How learning guitar helped me get fit

And how it can help you with any skill

Guitar was the first thing I ever got good at. I started playing at 15 and by 17 I played well enough to impress my friends. By 18, I had gotten into a music program at a respected university.

I was grateful to develop at least one skill, because in so many other areas I was lacking. My grades in school had always been scattered (lots of As lots of Cs), I struggled in high school basketball despite being the tallest guy on the team, I had never been able to get in shape, I never had a very exciting social life, and so on.

By the time I was 22 I felt like I had accumulated more losses and missed opportunities than successes. But I was desperate to keep trying, to start being better at things, and to change people’s perception of me.

Around that time I signed up for a monthly membership at my local gym. I didn’t have much money then so the $60 I put towards the membership seemed a fortune. I was determined to do it right this time, to get in shape, and most importantly, to find something else to be proud of and to give meaning to life.

So I came up with an idea. I reasoned, "The only thing I’ve ever been good at in life is guitar. If I think back and remember what the process of learning guitar was like and what I did that was so different from my attempts at basketball, or my previous attempts at the gym, or my attempts at anything else, then I can use those experiences to guide me."

The first memories that came to me were of the times in high school when I completely gave up on guitar. I never had a teacher and I tried to learn everything through books and the Internet, so I would often get overwhelmed and frustrated. I’d say, "I guess I just wasn’t meant to be a musician," and I’d shove my guitar in the closet where I didn’t have to see it anymore.

But no matter how frustrated I got, no matter how dramatically I had given up, I always went back. Sometimes I’d go back still thinking I wasn’t a musician. "I’ll pick it up just for fun," I’d say, as I’d pull my Yamaha acoustic out from a pile of jackets in the closet and sit down with it for the first time in weeks.

My 22-year-old self took the lesson to be that, no matter what, I had to stay committed to the gym. I had to keep going back. I had to expect that during hard times the whole effort would start to seem pointless and I would be ready to give up, but still I had to keep going and push through until better times.

After that, every time I felt unsatisfied at the gym, every time I wondered if it was worth the effort, and every time I struggled to put together those $60, I would think back to my 16-year-old self angrily shoving that guitar in the closet, and going back 2 weeks later to give it another go.

I realized that what saved my efforts to learn guitar was that the guitar was always there for me to go back to. In the same way, I needed to make the gym a constant in my life. Going to the gym three or four times a week, even when I didn’t feel like going, was the equivalent of keeping that guitar in my closet. Even if I wasn’t making progress, as long as it was there- as long as I was there- then I would get the opportunity to go back and get the things I was after.

Going back to things I care about and have committed to, even when I feel like completely giving up on them, is a skill that has helped me tremendously in music, in fitness, and in life. And I might never have realized this skill had I not picked up a guitar in the first place.

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