The many hours of silently drilling sclales while keeping myself entertained watching a movie or show through headphones may have actually paid off after all. I think I finally broke the economy picking barrier! Yeah me.
I was noodling around just earlier and noticed that my going through a two-octave scale didn't sound as uneven as it used to. So I paid closer attention and noticed my picking felt different. I can't possibly verify each stroke but based on the result I think I was doing alternate. Previous attempts had been met with utter frustration so I feel like celebrating. Granted, I'm still at like half the speed and one hundredth the stamina of a metalhead but hey, baby steps forward is better than backtracking.
And yes, after nearly 10 years I consider myself still a beginner, largely thanks to not playing much for the last 7 or so. That, and I didn't know where else to put this.
To the beginners reading this:
If drills bore you as much as they bore me, this may help you. Unplug your guitar, put on a movie (or 100 ;-) ) and plug in your headphones (to the movie, nobody wants the strings clicking while they watch). Then try to do the drill as you watch, throughout the whole movie. Emphasis on watch. Drilling should be the background task. Let the back of your mind figure out how to get your muscles to do the drill, while you keep the front of your mind entertained. All you need is minimal occasional attention to the drill, to adjust the speed and make sure you are doing the right motions, then back to the movie.
Maybe progress won't be as fast as drilling along a metronome for the same amount of time. Or maybe it will, on account of forcing your mind to deal with it without giving it your full attention (which better simulates the way you'd like to eventually play, not thinking and not looking at every single note you fret). One thing is sure, you are getting some practice done without feeling miserable about the things you could be doing instead. And if that motivates you to drill more, then it's a win.
And when you finally get your hands moving the right way, then you can take the drill to the metronome and refine it.