This past weekend I decided to purchase a guitar. I’ve been thinking about it picking up the instrument for a while. What finally convinced me was hearing an interview with Grammy Award winner Steve Martin talk about learning to play the banjo. You could just hear the passion and excitement in his voice when he talked about playing music. I was convinced. I bought a guitar the next day.
Years ago, I once tried to play the guitar when I was younger. There was a hand-me-down acoustic that moved through our family like a flu bug during the holidays, and it was about as comfortable. Knowing now, what I didn’t know then, I realized that guitar was pretty cheap and very hard to play. The strings weren’t in tune and the neck was warped after its many “tour stops” throughout Ohio, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina. After learning the introductory riff to Smoke on The Water, I realized that playing the guitar just wasn’t for me, in the same way a college student declines a political party or a child refuses brussels sprouts.
Many years later in graduate school, I wrote my master’s thesis on the connection between expectations of parents and student outcomes. There are two different mindsets which parents can pass on to their children. The first is a growth mindset where an individual thinks they can learn something new with the right mix of practice, instruction, and tools. The other is a fixed mindset where an individual thinks their abilities are relatively fixed, you are what you are. In the research I was looking at, there was a strong correlation between a mother’s beliefs about innate mathematics understanding and a student’s grade. For example, some mothers would rationalize with their students that “I wasn’t good at math either” as a means to explain a student’s poor performance.
As I wrote my thesis, I began to see that I was domain dependent with regards to my mindset in different areas of my life. My life was like a bowling alley, where lanes one and two were the sports I played, lane three were the books I read, and lane four was playing the guitar. I could happily go to lanes one, two, and three to practice and get better. Lane four felt odd and foreign. It felt different, even though it was nearly the same. Learning to play the guitar takes the same learning approach as other areas of life. Nassim Taleb writes about this in Antifragile:
“Some people can understand an idea in one domain, say, medicine, and fail to recognize it in another, say, socioeconomic life. Or they get it in the classroom, but not in the more complicated texture of the street. Humans somehow fail to recognize situations outside the contexts in which they usually learn about them.”
The question for productivity is this, In what areas are you domain dependent? Are you conquering inbox zero but letting papers pile up in your car? Are you building something great at work but neglecting the care your relationships need? Are you taking care of your work skills but not your physical health? What about the fixed versus growth mindsets? Ask yourself what areas you are dominating in and what areas you need to apply those same strategies of domination. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go practice my chord progressions.