Using Visualisation techniques as a tool to help make you a better guitar player isn’t as far fetched an idea as you may think.
Anyone that has been with me long enough, knows that our journey on the guitar, and the concepts I teach about guitar, music and playing, inevitably arrive at conversation about the use of positive reinforcement to help you achieve your goals on the guitar and in particular, VISUALISATION.
The conversation itself, usually starts out harmless enough. More often than not, it’s trying to get a student through a challenging or difficult period in their quest to get better at changing chords for a song they are learning, trying to improvise or compose their own music, and even become the greatest guitarist that they see for themselves.
It then moves on to me asking the student questions like, who do you see yourself as being on the guitar? What are you thinking when you’re playing? Do you have good feelings, or not so good feelings about playing? Are you getting frustrated easily? Are you struggling to get faster, or be more accurate? I’ll poke the bear as much as I can. Never in a demeaning or malicious way, but I will dig to get to the truth of how that student really feels and sees themselves as a musician/ guitar player, which will impact upon their current outward results greatly.
In the previous paragraph is both the problem and the solution at the same time. So, what do you see yourself as being on the guitar?
Most newbies that take lessons with me, scoff and don’t take seriously at all, the idea of visualising yourself in becoming a better player. Initially dismissing it as spiritual- gook, mumbo- jumbo stuff that they are hearing me say is an essential part of becoming a wonderful anything, not just guitar player/musician.
The scientific evidence is now stacking up and beginning to support that which I have been saying for two decades now. Yes! Science is agreeing with me in that you can visualise yourself to a much better version of the player you are today. And with consistent attention and action, you can literally become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Where once upon a time, neuro-scientists were adamant that our brains were hard wired, today there is sufficient evidence to suggest that our brains are not hardwired, but that they are quite plastic and can be reprogrammed by such techniques as visualisation.
You see, there is a bundle of neurons that starts at the brain stem just above the spinal cord, and runs up through the base of the brain, into the mid brain and even into the fore brain. Scientists call this the ‘Reticular Activating System’ (RAS), and its primary function is to alert the higher brain centres when important messages are received and also to filter those incoming messages.
Take for example hearing sound, or music. The sound is heard in through the ear canal and causes the eardrum to vibrate. The sound then moves to the cochlea. This is filled with fluid, which then vibrates, causing the hair cells to bend. The hair cells create neural signals which are picked up by the auditory nerve, which in turn sends a signal to the brain where it is received and filtered first by the RAS. This process of filtering is called sensory gating. The RAS then allows strong sensations from this set of sense organs to pass through, while messages from other sense organs are momentarily held back.
The Reticular Activating System also provides feedback to the other sensory receptors. It organises the messaging telling them not to send conflicting messages, if only but momentarily. An example of this would be if you’re quietly reading a book and you heard a loud noise. Your attention would be immediately directed to the source of the loud noise.
Even though, our brains can only attend to one set of messages at any one time, the RAS does a wonderful job at organising the messages in order of priority. If you think about the amount of sensory data that we are bombarded with every single day through advertising on social media etc., our brains would explode if it weren’t for this filtering system called “Reticular Activating System’.
I think that the key function here is that it is working for the good of the brain
Have you ever noticed when you want to buy a new thing, whether it be the latest phone or a particular brand of car, all of a sudden you begin hearing about that new phone from everyone, or you begin seeing your desired car everywhere? That’s your RAS working hard in the background unnoticed by you to bring you evidence of your focused thoughts.
It also works to validate your beliefs. If you try to deconstruct what a belief is, it is just a thought you keep thinking and accepting as truth, based on either your own personal experience, or that of someone else’s. You then directly or indirectly take that on as your own belief. A lot of beliefs are passed down to you as a child without you actually questioning its validity. Thus, if you have been led to believe that learning to play the guitar is hard because your mum, or dad found it hard when they were trying to learn unsuccessfully. You may view this as the norm, and so have very low expectations of your ability. Unless this low expectation is addressed you are going to have a difficult time trying to convince yourself otherwise, because the evidence that your RAS brings you is based around your own core beliefs about that very thing hard, frustrating and you not getting it.
So. How can we utilise visualisation techniques to get better at guitar? Well, the concept is easy enough. All it requires is that you see yourself as already being the wonderful guitar player you wish to be. The doing of this, is not as easy as the concept however.
The hardest part is believing that what you are doing in visualising yourself as an already accomplished player, is actually helping you to get better. This is compounded by the fact you probably have a core belief that life just doesn’t work this way. Your whole life thus far, in almost everything you have ever read tells you that you can’t just simply visualise something into existence. That this sort of thinking is pure fantasy, and that you would be considered delusional about your own grandeur, or worse, a little ‘unhinged’.
Now I am the first to admit that we are yet to get to a point in our evolution, whereby our desires just miraculously and instantly appear out from nowhere without us so much as lifting a finger. I do believe however, a focused and consistent effort is required to achieve a goal, and that you absolutely require a burning desire for it to be made manifest into your life, no matter how long it takes to achieve. Like Napoleon Hill wrote all those years ago in his book ‘Think and Grow Rich’, “Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.”
Your focused attention upon your goal, and your attention to the detail of that goal and the subsequent actions leading to the attainment of the goal is a more pragmatic way of achieving the desired goal than merely visualising it. Without the action nothing will eventuate, but here is where the visualisation of a goal gets interesting. The more your think about a thing, the more your Reticular Activating System (RAS) considers it as important to, and as such attunes you to the evidence of its existence in the world around you.
As Ruben Gonzalez, author of The Courage to Succeed, explains, “Even though the cerebrum is the centre of thought, it will not respond to a message unless the RAS allows it. The RAS is like Google. There are millions of websites out there, but you filter out the ones you are not interested in simply by typing a keyword.”
When you notice the thing you want more, you think of it more and then with intentional visualisation of that goal as already being achieved by you, the opportunities become more frequent and therefore the actions that can be taken by you to achieve it easier to take. Your Reticular Activating System, doesn’t know the difference between the real world or your imagined world. Let me say that again, your RAS can’t distinguish between real or imagined.
“Visualisation is a powerful tool to retrain your subconscious mind, because it allows you to feel and experience a situation which hasn’t happened yet - as if it were real,” writes Assaraf. In short, “if you are able to genuinely ‘see’ yourself as an accomplished guitar player in your mind, your subconscious will process that as reality.”
So, the more you keep your goals at the forefront of you mind, the more your subconscious mind will work to help you reach them. This is why writing down your goals, saying affirmations and visualising your intended outcome is so important. It helps the RAS focus in on what is important to you.
Now, when you achieve a desired goal, and it could be anything big or small, your brain releases chemicals as a reward. The best-known chemical is the neuro transmitter called Dopamine. The release of dopamine is a natural part of how the brain functions, giving us a ‘rush’ and producing the sensation of pleasure. Eating chocolate or drinking coffee are two everyday examples that produce the exact same rush as achieving a goal or winning at something.
Because of this, it stands to reason that the release of dopamine is directly connected to motivation, which in turn drives us to repeat the thing that gave us the rush in the first place.
Much like meditation, visualisation requires consistent practice. You need to clear your mind, but instead of focusing on nothing in particular, you begin focusing on seeing the intended outcome of a particular goal or desire with your minds eye.
Bring to mind a compelling vision, with as much detail as you can, really doing your best to feel what it is like to be there in the future having, being or doing whatever it is you see for yourself. The more you do this the more real it will feel, and more the motivation you will have to keep going.
Love and Light