We’re looking at a brand new year, and you’ve likely been mulling over some New Year’s resolutions. How did the execution of last year’s goals turn out? If this year has taught us one thing, it is to expect the unexpected. The key to effectively setting goals is to make them specific and with time-bound but also flexible enough to endure any obstacles or curveballs that will inevitably come your way.
First, Take Stock of Where You Are
The first step in effect goal setting is to take stock of where you currently are.
- What are your strengths?
- What are your weaknesses?
- What makes you TRULY happy?
- What is holding you back?
Take some time to evaluate yourself objectively and write down your answers to these questions so you can refer back to them to assess your progress throughout the year. This can be an uncomfortable process but it will provide the seed of your growth for the coming year.
Once you have answered those questions it’s time to create a plan of action.
Make a Plan of Action
Use your answers to create yearly goals for yourself. These goals should excite and scare you. You want to set goals that you can achieve but do not sell yourself short. Setting goals that you can easily accomplish keeps you inside your comfort zone.
Instead, set goals that you know will challenge you and force you to grow. Overcoming the fear that you might not achieve the goal is an essential part of the process. Since you took the time to determine what makes you happy, what your strengths and weaknesses are, and what’s holding you back, you can now set goals that are appropriate for YOU and not simply what you feel you should be striving to achieve.
Building a Process for Meeting Your Goals
So now you see the big picture. Let’s say that you’re learning a musical instrument, and after evaluating what’s holding you back, you determined you need to improve your technical facility. This is a great place to start but to achieve this goal you need to get more specific so you can establish a process to get you where you want to be. As you progress through the goal setting system, your focus will narrow and you will work on progressively smaller tasks.
For example, what are the components of expert technical facility on your instrument? Playing your major and minor scales cleanly at a fast tempo covering the full range of the instrument is one of these components. Then, determine what that fast tempo is and what the upper and lower limits of each scale is. On my instrument, the oboe, I would set a goal of playing all major and all three forms of minor scales in slurred sixteenth notes at quarter note equals 112. An example of the upper and lower limit of G major scale would be an upper limit of G6 and a lower limit of B3.
Whew! Your yearly goal is set! Now that your yearly goal is set, it is time to break it down further in half yearly, quarterly, monthly, weekly, and daily goals.
Setting Macro and Micro Goals
Taking the time to plan your goals on the macro and micro level will create a clear path forward and save you overwhelm and frustration. Let’s stick with that same example of wanting to improve your technique.
1. Divide Your Yearly Goal in Half to Create a 6 Month Mark
You’ve set your specific yearly goal of playing your major and minor scales in sixteenth notes at quarter note equals 112. So, a logical half yearly goal would be to be able to play 6 of your 12 major scales, and 6 of your 12 minor scales in sixteenth notes at quarter equals 112.
2. Divide Your Six Month Goal in Half to Set Quarterly Milestones
Your quarterly goal would be to achieve half of your half yearly goal – the ability to play 3 major scales, and 3 minor scales in sixteenth notes at quarter note equals 112. Following this same division, you would learn one major and one minor scale in sixteenth notes at quarter note equals 112 each month.
3. Set Weekly and Daily Goals
Over the course of the month focused on getting a Db major up to my goal tempo, I would set weekly and then daily tempo goals. For example, my week one tempo goal might be slurred sixteenth notes at quarter note equals 70, week 2 quarter note equals 85, week 3 quarter note equals 100, week 4 quarter note equals 112. At the end of every week, evaluate your progress to determine daily tempo goals for the following week and adjust the weekly tempo goal if need be.
Stay Organized, But Not Rigid
Some scales are, of course, more challenging than others, and therefore will need extra attention. I would recommend trying to master the biggest challenges first, since you know you will need to devote extra time to them.
I know that I can play D major and C major in sixteenth notes at quarter note equals 112 with only a week or two of focused practice. I know that a scale with more awkward finger combinations such as Db major might require a full month of practice to get to that tempo. This is why evaluating your strengths and weaknesses is so important
You want to make sure your process is organized, but not rigid. Being flexible and able to adapt is essential because life is unpredictable and it is impossible to plan for every potential obstacle. However, if you have a clear idea of your end of year goal and a logical and organized method you will be able to maintain your progress.
Evaluate Your Progress Regularly
By taking the time at the beginning of the year to unpack what’s propelling you forward and what is holding you back, you can streamline the process. Knowing the places where you have the greatest potential for growth (in other words, your perceived “weaknesses”) allows you to plan accordingly and devote extra time to improving these areas.
Just as you evaluated your status at the beginning of the year, I recommend performing the same process of evaluating your strengths and weaknesses every three months, or once a quarter. These quarterly evaluations keep you accountable, allow you to track your progress, and adjust your process if need be.