Harnessing the Brain’s Power to Make Constant Progress

by East Mesa School of Guitar

Have you ever wondered why some people make way faster progress at something that most? Me too!

I used to think they were just gifted in whatever it was they excelled at because I was told that as a kid. However, I couldn’t quite make sense of that explanation. Plus, it seems like these “gifted” individuals are getting younger and younger by the year.

It’s Just Human Nature and Science

Having spent the better part of 40 years studying and trying to uncover the “great” secret of natural ability and talent, it’s become clear the answer has been with us all along. All humans are wired to achieve two general goals: 1) to overcome fear and 2) to achieve happiness. That’s it. No matter how complex we make life, it always boils down to these two goals. That’s the human nature element.

Now for the Science element. Every time something new is learned we must make sure our brain is in the correct gear for maximum progress. You must be saying, “That’s obvious, Einstein, but how do we actually get into the proper gear?”

We’ve all experienced this magical gear at some point in life. We become completely engrossed in what we’re doing and lose track of time. Or experienced that rush of endorphins as something that was difficult instantly became doable and almost easy. These feelings are associated with the achieving happiness goal mentioned above. This is why we play video games, drive fast cars or jump out of perfectly good planes. Instant happiness, baby!

However, the chemistry involved has a very nasty kick when it comes to maintaining that instant happiness or staying in the proper gear for maximum progress.

What goes up must always come down…

After the rush of feel-good chemicals like dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins has run its course the brain and body need time to rest and recover. But who actually does that? I’m guilty of jumping right back onto the feel-good train, for sure! The odd thing is I can almost never get back to the place I had previously been. Talk about frustrating!

The Often Overlooked Mental State for Continual Progress

So here is the critical element most people (my past self included) miss. Once this element is added into the mix every learning experience has the opportunity to be amazing.

That often missed element is recovery… Think about it like this, there is almost no activity that doesn’t require a period of rest and recovery. Working. Lifting weights. Running. Hanging out with Aunt Fran… You get the idea.

However, when we are on the happy train and learning something, how often do we stop and allow our body and mind to rest? Ouch! This sets up a vicious cycle because we start out achieving bliss and want nothing more than to keep it going only we can’t get there.

Enter life goal number 2 – overcoming fear… I remember sleepless nights in high school trying to stay in or recapture my happy place after crushing a great session of guitar practice. I now know I was afraid I would never get back to the level I had reached. Desperately trying to overcome that fear robbed me of the recovery time my brain and body needed to replenish and eventually get back to the happy zone. What a horrifying cycle!!

How Intentional Rest and Recovery Can Make You a Learning Machine

Here’s how I have maintained continual progress in almost every learning situation I’ve faced as an adult:

  1. Being very aware of when I’ve entered into a happy zone while learning something. Knowing this means I can take specific actions to protect the progress I’ve made. Gaining control of the learning process is HUGE!
  2. Stopping before the chemicals where off. The natural tendency is to keep achieving happiness for as long as possible. However, stopping before the cycle ends gives our brain enough time to memorize what progress and continual improvement feel like. Waiting until the crash only leaves our mind in a tired, beaten down state. This is not what the brain should be memorizing.
  3. After stopping and while still in the happy zone, take time to celebrate your progress and INTENTIONALLY give yourself permission to rest and recovery. How long should this recovery cycle last? It’s different for everyone, but I would suggest starting with a day and then gradually shortening the cycle until you learn where your current threshold is. Sometimes just being aware of the need for recovery will allow your body and mind to shorten the cycle on a subconscious level because they want to work for you, not against you.

Take away:

While this article didn’t specifically address becoming a better musician, my hope is understanding these foundational ideas will improve all areas of life. Until next time, stay focused, stay consistent, and expect the best from yourself.  🙂

About the author: Ty Morgan is a professional guitarist in the Phoenix, Arizona area. He also owns and operates one of the premier guitar education academies in the area. If you’re searching for rock/blues guitar lessons in Mesa, AZ  and ready to discover the science of learning and mastering guitar be sure to contact Ty!