The worthiness trap

What really determines whether you are going to reach the level of guitar playing you want? Is it how much you practice? Is it how you practice? Or is it both? Or maybe there is an underlying reason we don’t see?

If practicing was the only key to great guitar skills, then everyone who really wanted them would have them, or they would at least be in the process of creating them.

Think about it: Your ultimate guitar fantasy is like other people’s fantasy about flying. Imagine if you could spread your arms and just take off whenever you felt like it. That’s how I felt about the guitar skills I wanted back in the hairy eighties and it’s still how I feel about the skills I am building now: I am learning how to fly in a musical context.

Your ultimate guitar fantasy is like other people’s fantasy about flying.


If people could learn to fly if they practiced it a lot, how many people would be able to fly do you think? Just about everyone right? Well then how is it that not everyone who sets out to become a great guitar player becomes one. The answer is simple: Because it’s not about practicing! Practicing is like the flour in the cake: It’s the big and very visible main ingredient, but it is in no way what makes up the cake.

So what determines whether you develop great guitar skills? Well, there are many reasons, of course, but the deeper we can go the better a chance we have of focusing on something that works instead of what doesn’t. It will serve you better to get to the source of what you see happen instead of the superficial reason why.

It’s all about establishing a true connection between the effect we want and the cause that creates it and this article is about a pattern I have noticed in people over the years that I recently put into words.

It seems that what separates the ones who make it and the ones who do not, is a pattern of how you look at achieving things in your life. There seems to be two distinct patterns that people use when ever they want something. The first one I call “The worthiness mindset” and the other “The cause and effect mindset”


If we get the idea early in life that “to get good things I have to suffer bad things” we are prone to develop a worthiness model of how to achieve things. “If I want something good for myself I must figure out how I become worthy of it, do it and then I will get it” It’s the “no pain no gain” mindset that seems to asume that we have to suffer some kind of pain in order to get something pleasurable.

So when we look at great guitar players through the veil of the worthiness mindset, we erroneously see people with an enormous amount of self discpline. A person that went through years of tedious practice and great personal sacrifice to finally win through and get the ultimate price of being worthy of great guitar skills. A guitar “saint” in other words. A human being worthy of admiration.

Even though this mindset is the least effective when it comes to developing great skills or achieving anything in life, it is the most common one. We develop it when our parents make everything we want a reward for suffering some kind of pain. “If you want that bicycle you must take out the garbage for six months” or “Do your homework and then you can have the candy”

This is of course not being an unreasonable parent but it does inspire us to develop a sense that all great things in life are brought about by some kind of sacrifice. And sacrifice implies pain of course. This creates a way of thinking comprised of two destructive beliefs:

1. “I must suffer to get pleasure”
2. “The pleasure will be given to me by an outside authority”


The outside authority for the child can be the parents, the teachers or an even higher authority like a God. For grown ups its usually God, the universe, the world, or some other outside power that grants us access to what we want once we have “earned it”.

You don’t have to be worthy of great guitar skills to get them

But there is one very serious flaw in this mindset: God, the universe or the world does not care about your guitar skills and there are no parents to reward the pain you go through. All there is, is the reliable mechanics of your body and you guitar. That’s it. You don’t have to be worthy and you don’t have to be a good hard working person. Those things has zero to do with developing guitar skills.

If your brain is running the worthiness mindset, you are probably not aware of it at all. It works in the background of your life because as soon as it is conscious and seen for what it is, it loses most of its power. But you can look for clues that you are operating on this false assumption.


1. You feel “let down” when you don’t get results.

Every practice endeavor involves plateaus where your development seems to go nowhere even when you practice intensely. These plateaus are the real test of whether you are serious about developing your skills. But a person with the worthiness mindset will not just feel frustrated at these points, he or she will also feel “let down” which generates a feeling of sadness and of being unworthy of the result.

What happens next? Well what happened if the authorities in your childhood didn’t give you what you felt you “deserved” for going through the pain? You became a victim. And with that identity came the desire to be destructive. But because you felt powerless and small compared to the grown ups, you engaged in self destruction in an attempt to hurt the ones that loved you by hurting yourself.

“Then, I will run away and I will die of starvation and then they will find me and be really sorry they didn’t give me what I deserved”

As adult victims we might go:

“Well then I just won’t practice anymore, then see how you like that (Take that external imagined authority!)”

2. You often explode into an intense practice regimen and then give up shortly after because the results didn’t show up. Then some time goes by and you do the same thing again, never really achieving anything worth while.

This is the same pattern many people run when they want to lose weight. Because they are convinced that anything pleasurable must be created by enduring something painful, dieting seems like a solution.

“If I deprive myself of the food I love the most for three months then I will get what I want”

As long as the worthiness mindset is in place any long term change in eating habits and health is virtually impossible. Because the person with this mindset will walk away from any lasting solution to their problem because it doesn’t involve suffering and pain. No pain no gain right?

And, to entertain an idea that might suggest you don’t have to suffer to get what you want will seem ludicris because that’s just not how results are created right?

The worthiness mindset is a dysfunction. It is a strategy that produces the opposite of what it is supposed to produce. (Which is the definition of the word “dysfunction”) It effectively keeps you from being intelligent about figuring out what you need to do (Cause) to get what you want (Effect)

Instead of being passionately absorbed in developing your skills, you will be passionately absorbed in suffering and you can only take the pain of that when you are hyped up on what you want. As soon as the hype disappears so does the energy to practice.

Please note that people who run this pattern of trying to be worthy don’t know they are. Instead it seems really REAL that you have to sufffer to get god things. It really seems like that this “truth” is in the actual world and not just in our heads.


The cause and effect mindset is really just your natural way of thinking and acting. This mindset brought about every modern invention that we have to day. You don’t invent a car because you suffered enough to finally win through. No, you invent a car by using your #¤%#¤% brain and intelligence! You carefully study the relationship between your actions and the result you get and then you do the following on a continuing basis:

1. You do more of what works
2. You do less of what doesn’t work

That’s it. That’s the cause and effect mindset.

But the thing that can speed up this process is of course to learn from others. If you are plaigued by the worthiness mindset you will have an urge to do everything in exactly the same way as an idol of yours and you will achieve very little because of the simple fact that you are not your idol. You are you. And you need to figure out how you get there.

If you switch to the cause and effect mindset, you will learn from what other people are doing and then attempt to apply it to your style of learning. Things seldom work the first time. Most often you have to tweak and adjust any method or strategy until it fits you perfectly. At other times you must discard of what worked effectively for someone else because it just doesn’t seem to work for you.

This makes for a bumpy ride full of confusion, frustration and hoping but it’s the most fun in the whole world. Just imagine: You are learning how to fly! The music starts and bam! There you are, squeezing out the most amazing solo in the most relaxed and pleasurbale way possible. Hallalujah baby, you commaned and control a language that speak directly with and to emotions. Flying without the use of wings or machines takes a second place for me.

Making your way to that and putting layer upon layer is like building your own Christmas presents. You walk around with butterflies in your stomach all day because you’re working on something amazing continuously.

You’re like a scientist uncovering the causes of great guitar skills and you are constantly trying out new things. In this process you are curious to what works and how well it works. You ask yourself questions like: “I wonder what will happen if I practice this one tiny thing in front of the TV for four hours every night for a month” Or how about “I wonder what will happen if I practice playing these three notes on one string all weekend”

You constantly become more and more knowledgeable as to what gives you results and what doesn’t. Everytime you do get results you become more happy about that fact that you’ve found a strategy that works, than you do about the actual result. Why? Because now you can do more of that thing that works and just imagine what results you can then get in the future! It is such an exciting voyage when the mindset of “no pain no gain” disappears.


We are all able to run both mindsets so it’s not an “either or.” The worthiness mindset is a natural consequence of being a child and getting everything you want through and by the mercy of an outside authority like your parents. Becoming an adult means shedding this mindset and taking control. But it’s very easy to stay in it by replacing your parents with another authority like God or “The universe”


Would you ever approach a broken engine with the mindset of “Well I don’t know what’s wrong with the thing and I don’t know how to fix it but if I just work hard on something it will eventually come together” Of course not.

Instead you would first figure out what the problem is, then get a manual or a book so you don’t have to figure it all out by yourself, and then you would try out each and every suggestion in the manual until you found the thing that solved the problem right? It’s not rocket science. It’s using your intelligence.


No one is coming to your rescue. No one is going to feel sorry for you and finally give you what you want. Instead, it’s all up to you. Your brain and your hands are the most advanced tools there are on the planet and they can learn to do almost anything you ask of them.

Everyone is a potential guitar master. It’s not about inborn talents of gifts and it’s not about “earning” your skills – It’s only about the mechanics of your body and brain – and what you choose to do with them. Cause and effect. You work the cause and you get the effect. That’s all. End of story. Simple stuff.

The worthiness trap

12 thoughts on “The worthiness trap

  1. John Gill says:

    Very good read. People would do well if they appled the cause and effect mindset to everything. People need to work towards self reliance and take responsibility for there own development. For me learning to play the guitar is a giant experiment. If I can’t move my fingers fast enough I’ll try and tap it. If that don’t work I’ll change position, move it around or whatever it takes. My answer if someone asked me if I can play something in particular is “not yet”. Sure a lot of stuff is just way to advanced for me but mostly it’s just about figuring out how to do it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Richard Odom says:

      I have played all these years ;wrestling with trying to play other people’s music, when what I truly wanted was to play the music in my head. And it only took me 30 years to figure it out 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Rick Odom says:

    Claus, your insight into the human psyche is astounding. Cannot thank you enough for your lessons and blogs. They have made me a much better musician, thank you my friend. Rick


  3. Thanks for this and your other insights. As a 50 year old IT professional who happens to play, your take on how to get quality work done quickly works well with the zeros and ones mindset I happen to have. The methods you teach and how you approach learning just make sense. Biggest leap I’ve taken in years is to make sure I have the metronome at all times, and to break everything down into very small snippets of notes/chords/changes etc. The Speed Learning Method works folks, it just does. Keep up the good work and thanks again.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Scott says:

    I have read this many times and it has provided much food for thought. I just read it again this morning to my wife who is a drummer and it was great for fostering an ongoing discussion. Thanks for your ongoing blog posts. They are definitely contributing to my understanding and development.


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