Hi! Thanks for giving this a shot. Definitely don’t do anything that causes pain!
Strictly speaking, wrist motion is just your hand moving back and forth. As a general guideline, all the muscles that move the wrist are located in the forearm, i.e. below the elbow, so in the most relaxed version of this motion, you shouldn’t feel anything above the elbow. If you’re feeling pain, especially above the elbow, that’s probably due to some other aspect of how you’re moving or positioning yourself, like using muscles that aren’t really involved, or tensing up other muscles to maintain that position over time.
In the early stages of learning something, you don’t really know how to zero in on the feeling of just the necessary muscles, so you end up overdoing it with others. The analogy I always use is like trying to learn to raise one eyebrow like Mr. Spock. The first hundred times I tried this, my whole face contorted as I tried to figure out what just the eyebrow muscle felt like. Only over time did I learn to move just the brow. And I still don’t really know how I do that. So what you want to do with picking motions is tinker around with these general guidelines, trying slightly different hand and body positions until you figure out how to make the motion happen in a way that feels easy. The process can be similarly random to the eyebrow thing.
“Air picking” is also another little trick you can try. A lot of these motions can be done more easily, and sometimes immediately, by just trying to mimick the motion in the air, or at your side, in whatever position feels most comfortable to you, without confusing yourself with a guitar in your hands first. If you can do the motion just by moving your hand around in your most comfortable body position, then that’s a great hint that you can actually do that motion without pain. This hint tells you the way it’s supposed to feel on an actual guitar. Accept nothing less than that feeling of easyness, and use that as a guide to know when you’re getting it on the guitar, and when it’s not quite there yet.
If you feel tension or anything less than “air picking” levels of easyness, stop. Put it down, and try it again a few seconds, a few minutes, or a few hours later. You may not be totally conscious of exactly what things you’re doing differently each time you try, but if you stumble across a form that feels easy, then you’re getting it, so try to replicate that feeling of ease the next time you try.
This is also why we always recommend trying as many picking motions as possible. There is no rule that you have to use wrist motion. This is just one of the motions we look at in the Primer. We’ll be adding some very detailed new material on forearm motion over the next week, and maybe some of those will be easier to “get” right away. You can always come back and add more motions over time. But getting any motion that works with ease and smoothness right now is the fastest route to learning what fluid motion feels like.