Here’s How I Kicked Discouragement in The Teeth, And How You Can, Too
Many people tell me “I’ve always wanted to play guitar.” While I’ve played guitar for decades, I know how they feel, because I’ve always wanted to speak another language fluently.
Over the past decades I’ve intermittently tried to brush up on my high school Spanish skills–but like many people who want to get back into guitar, I never got over the hump of making a definite plan and sticking with it.
Which is pretty funny when you consider that I write blog posts on how to effectively learn musical skills with plans and habits!
There is a gap between theory and practice! But in this blog post I’m going to tell the story of how I’m closing that gap, and how you and I can both maximize our chances of success in any endeavor by understanding the cycle of planning and action, encountering and overcoming resistance which is necessary to reach your goals.
Desire Is Ignition
My desire to be fluent reignited when I saw a TED talk called “How To Achieve Your Most Ambitious Goals” in which artist and author Stephen Duneier describes his bite size approach to successfully learning German.
Duneier learned German by habit stacking–he added the habit of listening to and practicing aloud with audio lessons to his pre-existing habit of walking to and from work. He even loaded an iPod with only German lessons to reduce his temptation to listen to anything else.
Since I’m fascinated with the skill of habit stacking and since I had already acquired the habit of a daily walk from Grand Central Station to NYC Guitar School and back, this concept hit me like a dandelion seed falling into a patch of wet, freshly tilled and fertilized earth.
And I was the dirt!
I was so excited. I would be just like Duneir. I would do exactly the same thing–and just like him I would be wowing family and friends in no time at all. And to be honest, I also was thinking: “This time will be different! This will not be a false start!”
A Proven Plan Set In Motion
One of the best ways to achieve a goal is to simply adopt somebody else’s proven strategy.
So I selected the same app as Duneir, Pimsleur. From beginner to the end of the advanced class, there were 150 lessons. Duneir had repeated each lesson three times, but since I’d already taken some Spanish, I decided to repeat each lesson twice, so it would take me 30 weeks to finish the course, with extra time on the weekends to make up any missed walks or to add extra material.
And then I started walking…and talking! I used stepping out onto the sidewalk as my trigger to insert my headphones and start practicing. Luckily, lots of people in New York City are already talking to themselves, so as I roamed the sidewalks of Manhattan repeating “¿Dos cervezas, por favor!?”, I literally did not get a single second glance from everyone else.
The plan worked great. After 30 or 40 days, I felt incredible momentum and pride. I even started listening to Spanish language podcasts. I also naturally spent less time listening to news and politics podcasts–which made me a happier and more positive person.
Perhaps best of all, my teenage son spontaneously began following the same plan–except that instead of adding language practice to walking, he used his morning bathroom time as the base of his habit stack.
Picture four people waiting in line outside the bathroom. “When are you going to be out?” we yell.
From the other side of the door, we hear “¿Dos cervezas, por favor!?”
Winter came. I bundled my hat and hood over my headphones and kept walking and speaking in Spanish.
It was glorious.
But the resistance was around the corner.
Resistance Is An Inevitable Part Of Any Worthwhile Endeavor
I learned the concept of Resistance from reading The War Of Art by Steven Pressfield. Pressfield describes it as a universal force which sustains inertia and entropy and which opposes creative activity and growth though: rationalizing, fear and anxiety, distractions, inner criticism, etc.
And it turns out that people who expect to meet resistance and challenges in pursuing their goals are actually significantly more likely to succeed than those who, flush with initial motivation and excitement, assume that they will still be filled with desire to play guitar/learn-Spanish/not-eat-ice-cream-after-midnight/etc a week from next Tuesday.
I personally have found embracing the concept that there will always be inner and outer obstacles in the way of my best self to be really empowering.
Enter The Resistance
My resistance showed up in force around my 90th lesson, in April, after 18 weeks of growing momentum and consistent Spanish practice..
First, I got a cold splash of reality in my face. After 90 lessons and a few promising conversations with supportive native speakers, I tried watching some Spanish language movies–and I didn’t even come close to understanding the dialogue.
“How long will this take?”, I wondered.
I found a State Department estimate that it takes 600-750 hours of practice for a typical English speaker to become, not fluent, but professionally proficient in Spanish. I realized that at my 1 hour/day practice level I was optimistically looking at about a year longer than I had initially expected to become, not even fluent, but merely kind of proficient.
Just like a guitar student who finishes our Level V Advanced Beginner class after 50 weeks of practice I was definitely not an absolute beginner…but I also was starting to know enough to realize how much I didn’t know! Ironically, I didn’t feel as skilled, competent or confident as I had when I knew less and was less skilled. That felt discouraging.
Still, I had the routine of my daily walks, so my habit of practicing was intact.
But then, I injured my leg! Walking to work was out of the question–it was all I could do to hobble down the corridor from one train to another.
Suddenly my keystone walking habit that was gone–right when I was feeling discouraged and even a little bored.
Feeling of progress and competence? Evaporated.
And my motivation? Low.
Regular practice structure? Gone.
Amazingly, after two years of walking to and from work and four months of practicing Spanish while I did it, it took only a single day for me to revert to my previous commuting habits. As I limped onto the number 1 train, it felt a lot easier to scroll through the comment feed on NY Times articles than to put on my headphones and tap a “play” icon.
What would happen next?
Persistence Through Resistance
I’m lucky, because I work as a coach and teacher of entrepreneurs and guitar players and I’ve read dozens of books and attended dozens of classes on habits and motivation, so I was in a position to recognize what was really going on.
After a couple of days of not studying any Spanish at all I realized “Oh…this is not an injured leg! This is not a lack of progress! This is not an addictive clickbait comment feed on an emotion-triggering news article on my phone.”
“This is actually the resistance!”
“This is a monster which is attempting to drag my dream into a cave and sit on it while it shrinks and suffocates.”
It is a lot easier to deal with a monster you can see than with one you didn’t even know was there!
I thought, “You know what, this isn’t saving the planet, or going to Mars…this isn’t raising my kids or making a living…this isn’t important to anyone but me, but gosh darn it, this is my life and this is my goal. Resistance, you will not steal my dream!”
And I stabbed that scaly beast right in the heart!
I did it by lowering my standards. I wouldn’t spend an hour each day walking and talking–but by heck I would do something every day! I would silently practice on the subway ride.
The next day I when limped onto the subway train, I heroically put on my headphones, and hit the play icon. My leg hurt, I was a year away from being proficient, and I felt no illusions about my talent or skill. But I had kicked resistance in a teeth, and my dream was waking back up.
Resistance whimpered and slunk off down the platform to attack some other poor citizen.
That was two months ago. My leg is healing and I’m once again walking to and from work, practicing Spanish. I’m repeating each lesson 3 times now, and I’m on lesson 138 of 150.
I’m excited to continue my learning after I finish lesson 150. (Hint: I plan on doing exactly what somebody else did!)
Most importantly I’ll be sure to plan for the inevitable future resistance when I will feel bored, discouraged, or busy. In that broken, unglamourous or distracted moment, I know I will actually be at a turning point in my life–another of the thousands of moments when I can chart my own course.
Heroic Journeys – Resistance is Futile!
Stories and movies are full of heroes facing down and destroying monsters who are threatening the world.
But for most of us, our tests don’t come in the cockpit of an X-wing fighter circling the Death Star, or rowing across the Pacific or while swimming the English Channel.
We are the heroes of our own stories one little moment at a time, on the subway platform or in our kitchens–when we strive to be a better friend or parent, when we do what we know is right, and even when we are learning guitar or Spanish.
In those little moments, in the words of William Henley’s poem Invictus, “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”
Or maybe better, for today and in this blog post, we are singing along with the Mexican folk song, La Bamba, which many of us have heard sung by Richie Valens or Los Lobos: “Yo no soy manero, soy capitan.” (I’m not a sailor–I am the captain.)
¡Yo no soy manero, soy capitan!
Allow your desire to ignite action. Follow a proven plan. Expect and meet inevitable resistance. And repeat. You and I have greatness within us!
On To Greatness,
TED TALK by Stephen Duneier “How to Achieve Your Most Ambitious Goals”
EO Accelerator Is A Great Way To Learn To Grow Your Business
I heard about the Ted talk from one of the business owners I coach as a volunteer through the Entrepreneurs Organization Accelerator program. If you have a business with at least 250K in revenue and you are serious about growing to 1M and beyond, this is a great opportunity–check it out HERE. https://www.eonetwork.org/eo-accelerator
Here’s A Post On Habit Stacking By NYCGS’s Favorite Author, James Clear
State Department Estimates Of Time To Learn A Foreign Language
Old Book Illustrations upload graphics from old books for the public domain – they’re awesome!
**To Fly, We Have to Have Resistance is a quote by Maya Lin, the designer behind the Vietnam Veterans Memorial