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Performance and Pedagogy Blog

A blog about the performance and pedagogy of music.

The Best Quote I've Ever Heard About Goal Setting

Andrew Hitz

"A good goal is one that changes your actions in the moment. Like, right now. Goals are not about the future. They are about the present moment. Changing your present actions."

—Derek Sivers

Derek Sivers is one of my favorite thinkers/authors/speakers/entrepreneurs in the world. He regularly makes me think about things in a different way or inspires me to try something new.

This is the best quote I've ever heard about goal setting. I've never heard the quality of the goal attached to whether it inspires you take to immediate action which makes all the sense in the world.

Two summers ago I decided to learn all of my major scales in thirds with the descending scales featuring ascending thirds. I learned ascending thirds on the way up and descending thirds on the way down many years ago. I have played that pattern at most once a year for the last decade and could do it perfectly right now. It is fully engrained. But playing ascending thirds on the way down was like reading a foreign language at first! Surprisingly so actually.

So I made a very specific goal for myself which was something like this:

I will play all the major scales in thirds around the circle of fourths in 8th notes at quarter note equals 100 with ascending thirds on the way up and ascending thirds on the way down from memory by August 20th without making a single mistake.

This goal made me immediately spring into action. It was made around July 1st and I had a very busy summer planned. I wasn't going to have a ton of time to practice because of gigs, family obligations and vacation. Putting a hard date on it that was neither overly aggressive nor so far in the future that there was no sense of urgency was the key.

It ended up forcing me to spend a lot of time on basics and certainly led to me having a few practice sessions that surely would not have happened otherwise. Using Derek's litmus test, this was a good goal since it made me take immediate action.

My students are going to get sick of me saying this quote very quickly because it is about to permeate my teaching.

So if you have a goal that isn't changing your present actions, the question to ask yourself is how can I improve this goal so that it does?