Anne Lamott on What to Do When Nothing Works

Tuesday Quotes are short explorations of music, life, and the daily endeavor of practicing classical guitar. Enjoy!]

“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”

Anne Lamott

In our lives and practice, we sometimes “hit the wall”. We reach the point where nothing seems to work. We wonder if we’ll ever get past the current challenge.

These are the moments that test our resourcefulness. When our usual go-to solutions don’t work, we face the question of what to do next.

Part of practice is learning myriad ways to solve problems and overcome obstacles. If one way doesn’t work, perhaps another one will. But what do we do when nothing seems to work?

There is magic in Anne Lamott’s recommendation: unplug for a few minutes.

Taking a break allows us to revisit the challenge with fresh eyes and ears. We may have new perspectives and ideas. Or our body may have caught up to our mind (or vice versa).

Downtime, such as a walk, nap, or just “zoning out”, gives our mind time to churn on the problem. While we’re otherwise occupied, it’s hard at work on the issue.

This is why we often have clever ideas in the shower, or upon first waking.

Yes, we can beat our heads against the same wall until cracks appear. Or, we can define the problem then unplug. Brute force is not always the best option.

Short, frequent practice sessions take advantage of this. And daily practices are better than marathon weekend ones. The more work-rest cycles we get, the better.

When things feel hopeless, maybe all we need is to step away, then return

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.

I have lost my entire metallic sound while I am playing now. Even my single note practice sounds more melodious, less tinny. [The Woodshed technique practice] has made a major difference in my tone. Thank you.


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-Harlan Friedman

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