Is Self-Herding Making You a Poor Practicer?

Humans unknowingly practice herd behavior a lot. We tend to go along with things because our friends or everyone else is doing it.

But there’s also self-herding. We, as people, tend to do the things exactly how we’ve done them before. In a given situation, our brain searches the catalog of past experiences and comes up with similar situations, after which decisions emerge that resemble those made previously.

Ever notice that you always fall into a certain roll when with a given set of people? That’s self herding. Your new interactions are shaped by the previous ones.

It’s Not All Bad

Self-herding is probably not all bad. There are times when you need to make quick decisions in life, and self-herding gives the tools necessary to do that. In fact, most of us don’t weigh options. Instead we satisfice. We take the first option that seems to work. Often our previous experiences can lead us to good options on the first try.

But Don’t Fall Into the Complacency Trap

Practicing is not a time where we have to make quick decisions. It’s a time for deliberate reflection and evaluation. It’s a time for problem solving.

That’s why it’s important not to fall into a self-herding trap while practicing.

I suspect many people out there practice the same every day. They sit down and play some pieces straight through because that’s all they’ve ever done. They practice a given, hard passage a few times then move on to something else because they’ve done that for the past month. There’s never critical thinking or evaluation about whether or not that method has worked.

Don’t fall into the self-herding trap. Always seek to improve your practice, and never become complacent in a routine because it’s what you’ve been doing.

Posted on in Classical Guitar Practice Tips


  • Bobber

    When little kids play soccer, I call their method herd ball. If you ever get a chance to watch 4 to 6 year olds play soccer, you will see a very graphic representation of what you are describing here!

  • Justin Rutledge
    Justin Rutledge

    What’s interesting to me is that both “self-herding” and critical-thinking/evaulation can lead to stagnation. The former because it defers decisions to previous experience (which then becomes present and future experience); and the latter because, in the extreme, it can be so time-consuming and fraught with second-guessing that you ultimately default to the previous way. I think the common motivating factor, by which the two seemingly opposite approaches yield similar outcomes, is fear. And it is all too common.

    • Christopher Davis

      Good point, Justin. At some point with evaluation, one has to be prepared to turn off the thought process and do something. What speak of is very common on forums: people looking for the the absolute perfect way to do something. Unfortunately, learning anything is a process. You don’t skip to perfect execution from nothing.