“Hang the guitar within reach”


So, this happened …

I had taken up playing the electric bass guitar, and was loving it. I was terrible at it, but that didn’t stop me becoming totally immersed in playing along to Muse or The Cure.

With both the bass and my noise-cancelling headphones plugged into the amp, the world around me would disappear, it was just me and the music.

Given the above, you’d think that I would play at least daily. But I didn’t.

In spite of the pleasure it gave me, I was still only playing 2 to 3 times a week. And it’s not like I was so busy that I didn’t have the time, because on a typical evening I would spend at least half an hour on pointless activities (a bit of TV, Reddit, Instagram) even though they gave me far less pleasure.

My electric bass guitar was kept in a cupboard in the lounge. With a child in the house and bass guitars being so heavy (much heavier than an electric guitar!) I couldn’t leave it lying around, even just standing in the corner, because both my daughter and the guitar would be at risk of damage!

I remember one day I was walking towards the sofa, past the bass guitar cupboard, and I considered taking it out to play. But at that moment, the thought flashed through my mind that it was going to be such an effort to take both the bass and the amp out, then plug everything in, and only then could I play. Too much effort. So I walked straight past the cupboard and plonked myself on the sofa.

I’ve generally been one who is aware of my thoughts, and I suddenly realized why my playing frequency was so low. My mind had made the “setting up my bass guitar” seem like such a painful process. Although in reality, of course, it wasn’t.

So I fixed that. I decided to hang the guitar. Within reach.

It took me only about a week to sort out. I bought an acoustic bass guitar and put a strong hook on the wall. This acoustic version is materially lighter, far less likely to maim my daughter, and it had thick rubber strings which made a beautiful bass sound without having to plug it into an electric amp.

And I began go play daily. Sometimes only for five minutes, sometimes just the theme song of Disney’s ‘Frozen’ while accompanied by my daughter singing. But I played. And I loved it.

Simple Definition

Hang the guitar within reach: Establishing a new habit is such a delicate process, and so easy to break, that it’s important to do as much as possible to make it easy to begin each time. This #hashtag-story reminds us that we can set things up to minimize that friction, doing things as simple as hanging the guitar within reach.

Discussing what it means

I am not the first person to work out this ‘revelation’ to creating and maintaining good habits, as just about every decent book about habits has a chapter dedicated to this technique. However, in spite of the fact that it’s a known (and effective) technique, most people still don’t actually use it. They seem to default to using brute force to make themselves do things, and then fail more often than they should. A simple enhancement, the “Hang the guitar within reach”, would mean the habit now requires less effort, less determination, and yet oddly would be more successful in spite of being easier!

We could say that what we all need is a way to make the habit (the habit of making habits easier) easier. (It’s probably worth reading this last sentence once again slowly, to make sure you’ve got it.)

And that’s one of the principles of #HashtagYourLife. By labelling this concept as “Hang the guitar within reach”, it allows us to bring the entire weight of this ‘habit lubrication’ to mind by a simple five word phrase, one which we can regularly flag to ourselves, and of course to communicate to others. If you and your partner both know the phrase, then when they’re saying something like “I really want to go for a jog before work tomorrow”, you can reply to them saying, “Hang the guitar within reach”, and they know what you mean, and can act on that by setting out their running clothes before they go to bed, for example.

Remember that humans have a limited amount of willpower available to them each day. This isn’t something spiritual, but rather it’s the way our body uses energy in making decisions, and how these resources get used up during the day. There are statistics which demonstrate that court judges show different levels of strictness before and after lunch, for example. So yes, when you “Hang the guitar within reach” you are limiting the demands on your willpower, making things easier, both now and then later in the day too.

And it makes sense, right? Without taking time to “Hang the guitar within reach”, you create the opportunity to negotiate with yourself about whether to initiate the effort to begin, and then you start #[Putting trees in your field]. And then you fail. Not nice.

To show how wide-ranging this #hashtag is, let’s list a number of examples:

  • Don’t keep sweets and unhealthy snacks at home. Just don’t. So at 10pm when you’re looking to cheat on your diet, you can’t.
  • Further, you should have healthy snacks at hand so there are options that take you away from bad eating.
  • Lay out your running clothes (or gym clothes, or yoga clothes) before you go to sleep, so the effort to get ready in the morning is negligible. While you’re at it, decide the night before which route you’ll run (or what workout you’ll do), to further bring that ‘guitar’ within reach.
  • Have one of those vitamin boxes with the days of the week labelled on it, and every Sunday night prepare the vitamins for the week ahead, so at no stage do you feel you couldn’t be bothered to take out the various tablets you need.
  • If you’re going to read a book at night, actually have a book on your nightstand.
  • If you’re disappointed that you still haven’t won the lottery, then a good start would be to actually start buying tickets. But “Hang the guitar within reach” is even more basic than that – you should at least decide exactly when and where you will buy the ticket. That itself could create a huge amount of momentum.
  • For those who want to be more focused at the office (or university), switch off notifications on your mobile phones – it’s easier to not know you’ve received a message than to have to fight the urge to check on who caused your phone to buzz.
  • Steve Jobs wore the same clothes every day – a black polo neck and jeans. He chose to “Hang the guitar within reach” by deciding in advance (like, years in advance!) what he’d wear, which avoided his having to ‘use up’ his decision-making allowance before the day had even begun.
  • Decide what your main task is that you will prioritize for tomorrow, and lock it in the night before. In fact, there is an entire book written about exactly this, called “Eat that Frog!” by Brian Tracey.
  • And in this great commercial, they point out that “ladders are such a pain, that you settle for laziness, like wobbly chairs”. Their equivalent of “Hang the guitar within reach” is to design a ladder that is super easy to use in the first instance, to “make it a ladder you’ll actually use”.
  • Put a notepad next to you (or open your #HashtagYourLife self-discovery diary in Word) every time you read another chapter of #HashtagYourLife – so that you’re ready to scribble down ideas as soon as as you reach the “Making it personal” section below. This will ensure you actively do the exercises (and can refer back to your thinking in future) rather than not bothering because you don’t have something to write with right now.

As a slight aside, if you think about it, it’s quite obvious that the concept of “Eat that Frog!” is a perfect #hashtag-story, and would fit nicely in the #HashtagYourLife system. It’s just a three word phrase which encompasses the entire essence of doing your most important (and potentially most demanding) task at the start of the day. And by the way, while “Eat that Frog!” is an example of “Hang the guitar within reach”, note that not all instances of “Hang the guitar within reach” can be called “Eat that Frog!”

Making it personal

Take a few minutes to write down your answers to the following questions. And if you already have the habit of “Hang the guitar within reach” then you will already have had your notebook and pen ready, even before you started reading this chapter!

  • Write down examples where you “Hang the guitar within reach” already
  • Now think of other examples where you were successful in creating habits, and try work out what the corresponding “Hang the guitar within reach” might have been in those instances
  • Now think about habits you’ve failed to maintain – exercise, a new language, a musical instrument, meditation, low-carb diet – and write down as many examples as you can for how you might have chosen at the time to “Hang the guitar within reach” that could have helped you not to fail.

Please. It’s really worth taking the time to do this exercise, so don’t read these chapters like something you have to ‘get through’ like a novel. Take the time to think, to discover, to learn and then … to improve.

  • Finally, what are the habits that you’re working on (or really want to work on) at the moment. Try write down a few examples of “Hang the guitar within reach” for each of them, and commit to doing at least one action for each current habit, starting with the very next time you do it.

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