Think these two activities have nothing in common? Think again…

In the not so distant past, I started learning to play the electric guitar. Winters drove me nuts and I needed a hobby to keep me from going stir crazy. I decided to do two things:

1.Join my friends on their snowboarding adventures and find a way to enjoy the cold.

2.Find a hobby that wasn’t the gym or video games.

I enjoyed both activities more than I imagined, but the guitar really worked because I could play anywhere, and at any time!

When I first started, all I wanted to do was make noise, look cool, and play my favorite parts of songs. Although fun, I wasn’t getting any better even though I “practiced” every day.

It took a few years before I found someone that was able to explain how I should practice to improve. This was huge for me, and it turns out the process is exactly the same as getting fit and strong.

The similarities are obvious to me these days, especially since I recently started playing again (back to square one for me!). Here are three things lifting weights and learning to play guitar (or any instrument) have in common:

1. The beginning sucks!

Whether its the gym or the guitar, the first few weeks are pretty rough. Lots of discomfort and soreness, and little in the way of progress.

The discomfort fades, but it unfortunately causes many to quit before they’ve had a chance to see any progress. On top of this, the novelty of going to the gym or pretending to be a rock star wears off fast. If you haven’t made some progress in the first few weeks or don’t have a plan to keep you focused, “quitting time” is right around the corner.

2. There’s a lot of confusion about what it takes to be successful

Supplements. Fad diets. Special exercises. “Top secret training plans the experts don’t want you to know about”. Really awful advice.

As crazy as it sounds, it is easier to sell extreme ideas and “quick fixes” that are little more than a waste of time and money. It is just as easy to write off someone successful as “gifted”, lucky, or having cheated to get where they are.

All of this is a way to avoid the fact that the real answer is, in most people’s eyes, boring and time consuming.

The process of getting fit and strong is not complicated. 

Learning to play a musical instrument is not complicated.

The process to be successful in either area is pretty simple:

  1. Define your goal
  2. Figure out what you need to do to get there
  3. Work at it consistently until you get there.

Keep in mind that I said the process is simple. I did not say it would be easy. You’ll face a never-ending set of challenges and setbacks during your journey. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to stay focused:

1.Don’t compare yourself to successful people. Learn from them, use them as inspiration, and remember that they were once where you are right now!

2.Keep your priorities in order. There’s only so much time in a day, so spend it wisely. Make time every day to work on yourself and the areas you want to improve.

3.Remember that there are no secrets to success. There are several paths to success, but every successful person shares one thing in common: they worked their butt off to get where they are.

3. An instructor is a great investment or a waste of money. Choose wisely!

My first experience with a music instructor wasn’t great.

The lessons came straight from a book and he told me to go home and practice. Each week I’d show up and we did more exercises from the book.

No mention of body position, right & left hand coordination, or what to do about any of the common problems beginners face. This led to me thinking “if he’s going to teach me word for word from a book, I can do this at home. Why am I paying for lessons?”

Needless to say that this experience turned me off from lessons for a long time.

Years later when I found the instructor that taught me how to practice, my lessons went beyond fretboard exercises, playing popular “licks”, chords, and learning scales. He showed me what was holding me back and how to fix it.  I made more progress in two months than I had in the previous three years on my own!

This experience helped me gain a better understanding of how people view personal trainers and going to the gym. It only takes one bad experience to turn someone off forever, and working with the right trainer can increase results significantly. Knowing what to look for and what questions to ask when hiring an instructor makes a huge difference.

But wait, there’s one more…

You might think to yourself “wait a minute, there’s nothing about this that’s unique to guitar or lifting weights!”

You’re right.

These apply to learning anything for the first time. Once you get past the “newness”, comparing yourself to others that started years ago, and frustration of not being good, you’ll see what really matters for improving…

WORK

There’s more than one path to any goal, but you have to work no matter which way you go.

Stories of successful musicians practicing 10 hours a day or more aren’t uncommon. And if you’ve been in a gym, you’ve no doubt heard of or met someone whose life revolves around their training and eating schedule.

You don’t need to go this extreme, but you do have to work at it consistently.

Work through the rough early stages, staying patient as you get the hang of it. Remember that this is something you can enjoy for the rest of your life! Relax and enjoy the ride.

Put in the work to find out what you need to do to get the results you want. Showing up is part of that, but what you do and how you do it matter! A good instructor helps speed up the process, so put in even more work once you find one that works for you!