Stop Comparing Yourself (Brainjo Bite)


Have you ever found yourself feeling discouraged after watching or listening to someone else? It could be watching or listening to another banjo player but it really could be anything here – someone playing an instrument, a writer, a painter someone playing a sport, and so on.

So basically any kind of skilled human endeavor that you engage. It’s human nature, I think, to compare ourselves to others, and it’s easy to get discouraged when we see someone else doing something that we wish we were able to do. We also live in the most unusual time in human history in that we now have access to the most accomplished humans in anything we can think.

And for most of human history, we may have come into contact with a few hundred people in our lifetimes. Even just a few decades ago, if you played the banjo, you might have known a handful of other banjo players if you were lucky. [00:01:00] Now you have access to thousands or more with the click of a button. And here’s the thing.

You’ll never be able to play like any of them, and that is a great thing.

Furthermore, comparing yourself to others is a trap that you should avoid from this point forward.

And in this episode, I’m gonna explain why.

So as many of you watching or listening know, I think the science is abundantly clear that for all practical purposes, our talents and capabilities are entirely the result of how we train our brains. And at any given moment, your current set of capabilities is a reflection of the training you’ve provided your brain up until that moment, the sum total of all of your life experiences. And if you provide two brains with the exact same training, you’ll end up with the same set of talents and capabilities.

I personally think this is one of the most liberating and inspiring concepts there is. It’s not about the brain you have, but about the brain you [00:02:00] build. And every brain has the astounding potential to acquire incredibly complex knowledge and skills over the course of our lifetime. This is why I’ve been obsessed with the science of brain training for so long.

But here is the second, and I think even more important part. So while the fact that training is what matters means that it’s possible in theory to learn to play like anyone else, including your favorite players, in practice, it is entirely impossible to do so.

That’s because every training path is one amongst an infinite set of possibilities. For example, the only way to end up being able to play just like Earl Scruggs or just like Doc Watson would be to replicate their entire life from the time of conception. That’s the only way to follow their exact same training path.

Again, it’s not gonna happen. The odds of it happening are so astronomically high that for all intents and purposes, it is impossible. No two brains are ever going to be the [00:03:00] same, because no two lives are ever going to be the same. But that also means that nobody can ever be you and nobody will ever be able to play like you and your job when learning music is not to try to emulate someone else. It’s rather to become the very best version of you, because that’s the only thing you can do anyways.

And the only person you should ever compare yourself to is you.

If we measured our success in terms of how closely we could play like someone else, no musician on the planet would ever be happy. I had the pleasure of presenting at a workshop for Bela Fleck’s Music Camp last summer, and we were talking prior to the session about these concepts of plasticity and music, and he remarked about seeing and hearing other musicians do things that just blew him away.

Things he couldn’t do himself. And we’ve all been there. I experience this all the time. You don’t have to hang out on YouTube for very long for this kind of thing to happen. But it happens to everyone, [00:04:00] even those who are considered the best of the best, right?

Bela Fleck is at the highest level of ability when it comes to music, and it’s easy to think that that means that he could do anything. But the reality is that he too can only play like himself, just like the rest of us.

His set of banjo playing capabilities are also a product of his particular training path and uniquely his own. Nobody will ever sound just like him, and he won’t ever sound just like anyone else. And he’s also a perfect example of becoming the very best version of yourself. He’s created a very distinctive sound, a very distinctive approach to the banjo, and you know him as soon as you hear him play.

And that’s because he’s dedicated himself to becoming the very best version of himself, which is precisely why people love his music so much. And this is not to say don’t have influences. Influences are an integral part of how we train and an invaluable source of ideas and inspiration.

But the goal should not be to play [00:05:00] or sound like them, because again, that’s impossible. It’s no different than learning to write and trying to copy someone else’s handwriting exactly. That also is impossible.

Your job is instead to create your own equally great and unique handwriting that nobody else will be able to copy either. So you’ll never be able to play like anyone else, and nobody else will ever be able to play like you, and that is a beautiful thing.