Notes From A Lecture

“What’s with all these words and where’s the shred stuff?”

I know I’ve been veering away form strictly guitar stuff lately on this blog.  (Don’t worry though, the pure guitar thing is never too far away. A number of new (strictly guitar related) posts have made their way to Guitar-Muse and there’s some new material that will be released either in Kindle or e-book format.)  A large part of the shift in content here is due to a move from focusing on working through the how (how do you play modes on guitar) and shifting the focus more to the why (i.e. my philosophy).  I’ve talked about this before but without a strong sense of why you do what you do, progressing and improving in the long term will fall apart as you face the numerous challenges and obstacles that you’ll be faced with on the long haul.

As someone who plays and teaches, I’m often asked, “How long does it take to learn to play guitar?” It’s a surprisingly easy question to answer.  It depends on what you want to do on the instrument.  If you want to learn to play a few chords to serenade someone on a tune you can get some basic chord forms and strum patterns down in as little as a few weeks.

If you want to really say something unique to you on the instrument, it will take years or decades of hard work and those before you who have already been on the path for decades will tell you that they’re still working on defining and articulating what they say on the instrument. This leads directly into my first point.


The heretic’s statement

While I love the guitar dearly, it’s just a tool of expression.

Guitar playing is only a reflection of who I am at the time I’m playing.  It’s a sonic documentary.  It’s a voice that I control with my fingers.

I need a pen to write ideas down on a piece of paper, but ultimately the ideas behind the writing are a lot more important than some scribbles on a page.

It’s a symbiotic relationship.  As I play guitar, I develop as a person as well.  As a person I take a number of influences that inspire me (like literature, film and other people’s music) and use those as spring boards for expression.

While I work at being a better guitarist, I’m also working at being a better person and vice-versa.

To me – it’s all guitar playing.


The How and Albert Ellis

For those of you unfamiliar with the man, Albert Ellis is not some brilliant up and coming underground shredder that will show you how to stuff 15 notes in a 5 note bag.  Mr. Ellis was a particularly brilliant psychologist who had taken some cues from Stoicism, and Levi-Strauss and created a new form of therapy known as REBT (Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy). I had first discovered Ellis’ work in college and while I found his books to be somewhat bizarre in their tone (the writing style seemed to be mired in the 1950’s with references to things like “Pollyannaish thinking”) his approach of using rational thought to break people out of emotional traps they had fallen into was particularly insightful to me and spoke to my own approach to removing emotions from problems and tackling them for what they are.

In the 1990’s I saw that an Adult Education division was going to bring Albert Ellis to speak at the lecture.  To say that Ellis was a brusque man is stating it mildly.  Throughout the lecture he swore like a sailor, called b-s on any number of things and took anonymous audience questions about problems they were having on stage and then talked through how to approach the problem.

When the lecture was over.  People were congregating around to talk to him and he yelled “Excuse me” and “Get out of my way” as he bolted out the door and went to his car.  I believe his logic was, he was paid to speak for two hours, people could ask him whatever they wanted during that time and he wasn’t going to hang out for another hour or two afterwards.  The audience hated this but I saw it as a man who practiced what he preached.  (If you read below, you’ll see that this wasn’t solely about the money – The Ellis Institutecontinues to offer the Friday Night public workshop that Ellis discusses below for the inflation adjusted price of $15 per person.  It’s about not getting entangled in things you don’t wish to).

I made a number of notes at the lecture and I’ve posted them below.  In terms of content, its a little rough and tumble and should act as little more than a “Cliff notes” version of his approach – but you might find it to be an interesting overview in how to remove emotions from problems and attack them in a systematic process.

If you find feelings of anger, depression or inadequacy acting as obstacles in your practicing, playing or goals, you might find Ellis’ approach helpful. I’ll include any new notes in brackets [ ].

Notes on an Albert Ellis lecture in Boston.  December 8, 1994.

Albert Ellis, Ph.D. is the head of the Institute for Rational-Emotive Therapy (RET). [Ellis used the terms RET and REBT in the lecture interchangeably] He conducts interviews every Friday night at the Institute for $5.

Ellis’ methodology is borne out of a philosophical tradition rather than a psychological one. Of primary influence to his methodology were the Greeks and their focus on the analytical.

You are a talented screwball.


The RET observations:

1.  All people want to be loved and accepted.

2. People meet conflicts with this goal.  The experience rejection/frustration /disappointment.

3.  People refuse to change


Three causes for Neurosis

1. EGO – I am the center fo the universe

2.  Anger / Rage

3. A perception that there has to be environmental control.

#2 and #3 –> refusal to accept (rationalize)

The two words that cure all neurosis?:  Tough shit.

Past events are not the causes for present conditions.

Humans are born with two tendencies

1.  Posessing goals, values, desires, etc and demanding what you want.  Ellis seems to view people generally as babies where immediate needs are the primary focus.  That egocentricity makes people very upsettable.

2.  People have a constructive self-actualizing tendency.  You are born to think.

The net effect of these two statements is that while you can disturb yourself, you can also undisturb yourself.

You balance the rational and the unrational. The Universe is ambivalent.


Three Insights of RET

1.  No one (or nothing) ever upset you.  You choose to upset yourself.

2.  When it [the depression/anxiety/problematic emotion] started is irrelevant.  It lasts because you believe it.  You can’t change people or situations – only perception.

3.  There is no magic. No one’s going to come down from the sky to save you. There is only work and practice.


How to change:

Cognitive thinking

1. Dispute the “musts”  “I must be this…I must do this.” Why must you? [Ellis refers to this in some of his writing as ‘musterbation”]

2. Along similar lines…”I can’t bear it (rejection, etc)” or  “I can’t stand it.” The implication is –   “I can’t stand it and be happy at all.”

3.  “When I fail, I am worthless” in reality – “I acted badly – but I screwed up and I am human.”


There are two solutions to a poor sense of self-worth

1.  I’m okay because I am alive. (I’m okay because I choose to be okay.)

2.  I’m neither good or bad as good implies perfection and bad implies damnable [The terms are all or nothings propositions for Ellis].  I am a human who behaves well and when I agree to reach/perform certain moral ethical deeds, I am behaving well but good deeds do not make me good.  (preferred method). I am not my acts/behaviours.


Self Esteem is an illness

When I am doing okay, I am okay – otherwise I’m a worm and even when I am okay – I worry about being a worm.

Low self-esteem: Because people don’t love me enough and because I act well I am okay.

High Self-Esteem I’m okay when I’m beautiful.

Self esteem is conditional.  The goal is unconditional self-acceptance.  Unconditional acceptance must be taught.


Coping methods

Referencing:  When you do something compulsively bad –  you write down all of the disadvantages of the act and review often.

Rational coping self-statement:  Effective view philosophy [Also written – also reviewed often]

“I don’t need – but I would like.”

There is nothing awful – only inconvenient. “Mind you getting slowly tortured to death is inconvenient but it is not a worse case scenario.  You could always be tortured more slowly.”  [What was implied by Ellis is that you can not be faced with the most awful thing or situation.]

Psycho-educational techniques:  Good books, video, etc prosleytize and teach so that you can learn.

Modeling:  find good role models

Role Playing: stop at anxious (or appropriate sensation) moments and analyze.  What am I thinking right now?

Positive thinking is okay but does have it’s limitations.  Its achilles heel is that it can reinforce the “must” syndrome.

If you’re afraid of something. Do it.  repeatedly.  Rewards afterwards and “punish” if you fall through. [Ellis used a couple of examples here but he said to a woman trying to lose weight, “Okay.  You want to loose weight.  And you eat cookies all the time so as one step of this, you’re going to stop eating cookies.  What do you hate to do in the world more than anything? ‘Call my mother-in-law.’ Okay then.  So from now on if you eat a cookie, you’ll have to call your mother-in-law and talk to her.  But you really have to do it!  It only works if you follow through.” In more extreme cases, Ellis recommends people burn money as a punishment.  “After someone burns their second $20 bill, they stop doing what they’re doing pretty quickly”]

You let other people affect you but not disturb you.


Grief vs depression.

Grief is okay.

Grief:  I’ve lost something and that is bad

Depression: Isn’t it too bad that I’ve lost something?


Problematic Solutions

When a situation is bad – do not leave when you are upset because you’ll take those emotions with you into every other situation.

1.  Analyze how upset you are

2.  Act rationally.

The approach seems to have several steps.

1.  Problem identification

2.  Statement and picturing of the worst thing that could happen.

3.  Identifying feelings with that scenario.

4.  Changing feelings/perceptions of the worse case scenario used rational coping self statements repeatedly and setting up small reward/punishment systems to work on those statements daily.

This last step implies a lot of time.  There is no quick panacea for your problems.

Dr. Ellis has a hard methodology.  It makes the individual fully responsible for his/her actions, works within a closed system and puts emphasis on the body’s cognitive powers. He is violently opposed to most forms of therapy which he feels puts too much emphasis on past actions and events and not enough on present responsibility.  While he isn’t opposed to all forms of psychotherapy, his motto certainly seems to be, let the buyer beware.

His lecture was filled with cursing.  It seems to be a part of his shtick, but one of the things that it did was keep the audience laughing – and laughter (along with responsibility, work and perception) seems to be a very important part of the RET methodology.

*Those are all the notes I had from the lecture.

I hope you found this interesting, insightful, or helpful in some way and, as always, thanks for reading.