Silencing the ‘Little Advisor’ (A.K.A. Overcoming Guitar Procrastination)

One word that seems to manifest an uneasy feeling in most of us humans is the word discipline. So often it’s associated with pain, boredom and generally doing stuff we don’t like.

As a child at school, I was often told, ‘you need to be more disciplined’ or I would overhear my mother being told, ‘Mark is a smart boy, but he lacks discipline’.

I would always find this interesting because I was an over achiever in sports and athletics. Every spare minute of my day was filled with games like cricket, rugby, soccer, basketball or tag. Or I’d be taking myself for a run around the block, or doing pull-ups and press ups.

I WAS disciplined, but not for school work.

So let’s define discipline.

Discipline is doing something you know you should do, even though you’d rather do something more fun.

It’s ‘Self Mastery’ when that little cheeky voice inside your mind says, ‘ah, you don’t need to do this, let’s just take a look at Facebook for a minute.’ That voice in our mind is in EVERYONE’S MIND.

I know that voice too well. But that voice is not you. Think about that for a second… You’re observing that voice… So it’s not really you. It’s like a pathetic little advisor.

Most people are completely unaware of this and just think that it’s THEM thinking the thought. We escape the imprisoned version of ourselves when we realize this. It’s the ingredient that determines whether you achieve mastery or not. And this applies to making the bed, doing the housework, going to work etc.

Most of us would love to master the guitar, so what’s stopping you? Or maybe it’s not the amount of guitar playing, but the way you’re practicing. Are you able to take the time needed to imprint a new chord into your subconscious? Are you willing to do the ‘pressing technique’ to nail an entire tricky chord progression? Will you do 5 minutes of concentrated scale practice or riff training?

Watch for that little advisor’s voice. Notice how it gets you to do the less important things. Its job is to distract you. It doesn’t want to be trained or ignored. We need to regain control of ourselves and do the thing we know we should do. Each time we conquer that small voice, it shrinks a little and possesses a little less power. We become stronger and more in control.

Here’s 5 tips for building motivation and ‘silencing the little advisor’:

  1. Put your guitar on a stand in the place where you spend most of your time. You’ll be surprised by how often you pick it up and play.
  2. Remind yourself why you wanted to learn guitar in the first place and visualize yourself as the guitarist you want to be.
  3. Find a friend who is into guitar and make time each week to catch up with them for a jam, share music, talk shop, and share your progress with one another.
  4. Make an achievable goal and work towards it. Maybe it’s a song you really want to be able to play. Maybe it’s playing in a band. Maybe it’s getting up on stage to perform for an audience. Choose something that’s both challenging and realistically achievable in a reasonable time frame (ie two weeks from now I want to be able to play x song) – then go for it.
  5. Make a commitment to playing 15 minutes a day. Hardly a chore, and it will turn into more… I guarantee it.

Got any more helpful tips for ‘silencing the little advisor?’ Put them in the comments below!

Happy playing guitar freaks.


  1. Chrissie

    I have been really enjoying your beginners guitar course and doing the practicing but would really like it if you had taught ONE tune that i can recognise. I have got to the end of the course but cant play any of the songs i would like to – where do i go from here. You explain things so well in your course but i find it difficult to follow those Youtube Easy Guitar Tunes in 10 Minutes guys and dont know where else to look.

    1. Mark McKenzie Post author

      Hi Chrissie, thanks for the comment! This is actually something we’re working on at the moment, and I hope to have MORE songs on the site soon. Do you have any specific songs you want me to teach?

  2. Cath

    Good article. I agree with to have both practice and fun in the process. I however seem to have not much fiun part since I am struggling with the practice because of some physical problems with my shoulder/nek and Hand. Cant play for long time, or sometimes not even for days. I have finally found a special chair and sitting position which at gives better relieve while playing. Not ideal, for sure, but plain sitting or standing is just not a possibility (yet I hope).
    My fingers and eye coordination dont work that good, which makes progress very very slow.

    I have come to terms with myself that it will take much more time, alhough that was also a struggle X-), so I am still committed to learn, not giving up. And like i said I have done a lot for a good accomodation for my playing but still procrastination is right around the corner because you know when you cant really play yet, even a little bit, the fun part is very hard to be found. Because even trying a simple song is much like practicing.
    I must say I also did fall into the perfection trap, that helpd changin my focus but saying you just have to push through is for me still quite a leap…….

    1. Mark McKenzie Post author

      Hi Cath, I totally understand where you’re coming from. When you’re faced with physical limitations that are making it rather difficult, it’s not fun. In that situation, it can be helpful to take a step back and set your sights a little lower. Maybe you’re not ready for that ‘simple’ song. Take a few steps back, maybe try for getting the first couple of chords down. It can be slow going sometimes. But progress is what counts, however small. Hang in there. Celebrate the small victories.

  3. Kristo

    Thanks a lot Mark I’m a big fun and you’re the reason I started playing the guitar. You actually even helped me to pick the right guitar with your emails.I really like your motivational emails and posts and it really helps to have the guitar in a place where you can pick it up extending your arm …so thank you and Please more motivational posts and emails as it is really helpful

  4. John Broek

    Hi Mark.

    You give me a punch on my nose and wake me up to get start again with the enthousiasem I started on your stite some while ago.
    Sometimes I need a person that hold a mirror in my face en say, come on just do it.
    Thanks for the hint.


  5. Tom

    Any advice to overcome the pain of arthritics of my fretting hand thumb? When the thumb is supporting the neck form chords the joint pain soon becomes unbearable and forces me to lay my old friend aside. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Not being able to make music is like taking a piece of my life away. This all started a few years ago right after I turned 70.

  6. Richard Morgan

    These are valuable posts, Mark. Another element for a future post could be the importance of ‘deliberate practice,’ I.e., practice that takes us out of our comfort zone.

    1. Mark McKenzie Post author

      You’re on to it. If we’re not pushing ourselves beyond our comfort zone, we’re not growing. There’s definitely a post coming on this…

  7. derek williams

    Hi Mark, well I practise everyday,keep my guitar on a stand and within reach I can play songs like “Lyin eyes” “Tequella Sunrise” “Devil Woman” but I still find myself missing a string or placing one finger on top of another you know silly little things but at 70 and never played before I’m probably doing OK. I know I’ll never be a Clapton but I’m enjoying it.
    Thanks a bunch
    Derek Williams

  8. derek williams

    Hi Mark, well I practise everyday,keep my guitar on a stand and within reach I can play songs like Lyin eyes

  9. Bruce Weiner

    What we are dealing with is the laws of nature – a body at rest will remain at rest until acted upon by an outside force. We need to be that force! When I sit down in front of the TV to watch a specific program I end up channel surfing at the end of the program and before I know it time I could have been practicing is gone forever. Why? Because my body is at rest and will not move off the couch until I take action. The problem with our advisors is that is always recommending the path of least resistance. MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOU!!

  10. Rick

    Hi! Mark I totally agree that placing my guitar on it’s stand close to me even although I may be watching the T.V or doing something I am always tempted to pick it up and practice especially when the adds are on T.V. Thanks Mark for all your helpful comments I look forward to receiving more of your helpful comments

  11. Debasish

    Thanks a lot Mark for this beautiful article.I am a Procrastinator by nature,I hope this article will really help me in picking and practising my Guitar on a daily basis with a well defined goal.

  12. Dave

    Mark your hitting the right notes. But I was procrastinating almost 50 years ago, then quit all together now all these years later that little kid still wants to play. Now I practice 1hr. a day. but its never organized I grab the guitar sit down and say what do I want to do today. I’ve been practicing for 2 yrs. and going no where fast. Its always fun. Just not productive.

    1. Mark McKenzie Post author

      Hi Dave, one hour a day! That’s great man. It often seems like were getting nowhere fast, when in actual fact we are progressing… just slowly. I recommend you keep at it, learn new songs to keep it interesting. Eventually you’ll look back with some disbelief that you’ve progressed so far from where you are now.

  13. Jason

    Mark, your comments really “struck a chord” with me (no pun intended). I’m in my 60s and I’ve been wanting to learn to play for a couple of years. About 18 months ago, I purchased a like-new Epiphone Les Paul starter kit. At first, I was really excited about learning. When I realized it wasn’t going to be as easy as I hoped, I basically lost interest. Currently, the guitar sits less than three feet from me, literally collecting dust. I’m hoping this will be the motivation I need to get started again.

  14. Chris

    I am playing just about everyday got 30 to 45 minutes. I need help putting the shoe package together. It sort of sounds good but not that good. Is there a healthy balance between drills and learning music. I do a lot of drill work which is great for technique. After that was when the frustration sets in.

    1. Mark McKenzie Post author

      This is a good question Chris. I think it’s about making the connection between the technical stuff you’re working on and actually putting it into practice. Let me ask you a question. How often do you practice making beautiful music? If it’s just drills, drills, drills all day long then that’s probably the problem. For most students I recommend 20%-25% drills and the rest of your practice spent playing beautiful music. And by that I mean actually trying to make your playing sound beautiful to your ears using the skills you have already got down pat. If you really enjoy drills (which it sounds like you don’t, and nothin wrong with that), I’d say you can bump it up to 50%, but no more than that.

  15. charles

    Thanks for opening my eyes about this problem. I do admit I am very a very bad procastanator , cant spell either.

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