Pieces of a Puzzle

I’ve been learning to play the bass guitar for just under a year, and although I’m not very good right now, I’m really enjoying the process.  It’s like putting a puzzle together.

Each new concept I learn about the bass guitar is like an individual piece of a puzzle.  There are so many “pieces” of knowledge needed to successfully make music with a bass guitar.  For several months, I felt like I’ve just been collecting pieces of this bass guitar puzzle.

Lately, the learning process has become much more exciting, because I’m now seeing how some of the pieces of the puzzle I’ve been learning are starting to fit together.   Scales make more sense now because I understand how they are used regarding keys and triads.  Those pieces fit together with the concepts I’ve learned regarding improvising and composing.  It’s fun to see my understanding grow as the picture gets clearer with each piece I acquire.

I think it’s like that with any new experience we undertake.  The process seems to be:

  1. Collect pieces of the puzzle in the form of knowledge and understanding
  2. See how these pieces fit together
  3. The picture becomes more clear
  4. We go back to step 1 and repeat the process

If you’re trying to learn something new and are getting frustrated with the progress, perhaps you should change what you’re looking at.  Instead of looking at the completed picture of what you’re trying to accomplish, why not look at how the pieces of what you have learned fit together to give you a glimpse of where you’re going.  And keep in mind, with every new piece, the picture becomes a little clearer.

Stop Trying

“Do or do not.  There is no try.”  ~ Yoda

I’m a firm believer in trying.  By trying, we explore and discover new things, create new experiences, and live an interesting life.  We often:

  • Try our hand at…
  • Try our best
  • Give it a try
  • Try something new

But sometimes we need to do more than just try.  Sometimes we need to actually “do”.

Trying sometimes feels like taking a chance, rolling the dice, or making an attempt without the expectation of a definitive outcome.  Doing on the other hand, has a more decisive feeling.  When we say we’re going to do something, it shows intention, purpose, forethought, and the expectation of a pre-determined outcome.

Here’s what I mean.  Check out how different “try” and “do” sound:

What “try” sounds like What “do” sounds like
I’ll try to get to the gym this week I’ll be at the gym at 5:30 every morning this week
I’ll try to make it I will be there
I’ll try to get that done today I’ll have that done by 3:30 this afternoon
I’m going to try to and save for retirement I’m going to put X% of every paycheck into a retirement account

 

There are certainly times when just need to try; like trying a new type of food or listening to a new type of music.  However, there are other times when the stakes are much higher or the outcome much more important.  This is when we need to do better than just try and actually do.

Is there anything you’ve been trying lately that you really should be doing instead?  If so, make the jump and begin doing.  Determine the outcome you desire and do what’s required to make it happen.  Because according to Yoda, we’ll either do it or we won’t.

It Gets Challenging

The arrival of summer in Oregon ushers in blueberry season.  I love this, because fresh-picked Oregon blueberries are for superior tasting than anything I could buy in a grocery store.  Aside from their superior taste, picking your own berries from one of the local fields is a summertime activity that is not to be missed.

The beginning of the picking season is the best!  All of the bushes are loaded with big clusters of ripe berries.  This makes for easy picking.  You don’t have to work very hard and in a short time you can be done picking and on your way with several pounds of blueberry goodness.

The scene is a little different as the season progresses.  The picking gets more challenging as more people get out and hit the field.  Gone are the huge, numerous clusters.  This is when you have to start searching the branches for smaller clusters that are hidden from site.  The more the season passes, the more you have to work to get the results you want.  The berries are still sweet and delicious; you just have to work harder for them… but it’s worth the effort!

I think it’s a lot like that when we’re learning new skills.  Starting out, we often see results quickly because we’re going from total ignorance on the topic to acquiring the most basic skills.  We go from knowing absolutely nothing to knowing something about the topic.  Although this basic knowledge often comes quickly, we soon realize that there is a whole lot more that we don’t know about the topic.  We also realize that if we want to get beyond a beginner’s skillset, it’s going to be challenging and require significant effort on our part.

I think it’s here that people often give up pursuing something they want.  They’ve gotten past the initial easy steps and arrive at the point where it’s going to take more effort than before to get where they want to go.  If that effort seems too great, they give up.

We’ve all been here in some form or another. It’s where we ask ourselves just how badly we want it.  How much do we want to:

  • Improve upon or learn a new skill
  • Learn a new language
  • Be able to use a new piece of technology
  • Improve a relationship
  • Become a better leader
  • Or simply pick enough blueberries to fil the large container we brought with us

Knowing that the challenges increase after starting is helpful, because we can anticipate them and be ready to address them when we might otherwise be caught off guard by them and give up.

Practice

It’s been about 2 months since I began learning to play the electric bass guitar.  Although I’m getting better I continue to realize just how much there is to learn.  I also realize that getting better doesn’t just happen because I want it to.  The only way I’ll get better is by practicing.

The thing about practice is that it takes work.  There is a commitment to practice required to learn and master any new skill.  This is often the point where people weed themselves of out acquiring a skill, because progress doesn’t come quick or easy, and practicing just seems too hard.  It is here that you need to decide how committed you are to practicing this skill to achieve the results you’re after.

Learning to play the bass has been interesting (and fun) in this regard, because I can feel the tension between my current skill-level and where I want to be.  I also know that consistent practice is what it’s going to take for me to improve.

The alternative to practicing is giving up on my desire to be a good bass player because it takes too much effort.  What kind of choice is that?  How would that help me?  I’d still want to know how to play the bass, but giving up would only set me on a course where that wouldn’t happen.

The truth is, if we want to learn something new, we must be willing to consistently commit time to practicing.

If you’re struggling to learn a skill, or are getting ready to begin learning one commit now to practicing consistently.  Know that it will likely get challenging, but ultimately your consistent practice will put you on the path to mastery.

Act Like a Baby

Persistent

Determined

Tenacious

Focused

When you hear those words, does any specific type or group of people come to mind? Perhaps you think of a high achiever or someone who seems to get things done regardless of their circumstances.  For me when I hear those words I think of… babies.

Think about a baby that’s learning to walk.  They struggle to stand up, even with the support of a solid object, they wobble around, and they fall down.  But what makes me think of babies when I hear those words, is that after each setback or failed attempt, babies get back up and try again.

Once they get it in their mind to start walking, they will not be stopped until they achieve that goal.   They don’t quit because it’s hard.  They don’t complain because they suck at their first attempts.  A baby will repeat the process of getting up and falling down until they have mastered walking.

I stand in awe of the persistence, determination, tenacity, and focus of babies.

Is there any skill you’re currently trying to learn that has you frustrated and wanting to quit?  If so, I encourage you to act like a baby and embrace the process of falling down and getting back up to try again.

If a skill we’re trying to learn is truly important to us, we should approach it with the same level of persistence, determination, tenacity, and focus.

May we all be more like babies in this regard.

You Won’t Stay There For Long

Last Friday I bought my first bass guitar.  The following Wednesday evening I had my first bass guitar lesson.  I’ve been learning to play Louie Louie, Peter Gunn, Smoke on the Water, and Iron Man.  It’s been a lot of fun, but I’ve also realize something:  when it comes to playing the bass… I suck!

And you know what?  That’s exactly where I’m supposed to be.

Think about it.  We don’t go from being a beginner to mastering a topic in 1 lesson.  Learning is a process, and that process starts with not being very good (sucking) at whatever it is we’re attempting to learn.  It’s here where we begin identifying what we need to do to become better and then focusing our efforts toward that end.

When we suck at something, we have clear benchmarks to measure our progress.  In my case as a bass player, I’m sure I’ll suck next week too, but not as much as I do this week.  I’ll be able to see where I’ve improved over the last week and what I need to improve on in the week ahead.

The problem comes when we equate sucking at something because we’re new to it, with being incapable of learning.  As a result of this line of thinking, we often give up way too early without ever embracing the learning process and trusting that as we diligently progress, we will suck much less in the future that we do today.

I encourage you to get comfortable with the discomfort of the learning process.  If there’s’ something you’d like to study, learn, or pursue, go after it knowing that you’re GOING TO suck at first.  But also know that if you stick with it, you won’t stay there for long.

Thousands of People Do It Everyday

When I set out to learn a new skill, there’s a phase in the beginning where I feel stupid because I’m being challenged by something I’ve never done before.  Whether it’s learning to read music, mastering a piece of software, learning to fly, or pumping my own gas ( I live in Oregon where we have laws against me doing that), there’s an initial awkward feeling that raises questions and doubt regarding my ability to grasp and apply what I’m attempting to learn. This is a time when it’s very easy to quit because our doubt is high and our ability is low.

Whenever I feel like this, I reassure myself with the following thought:  “Every day thousands of people are successfully doing what I’m trying learn today”

Now I’ve never been accused of being the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I’m also far from the dullest.  As experience has shown me, I am quite capable of learning new skills and grasping complex topics.  I’ll the same could be said of you.

I think we’re all susceptible to feeling overwhelmed and frustrated when we’re in the beginning stages of learning something new.  However, I also think each one of us is capable of positively resetting our minds by reminding ourselves that several other people, just like us, have pursued and mastered the same thing we’re attempting to learn.  And, just like we are now, they likely struggled doing it.

May we be encouraged by their success.