Wherever you turn in life, it seems there is some ‘guru’ or other espousing the benefits of setting goals.
They’ll usually proclaim that your goals should be set down in writing and time bound … presumably so you can beat yourself up if the relevant date arrives and you still haven’t achieved said goal(s).
While it can of course be helpful on some levels to have a long term goal or dream in mind, the reason why most people fail to achieve long terms goals, e.g.
- Grow my bank balance to $X million in 3 years’ time
- Lose 15 kilos in 6 weeks
- Complete the whole Musiah course in 6 months, etc
... is firstly, life is full of distractions and circumstances beyond your control that will arise between now and the end of your self-imposed timeline.
Secondly, focusing on one monumental goal from now until its completion is psychologically one of the most daunting challenges you can possibly undertake.
And thirdly, if you’re like me, because you won’t be entirely happy until your goal has been reached, to an extent, you will tend to perpetually live for the future — that far off golden day at which point you will have ‘made it’ and life will be just peachy.
And so the ‘now’ (the current moment) has been reduced to a means to an end.
After all, how can we enjoy the current moment or the current day if most of the days of our life we are ‘that person’ whose goals have not yet been realized?
In this way of thinking, only when the goal has been realized will we feel contented, complete, etc. — but this is no way to live between now and then.
So if long term goals are problematic on a number of levels — what can we do differently?
How can we still successfully grow and achieve meaningful things while enjoying the journey?
In relation to money, there is an old saying…
“Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves”.
In my view, goals are much the same — so my version of this saying is:
“Look after the small goals and the bigger goals will look after themselves”.
“What small goals”? I hear you ask.
Let me give you an example:
In my younger days, there was a time when I used to make a living by selling original oil paintings (I was an artist).
Back then, if I was doing a large painting that would take several weeks to complete, the hardest brush stroke was always the first one.
In my mind (because I was looking at the process the wrong way) that first brush stroke on a large blank canvas represented the beginning of weeks of toil and pain-staking effort until the painting would be completed.
So the journey (the process of painting the picture) was not as enjoyable as it could have been.
Nowadays, being a little wiser, if I were doing such a painting, I would set myself a small manageable goal each day – and only focus on that goal on that particular day.
For example, I might aim to block in the main colors one day, paint one rock the next day, or one tree stump, etc. – you get the picture (pun intended).
By setting a small goal that I can manage and complete each day, the task for the day becomes much more enjoyable, and as long as I set and achieve a small goal each day, the larger goal of completing the painting will take care of itself.
How is this relevant to learning piano?
Well… you would be amazed at the number of prospective piano students who, before they have even signed up for a free trial or done a single lesson, email me saying, “I’m going to do the whole Musiah course in 6 months, but I am concerned at what will I do once I have completed it”.
In other words, before they have even started and regardless of what obstacles life may throw in their path, they have (with a stunning degree of over-confidence) convinced themselves that not only will they succeed at completing the Musiah course in 6 months (which equates to about 6 years of traditional piano lessons), but they will find it easy to this — so easy, in fact, that the Musiah course might not represent enough of a challenge to make it worthwhile for them to do it.
While, with the right approach, it is certainly possible to complete the Musiah course in 6 months (learn more), when I receive such an email, I know straight away that this is a person who is very likely to either
- not start at all OR
- quit within the first few lessons
— such is the nature of aiming for a long term goal while reducing the journey to a mere means to an end.
Let me give you an example of how this realization has helped me.
I recently started a 90 day intensive DVD exercise program, but on my first attempt I failed.
The reason I failed was;
a) I decided (in my wisdom) to not follow the prescribed schedule but rather to do the workouts every 2-3 days even if it took longer to achieve the results, and
b) I kept thinking, “Gee, I don’t think I can stick at this until the end” regardless of whether I do it over 90 days or 180 days... so I gave up after a few sessions.
But as I did so, I recognized that I was making the same mistake as some of my Musiah students by focusing too much on the end goal and discounting the journey and the smaller goals along the way.
So I started the program a second time, and this time I’m blitzing it and really enjoying it.
The difference is:
- I am following the prescribed schedule and exercising 6 days a week — which I equate to trusting the instructor’s expertise and experience (very important)
- Each day I never think about the 90 day end goal, I just think about the workout I have to do TODAY!
- If there are things I cannot do as well as I would like to straight away, I just to the very best I can… because I know that if I’m trying my hardest, I am doing it perfectly. And over time, I will be able to do it exactly the way I want to be able to do it.
This is the essence of effective practice and effective learning.
Coming back to piano… given that learning the piano is a long term goal, I always say to my students, each day (5 days a week), just set yourself a minimum practice time of 10 minutes, preferably at the same time each day, e.g. last thing before you go to bed.
If you can do more — e.g. 20 / 30 / 60 minutes — great, but if you’re busy, or you really don’t feel like practicing, just do the minimum requirement of 10 minutes.
This is sustainable in the long term, and you would be amazed at what students can achieve over time if they stick to this and consistently do their 10 minutes a day.
In terms of setting yourself small, manageable, enjoyable goals… each day when you’re practicing, don’t aim to do the whole song (especially if it’s long or advanced).
Instead, just set yourself a smaller goal such as aiming to do just two bars – perhaps with the left hand first, then the right hand, then both hands.
The next day you’ll do the next two bars, and so on, and gradually, your larger goal of completing the song will take care of itself.
And you’ll enjoy the journey — the feeling of successfully completing a small goal every time you practice.
This is the importance of setting small clear goals and why people who don’t set themselves small goals invariably fail to achieve their larger ones.
If your larger goal is to learn to play piano, a great way to approach this is to let Musiah, our intelligent Virtual Piano Teacher guide you — one small step at a time — each day of your journey.
The very first step is simply to take our Online Piano Lessons 14 Day Free Trial.
And from there, just meet your minimum required practice time of 10 mins a day, remembering to enjoy the journey — and your larger goal will take care of itself.
I wish you every success on your journey towards learning to play piano, and of course, if you have any questions about learning piano with Musiah, please don't hesitate to contact me directly.
Thanks for reading.
Til next time,
Brendan Hogan L.Mus.A, A.Mus.A.
Piano Teacher & Musiah Inventor