never get it!”
This “thinking self” will never shut up. The more we try to silence it or ignore it, the worse it gets.
Why does the thinking self make non stop commentary? Here’s why…
Don’t Get Killed
This thinking brain function was necessary for our survival 100,000 years ago. It’s the deep seated “don’t get killed!” survival function a work.
Quite often we feel “fight or flight” responses in situations that are not at all life threatening.
The original use of “thinking mind” was for…
- Is that dark shape a boulder or a bear?
- Is the fruit safe to eat or poisonous?
- Is that person a friend or foe?
An important factor in not getting yourself killed is to get to know your environment.
The better you know the terrain and the local wildlife, then the safer you are, wheras venturing into unknown territory exposes you to all sorts of exotic dangers.
Knowing your terrain = Comfort Zone
Outside your terrain, possible danger = Outside Your Comfort Zone
Here is a quote from The Happiness Trap. (The “demons” he refers to are the scary ideas and images that our mind creates when we try something new.)
Those demons will keep showing up again and again, as soon as you start to take your life in a valued direction.
Thus, as you start to do something new, our mind will start warning us: you might fail, you might make a mistake, you might get rejected. It warns us with negative thoughts, disturbing images, bad memories and a wide range of uncomfortable feelings and sensations.
All too often, we let these warnings stop us form taking life in the direction we really want.
You may choose to pursue a new career, relationship, or engage in a challenging project and what I guarantee you is this: whatever meaningful changes you start to make in your life, the demons will rear their ugly heads and try to discourage you.
He also says it’s a far stretch to just think we’ll turn this off with ‘positive thinking’, and he offers what he calls “defusion” as the first step in “ACT” (Acceptance & Commitment Therapy).
“Defusing” Facts from Thoughts
When a fact a thought are “fused” together we tend take a story and event and stick them together as one.
In a state of fusion we believe out thoughts to be true, important, wise, reality – deserving of our full attention.
Fact: There is heavy traffic as you a driving somewhere important like a wedding.
Thought: “This shouldn’t be happening right now, I need to get there!”
Thought: “Why does this always happen to me?”
Thought: “I should have left earlier!”
This thought and the fact get “fused” and then we feel an emotional impact which is not very pleasant.
In The Happiness Trap, Russ Harris gives a bunch of techniques to “defuse” our thoughts and it involves no suppression, denial or effort.
What we are left with is clarity, distance from our thoughts, and less emotional impact.
He claims that feeling better is a “by product” and that the goal is to “defuse” rather than just feel better.
3 Defusion techniques to get you started.
Please take a moment now to play with the techniques, and put these into practice. You’ll giggle when you see how well they work.
1. The “I am having the thought that…” Technique
If you insert this phrase before stating your emotion, it creates a magic distance.
Before: “I am nervous”
After: “I am having the thought that I am nervous”
Before: “I am too old to learn this”
After: “I am having the thought that I am too old to learn this”
By stating “I am having the thought that…” you allow the emotion or feeling to be without trying to suppress, and you take the position of observer.
This phrase gives you a little distance from the unpleasant thought. You realize the thought is just a sound, not reality.
2. The “Funny Voices” Defusion Technique
Say the thought you are having with a funny comedy voice like Homer Simpson, Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck or even Yoda or Darth Vader.
All of a sudden the though of “Oh God! I suck at guitar!” becomes hilarious when any of these voices say it.
3. The “Name Your Story” Defusion Technique
If you start getting stressed about something, like your car needs a sudden repair and you get stressed about the sudden high expense…
You can say “It’s the ‘expensive car repair’ story.”
As you can see, this gives you distance and unhooks the emotion & stress just a little bit.
The facts remain but the feeling lightens up.
Musical & Personal Application
For new skills and practicing guitar, if you are feeling frustrated you can try these techniques. Here are some suggestions.
“I am having the thought that…”
This first thought puts pressure on you:
“I need to practice more!”
This gives you some distance and relief:
“I am having the thought that I need to practice more”
- Have you made a mistake, hit a wrong note? Say “oops I made a mistake!” in Homer Simpsons voice.
- Are you sweating a technique like thumb picking? Have Darth Vader say “I am having difficulty thumb picking!”
- Are you telling yourself stuff like “I’ll never get this!” Now say it in a Bugs Bunny voice.
And so on. You get the idea. It’s a simple and silly sounding technique, but it works and goes way down into your psyche will help “unhook” you.
Naming the story technique (I already do this on stage)
I have several scenarios which used to make me very nervous & uncomfortable, and now I just say “It’s the _________ story again!”
- The Monitor Sound Sucks Story
- The I Just Botched a Note Story
- The Guitar is Feeding Back Story
- The Soundman is a Jerk Story
Once I acknowledge it as story, it’s back under my control and I can be present to play music instead of “spin” in thought.
I guess once something has happened enough and you know it’s not life or death, you become familiar with the situations.
Remember, it is often the “new territory” that triggers an unsafe feeling and makes us want to turn back to the comfort zone.
Play with these techniques, and be sure to check out The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living: A Guide to ACT
Keep up the good fight and never ever give up!