Trying something new: Not Trying

I’ve been playing a lot of guitar lately, often several hours a day. I haven’t ever taken lessons before, and I certainly don’t plan to. I’m not even trying deliberate practice; my guitar-playing is a study in deliberate mediocrity. I only play simple four-chord pop songs, with the same strumming pattern, while singing along. And I love it.

It’s a private, weird, almost embarrassing activity. All the musicians I know use music to express themselves creatively or to perform for others. I just regurgitate simple tunes, and only play when I’m alone. It’s really just an effective distraction, a void-filler, a coloring book for my ears.

In the past, when I learned new skills, I’d usually get the basics down quickly, form grand ambitions too fast, hit some small bump in the road, get frustrated with myself, associate negative feelings with the activity, and eventually stop doing it. What I once enjoyed quickly became a chore, and I’d collapse under the weight of my own expectations. I’d seek solace in consumption — eating, drinking, bingeing shows, going on social media — and end up with a guilt-ridden hangover.

So, this new thing I’m trying is, er, Not Trying. I’m not embracing the anti-ambition trend, but rather learning how to cultivate positive emotions for activities that I want to get good at. And so far, it seems to be working.