Finding More Time and Energy to Practice Guitar

Many people have trouble finding the time and energy for guitar practice.

They love music and spending time practicing, but with all the other commitments and distractions of modern life, it just doesn’t seem to be happening (either because of time constraints or procrastination).

In this article, find ways to generate more time to practice guitar, as well as many actionable tips on how to show up to your practice with more energy, focus and enthusiasm.  Enact just one or two of what you discover here, and you’ll feel better about your practice life and more empowered to make guitar part of your daily experience.

Finding Time for Yourself

There is really no such thing as “finding time”.

Every minute of the normal day is already taken by something. We are already using all of our time for something or other.

Instead of trying to “find” time, it’s much more practical (and effective) to “make” time.

Something’s Got to Go

In order to fit something else into “the box” that is our day, we must first take something else out.

This means that for everything we want to fit in, something’s got to go.

Want to sleep more? That means you get fewer waking hours.

Want to spend more time with your people?  That may mean less work, TV, or time in the garage.

Want to practice more guitar?  Something’s got to go.

Want to practice more guitar?  Something’s got to go.

Don’t panic just yet! You can baby-step into releasing things from your day. With a gentle strategy that doesn’t make any major changes too quickly, you can tweak your day over the course of a few weeks or months and never even feel the loss.

The Beauty of Non-Negotiables and Reflexive Habits

Someone (I can’t remember who) said, “99% is hard. 100% is easy.”

This doesn’t seem like it would be so, but it is. When we have to decide whether or not to do something, it takes energy and willpower, and those resources are not always willing to be tapped.

Some things, like brushing our teeth or going to the bathroom, we don’t make decisions on. They are “non-negotiables”. They are 100%. No choice necessary. Whether we feel like it or not, they get done.

If you truly want something in your life, make it a non-negotiable.

What helps these non-negotiables to fit into the routine is often what’s called a “reflexive habit”.

A reflexive habit is an action that happens from the cue of something else.

For instance, if you want to go to bed, you first brush your teeth.

In my twenties, I had a hard time making myself floss my teeth. It wasn’t until I made it non-negotiable to floss along with my nightly toothbrushing that it stuck. Now I don’t even think about it. It’s 100%, so it’s easy.  There’s no decision to be made.

If you truly want something in your life, make it a non-negotiable.

If you decide to make guitar practice a non-negotiable reflexive habit, you’ll have better success with it.

Decide when it will happen (first thing in the morning? just after dinner? after the kids go down for the night?). Notice what activity or event is just before your practice time, and use that as your cue to practice.

Another way to describe this is as an ITTT (if that then this) statement. If I just finished dinner, then it’s time for practice.

Caution: Perfectionism is a killer.  The ideal is like the horizon: you can chase it forever and never catch it.  Your imperative could be simply that you pick up the guitar and play one note at your chosen time.  If you want to continue, wonderful.  If not, no big deal.  You’ve fulfilled your personal obligation for the day and can feel good about it.

Know Thyself (and Manage Your Expectations)

One of the biggest saboteurs of a rewarding and gratifying guitar practice life is faulty expectations.

If you think you really “should” be practicing an hour a day, but you can reasonably only get in half that (or less), then you will perpetually feel like you’re failing. And no one can sustain a practice with those guilty feelings lurking around.

The ideal is like the horizon: you can chase it forever and never catch it.

Instead, take a sober and honest view of what you can reasonably do on a particular day, and set that as your expectation. That way, when you do it, you’ll feel good that you’re spending time with something you love and meeting your expectations.

The Curse of Too Much Time

While it’s easy to find examples of having too much to do and being too busy, there’s also another common situation: too much time.

For many recently retired or nest-emptied guitarists, the problem isn’t that there isn’t enough time, but that there isn’t enough structure.

You may have noticed that it can take longer to get your food in an empty restaurant than a full one. This is because it’s often easier to get things done when there’s already momentum. Going from 1 to 2 is easier and takes less effort and initiative than going from 0 to 1.

If you have all afternoon to practice guitar, you very well may get less done and see less improvement than if you only had a half hour.

This is often due to lack of structure. If you want to be effective, be intentional and follow a plan.

Create structure for more effective practice.

Even if you do have loads of time, act like you don’t. Set an amount of time to practice (you can always go longer if you like), and be focused and “on point” for that time period.

Having a practice plan can help you feel more successful in your work, and can ensure that you’re getting everything done that you set out to do.

Also, setting a time limit can give a slight sense of urgency, which causes the brain to pay better attention and stay more alert. Your practice actually becomes more effective because you’re more involved and focused.

Finding Energy

Energy is similar to time, in that you will not just “find” it. (Unless it’s behind your magic sofa.)

Brendon Burchard likes to say that

[quote]“A power plant doesn’t HAVE energy, a power plant GENERATES energy.”[/quote]

We are the same. Regardless of how tired you are, if you just found out you won the lottery or your house was on fire, you would suddenly generate more energy.

If you can switch your thinking to believe that you’re in control of your own energy levels and states, you’ll feel more empowered and less like you are at the mercy of your current feelings.

Common Knowledge vs. Common Practice

There are some common ways to create more energy in your life. These are things like:
– Drink more water
– Get plenty of sleep
– Eat healthy foods
– Focus on the positive
– Smile and laugh more frequently

These are “common knowledge”, but are they “common practice” in your day-to-day life?

Common knowledge, but common practice?

If you want more energy, make some small change to one or more of these and you’ll be on your way. (Tip: Make this small change reflexive and non-negotiable, as we talked about above.)

Energy Strategies

One of the best ways to manage your energy is to take note of when it gets low, and when it’s at it’s highest.

If you feel very tired after eating dinner, that may not be the best time to practice guitar.

If you are mentally sharp and energized first thing in the morning, try to practice guitar at that time (even for a short session).

The main thing is that you constantly become more aware of the energy you are feeling. That way, you can make more reasonable plans and increase your chances for practicing success. You can also…..

Generate More When You Need It

We are not completely at the mercy of our current energy level. We have ways to “pump up the volume”.

Besides artificial stimulants (caffeine, sugar, etc.), we can generate more energy by moving around, changing the tone of our self-talk, and using memories.

If you’re feeling lethargic at your  guitar practice time, jump around wildly! Do some squats or jumping jacks. Blast some loud music and dance for 2 minutes. Make yourself feel silly and start laughing at yourself.

We have ways to “pump up the volume”.

We we take on a posture of energy and enthusiasm (back straight, head up, eyes alert) we very soon start to feel that way as well.  Likewise, when we slump and hang our heads, we start feeling tired and mopey.

You can also talk to yourself in an energized tone. Say encouraging, positive things to yourself (“Oh Yeah! I am gonna blaze these scales! I Rock! Those arpeggios’ll never know what hit ’em!”) Thanks Coach!

You can also vividly remember a time when you were at your best and highly energized. If you fully put yourself back in that time and place, you will start feeling the feelings associated with the memory. The trick is fully sensing the memory: bright colors; vivid sounds; the feeling of wind, clothes, water, sun, whatever; the smells; any tastes involved. Make it real!  You’ll be amped in no time.

Beware the Energy Vampires

It’s also very valuable to know what activities or situations suck your energy.

  • Lethargic after dinner? You may be eating too much.
  • Feeling negative? Maybe you are around a complainer (or worse, maybe YOU are the complainer! Nooooooo!)
  • Low energy after work? Maybe you are sitting still for too long and would do better with frequent breaks, or a stand-up desk.
  • Mind racing? Maybe you’re trying to keep too many things in your head. Jotting them down could help.

Decide and Visualize

The important thing is that you become more aware of your energy and states, and decide to take a small action to make the situation better in some way.

When you find an improvement to make, first fully visualize what it will be like instead of how it currently is.  This will make the change much more likely to stick.

Just like above, when we accessed an energized memory, put yourself fully into the ideal scene and live it “in advance”. Imagine every detail of the change.

(As an example to start drinking more water, “At the top of every hour of the morning, I’m standing up and walking to the sink and getting a tall glass of water. I walk past ______, grab a glass from ________, fill it from the ________, and feel it sliding down my throat as I drink the entire glass. Then I walk back over and continue what I was doing.” )

Allen Mathews

Hi, I’m Allen Mathews. 

I started as a folk guitarist, then fell in love with classical guitar in my 20’s. Despite a lot of practice and schooling, I still couldn’t get my music to flow well. I struggled with excess tension. My music sounded forced. And my hands and body were often sore. I got frustrated, and couldn’t see the way forward. Then, over the next decade, I studied with two other stellar teachers – one focused on the technical movements, and one on the musical (he was a concert pianist). In time, I came to discover a new set of formulas and movements. These brought new life and vitality to my practice. Now I help guitarists find more comfort and flow in their music, so they play more beautifully.
Click here for a sample formula.

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