Sam Harris and the Shortcut to Wisdom

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

“Wisdom is largely taking your own advice.”

Sam Harris

For whatever reasons, we often go against our better judgement. We may know the next steps to polish a piece of music, or improve our tone quality on guitar. But instead we do something else.

Why, if we know the best next step, do we not take it?

One potential reason lies in what Ray Dalio calls “first- and second-order consequences”.

A first-order consequence is the perceived immediate result of an action. The first-order consequence of exercise, for example, is pain and time spent. And these can seem undesirable.

The second-order consequences of exercise are better health and more energy.

Likewise, unhealthy food can be immediately attractive (first-order). But it is ultimately bad for us (second-order).

So why do we so often choose what to do based the first order consequences?

There could be many reasons. But here’s a better question: “How can we condition ourselves to take action based on second-order consequences?”

In our guitar practice, we may mindlessly play through our pieces. We may ignore mistakes and let our minds wander. This feels good because we hear notes coming out, and it feels like we’re doing something.

Meanwhile, we are fully aware repeating mistakes will just ingrain them deeper. Practicing mistakes does not make them go away, and we know that.

But to stop and face the problem? This takes more energy. This sounds like work. And it is.

Constructive practice takes all our attention. It demands more of us. It calls for honesty and patience and creativity. In the moment, we may subconsciously avoid this. Some reptilian part of our brain may tell us to do whatever feels safest.

When we embrace the momentary discomfort and opt for the hard work, we see better results. We improve faster and enjoy more progress.

When we take our own advice, we choose second-order consequences and the rewards that come with them.

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 stellar teachers – one focused on the technical, 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.

Hi Allen, I am a Dutch guy who plays classical guitar (solo and together with a flute player). Unfortunately I have been suffering from focal dystonia since begin 2016. Of course I tried physical therapy which didn't help… But I tried some of your [technique] lessons (I had teachers before but I was never taught your techniques) and to my big surprise the nasty feeling in the back of my right hand which pulls my index finger upward was gone! So now I practice your lessons. Anyway, I am very happy to have found you on the internet. Thanks very much!

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