In this new blog post, the very first of 2017, I’ll show you how a simple infographic (which, by the way, you can download for free at the bottom of the post) will help you transform your guitar playing to make it more fun, productive and much more inspirational – while helping you sky-rocket your levels of motivation on the guitar.

There are 6 tips in this post that I have used frequently to help motivate students of mine in a variety of really useful ways. All the tips that I will give you in this post are backed by scientific research and my own extensive anecdotal lessons, gained from teaching hundreds in person and hundreds of thousands online via this blog and various guest posts.

The image at the top of this post is an infographic that I have created which is designed to be printed off and filled out.

As we go through the post, you will see why this one single sheet of paper that cost you a few bucks in ink, will be the most valuable, motivating and inspiring tool you will ever use for your guitar playing.

 Why bother setting goals? – “Dude, I just wanna play!”

Goal setting, motivation and inspiration can be a little dry but if I’m honest, this is where most guitar teachers really earn their coin, especially when it comes to teaching beginners. There are plenty of guitar teachers who can teach songs but there aren’t many who can inspire, motivate and help you through the tough times when it feels like a slog.

I have found my interest in psychology and studying it academically have helped me stand out from the rest when it comes to this subject. Not meaning to sound arrogant, but this is one of the reasons I have the success I have with private students and why I can charge the prices I do for the lessons I deliver.

Stick with me, as the stuff in this post is really simple to apply and doesn’t require you to stay up night doing any inward soul searching like many of those self-help books teach. This is fun, simple and powerful stuff.

In this post, we are talking about go-time and using goal setting to make the most of it.

First, let’s recap what ‘Go-Time’ is. It is the awesome time of the year where being productive and focused on achieving your goals is much easier.

The Power of January 2nd – ‘go-time’

There are far less obstacles which are stopping you from spending the time it takes on the goals you wish to achieve. These hurdles can be either created by you, others around you or society in general.

Go Time tends to finish in the summer which gives you around 6 months. It is a super useful time of the year to get in your winter snow plough and blast through your guitar playing goals.

Summer is all about holidays, BBQ’s and partying – whereas, Christmas is a pretty poor time for most people: “Hey Johnny! put down that guitar! We got mince pies to eat”.

In January, while everyone is dealing with the post-Christmas blues and feeling sorry for themselves, you will be productive and achieving your guitar playing dreams.

So here is the key. As a guitarist, how can you make the most of ‘Go-Time’?

The way I’d recommend you to do this is to refresh or create your goals if you have never done so before.

Read the pointers below and print off and fill out the infographic at the bottom of this post. Stick it up on the wall of the room where you practice so you can see it every day. By doing so, I promise that your guitar playing will become better for sure.

How to be super motivated and much more focused on the guitar with your perfect plan

1) Write down 5 guitars playing goals for the year

Some people set goals for every single practice session. Actually, I don’t know anyone who does this but this is what recommended if you read on the internet.

In fact, if I had to think about finding my pen and paper to write my goals down, before I pick up my guitar for a quick blast, the inspiration would be kicked out of that moment at a speed that is quicker than a Tommy Emmanuel blues jam.

What I’d recommend instead is that you set your big guitar playing goals for the year and then everything you do should be based on that. If you don’t have any goals other than:

“I just want to get better” or “I want to be a good player”

…then this should be a moment of realisation for you. You need to be a little more specific.

Here are the examples of goals from a student of mine:

  1. Learn how to fingerpick some fun and simple songs
  2. Play ‘Spanish Romance’
  3. Solo and play melodies while jamming with others
  4. Being able to play a variety of fun strumming songs
  5. Get my grades

Notice how the above goals are varied but aren’t super specific. They are though, much better goals than “I just want to improve”.

If you can use a number, specific song or specific style of music – that is better. I remember pushing this student of mine a little bit to be more specific and the results were not only different but much better.

The following is what he then came up with:

  1. Learn how to fingerpick 3 fun songs from the 60’s folk period
  2. Play Spanish Romance to a high standard with and without the recording
  3. Learn to jam and improvise to a high standard with others at least once every two weeks
  4. Learn 10 fun and impressive strumming songs
  5. Pass my grade 2 with a distinction

Those are all good goals to aim for.

My advice here is to grab a piece of paper and write down 3-5 goals that you really care about and be specific about them.

2) Break down your big goals into smaller monthly or weekly sub-goals

Instead of having big tough goals that are hard to achieve and can appear insurmountable, it is a great idea to break your goals into much smaller, much more achievable, sub-goals.

I recommend you break up each big goal into 5 smaller sub-goals. This allows you to focus on different aspects of the big goal without getting bogged down by the difficulty of it.

Smaller sub-goals are easy to achieve especially when the big goal is a really tough one.
Let’s take the above big goal of:

‘Play Spanish Romance to a high standard with and without the recording’.

If we were to break that down into 5 smaller goals I would say it would look like:

  1. Practice the picking hand pattern so it is super fluent
  2. Learn and master all the notes in part 1 and play it at half speed without any breaks
  3. Listen and play along with 3 different versions and slow down the track to 60% speed
  4. Practice the tough chord shapes and changes for part 2
  5. Play part 2 with fluency at half speed and then gradually increase the tempo of the whole piece to full speed

Your sub-goals will be very different for each goal as they really depend on the main goals itself.

The idea behind the sub-goal is not to create the perfect plan but to break down the bigger goal into more realistic, more achievable and smaller goals. You can easily track your progress by dividing a major goal into sub-goals.

You may even feel the need to change the sub-goals as you go along. You may think they weren’t quite right before and that’s completely okay. Learning how to set goals and break them down is something you learn over the time.

You will get better at it eventually.

3) Be inspired everyday

There are certain songs that I hear every now and then, and needless to say, they just blow me away with all their awesomeness. These songs are the ones that either make my jaw drop or give me goosebumps. As a guitarist, these songs are nearly always guitar songs and they are always awesome.

Sometimes the song can be a piece of classical music played on guitar – something like this rendition of Toccata and Fugue by J.S.Bach, Neil Young or Slash ripping up a great solo.

It doesn’t matter what I’m listening to; fingerpicking, rock, classical, jazz …The point is, if I hear something that blows me away during the day, I’ll be compelled to get back to my guitar and start playing.

Listen to your favourite guitar songs daily, watch live DVD gigs, (good), get to actual gigs (better) and listen to new radio stations. Think about what or who inspires you to play guitar and what was the reason you wanted to learn in the first place.

Think about all the words, songs, phrases or emotions that make your guitar-playing-soul sing. They will come in handy later on in the post and they don’t have to make sense to anyone else.

I promise you, the more inspired you are by other guitarists, the more motivated you will be as a guitarist.

4) Focus on the benefits of becoming the guitarist you dream of being

I’m not much of a fan of self-help books – as I am pretty well motivated – but one book that really helped me to boost my motivation level, is 59 Seconds by Richard Wiseman. Whenever I’m down on motivation, this book helps me get back up!

The book includes many nuggets of great information – not just on motivation, but other aspects for guitarists such as creativity and stress management etc. One aspect I found in the book was about the power of focusing on the benefits of achieving your goals.

In a study featured in the book, participants were asked to focus on either the benefits of achieving a goal or the consequences of not achieving a goal.

And guess who were the most successful?

That’s right! It was those that focused on the benefits of being successful.

The creators of the study were of the view that the brain gets more of what it focuses on it.

Therefore, if you want to be successful, you need to think as if you are successful.

If you tend to focus on the negatives – of not achieving your goals – then you are most likely to not achieve them.

This is not a rocket science but it is surprising how many guitarists self-sabotage themselves in many ways. In my opinion, one of the main ways of this is by being negative to yourself and your abilities. Undermining yourself is the worst thing a guitarist can do to him or herself!

Therefore, spend your time thinking and listing down the benefits of being a successful guitarist. There are plenty of benefits that exist.

To help you get a picture of such benefits, some of mine include:

Joy, pleasure, socialising, popularity, creativity, a sense of achievement, increased brain health, networking with people, writing new music, improvisation, a connection with my past, understanding music and playing the music I love. And the list goes on …

5) Promise yourself you will pick up the guitar every day – even for a second!

Whenever I used to get a student who went through a period of finding it hard to motivate themselves to pick up and play the guitar, (it rarely happens these days as I only teach a handful of students and I screen them first), I would always try to find out why they were not feeling motivated to play and see if it was due to anything we were doing.

After all it is part of my job to inspire and motivate them.

Sometimes though, I would analyse it and it had nothing to do with what we were doing – instead, it was more about what was going in their personal life.

Tiredness, being super busy, not having enough time, or they were going through a phase in their life where the guitar wasn’t really a priority for them.

In such circumstances, I would make them promise that if they had just 1 minute to spare each day (which everyone does), they should simply pick up the guitar for at least a second and play at least one note.

One note – that was it!

After they had plucked one single note, they could put it back down. They had completed their task for the day and can be guilt free. They could then go back to watching ‘House’ or playing Candy crush (or whatever crack like addiction games on phones people would play at the time).

What do you think happened?

Well, every time they told me the same thing.

Some days they would pick it up, noodle for a minute or so and then be too tired and put it down and some days they would pick it up expecting to put it straight back down after the one note rule was adhered to but actually end up playing for 15, 30 or even 60 minutes or so.

Often I was told by students that they would pick it expecting to only play for a minute (just to adhere to the promise) but actually got into the groove and had a great session.

By the next lesson, they had practiced more by following this simple rule, felt more invigorated to practice and started to feel their passion for playing the guitar come to life again.

Use this method for during those times of the year when the guitar takes the back seat even if you don’t want it to.

It is a fun and powerful way of tricking your mind and thereby your hands into action!

6) Go public

Another piece of great information I got from Richard Wiseman’s book was the power of the idea of going public with your goals can have on your chances of success.

In his book, Professor Wiseman describes a study in which over 5000 participate had a wide variety of goals such as losing weight, learning a new language, quitting smoking, etc. In the study, he found that successful participants were far more likely to share their goals and aims with their friends, family and the general public.

He reasons that, by going public the participants have their friends and family to provide them with much needed support when the going gets tough. They feel accountable to their goals as they want to avoid being seen as a failure and no longer have the secrecy of the goal to help them ease the fear of failure.

Interestingly, he states that participants who made the bigger public declaration were a lot more likely to be successful.

Therefore, if you want to be the guitarist you dream of, take the opportunity now to share it with the world.

Tell all your family and friends and announce it over Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and everywhere else.

Scientific research shows you’ll be a better guitarist for it.

How to implement these techniques in a simple manner and for maximum effectiveness

In the beginning of this article, I promised you that by using a sheet of A4 paper and keeping it near or next to your guitar, or pinned on the wall where you practice, you will be able to make massive strides with your guitar playing.

Well, here is how you can do this. Firstly, print off the image below…

An A4 print out is ideal, but you can print it out any size you like if you have a bigger printer. If you don’t have a printer you can simply grab a piece of paper (ideally A4) and copy the general layout of the one above – copying down each of the sections.

Fill it out using the answers to the 6 steps above. To recap, this means fill out your:

  1. Big goals under the ‘Goals’ section
  2. Sub-goals – where the big goals branch off
  3. The words, phrases, bands, songs, people and emotions that inspire you or have inspired you to learn and play guitar.
  4. Any benefits you can think of that learning guitar could bring into your life
  5. Write down your promise to yourself (you can blank out and add your own if you don’t like the standard one)
  6. Post your completed practice plan all over social media and share with me and everyone you know!

Once you have done the aforementioned steps, stick the practice plan up on a wall or put it in a plastic poly pocket and keep it in the main part (not a separate pocket) of your guitar case. You can also keep it on the stand alongside your guitar.

Basically, anywhere where you will see it regularly. There is no point in doing this if you won’t see it very often. Oh, and use bright colours to write these. They help make the page more attractive to read and your brain loves that sort of stuff.

Make sure you do this. A lack of inspiration or dwindling motivation is one of the reasons people become stale with their playing and either give up, never improve or worse, not actually have that much fun with the instrument.

Now use these methods and reap the rewards of being a better, more focused and much more inspired guitarist.

I promise you they work – science and my own extensive guitar playing and teaching experience has shown that to be true.

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