Developing SMART Goals
Setting guidelines to help you achieve your goals, no matter what they are, can be intimidating. Even establishing an initial goal can be just as tricky. Creating a plan to help yourself can be like climbing a mountain or even cooking. Your goal? You’re hungry and need to make something to eat. Well, yes, that could be accurate. But it doesn’t quite give a clear visualization of the end goal or the path from beginning to end.
Keep in mind that just like cooking, there can be several methods to get to the same end goal! What works for one person may not work for others. You may also require a different set of tools to complete the job. Life is a series of trial and errors, but one way to ensure you don’t win is by not trying. You have already made progress if you make an effort.
To keep the example brief, let's say that our end goal is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Something easy and quick to accomplish with only a few steps needed to gather materials: bread, peanut butter, jelly, something to spread the ingredients, and a plate. If you only focus on the end goal and not the steps to achieve it, you might have success. But what if you start making the sandwich and suddenly realize you don’t have jelly because you didn’t gather all the ingredients together at the start? It could just be a peanut butter sandwich at that point, or you find a way to make it work by adding bananas, but it's not the originally intended peanut butter and jelly sandwich you wanted. Let’s bring this example back into the music world.
Let’s say your music goal is to learn a specific piece of music, and you dive right into practicing it having only briefly glanced over the full piece to see what techniques you may come across. The first few measures go well for a first play through, but then you come across a section that uses a technique you may not have learned yet, or maybe you keep pushing it off to another day as a future problem for yourself. Well, that future problem is now a problem for your current self. Maybe it is a trill, or some hammer on/pull off combinations that you haven’t quite become comfortable with yet on guitar.
You might find ways to get around these techniques to play the music, but it won’t sound right and may possibly frustrate you. A piece you were initially looking forward to learning soon becomes a piece you despise.
How can we set you up for success before this potentially becomes a reality? How do you create a realistic goal for yourself in your current music journey? Something that I like to do first, is give myself a little bit of time to think about what I would like to achieve. This can be thinking about it while on a walk, while meditating, or even some journaling before bed with a mug of tea. Give yourself some space and quiet time to sit with your thoughts. Think about what you would like to achieve in the long run, and why.
If it is a specific piece you want to become comfortable playing, why do you want to learn it? Has it always been a dream of yours to play a difficult and well known piece for your instrument? In learning to play the full piece, is it for your own self-satisfaction or meant to show others your level of skill? Are you picking a specific piece to learn because you know it will force you to work on skills and techniques you need to improve upon?
There are many questions you can ask yourself about why you want to do something, and in the end it’s okay if your reason for learning a specific piece is just because it sounds cool and is fun to play. Not all goals need to have a groundbreaking reason behind them.
Once you have an idea of what you want to set as a goal, there are further steps you can take to make it easier for yourself to stay on track. And even if you get off track, having a plan can make it easier to realign yourself.
One tool to put in your toolbox is one that can be found in many industries, and was actually first introduced to me while on my adventure to become an engineer. Create goals that are SMART.
Make your goals specific for more effective planning. Dive deep. Don’t just say you want to get better at guitar; while that is a goal, it is too vague and open-ended with many ways for it to be achieved. What specifically do you want to get better at with the instrument?
Define what evidence will prove you're making progress and will help you reevaluate when necessary. If you’re focusing on intonation, record yourself at different milestones with the same scale or piece that you would like to use for comparison. Record yourself at the start of your goal timeline, then maybe once a week for a month or two. You may not notice a difference week to week, but recording yourself can be a great way to measure success when you start pulling back and looking at the big picture. Listening to your first recording then comparing it from a few weeks or even months later, you may be surprised at how much progress you’ve made!
Make sure you can reasonably accomplish your goal within a certain timeframe. Having huge, grandiose goals is rewarding when they are completed! However, breaking down a larger goal into smaller, bite-sized chunks can make it more manageable with a higher chance for success. Having a goal drag on for months at a time can become tiresome and disheartening if you don’t give yourself milestones to hit. Whether they are weekly, monthly, or bi-monthly milestones, they should make sense with what you are trying to achieve and what your limits or capabilities are. Feeling like you have accomplished something, no matter how small, can serve as an incredible source of motivation to continue on with future goals.
Your goals should align with your values and long-term objectives. Why are you making this goal for yourself? Like mentioned before, if your goal is to learn a piece because it sounds fun, great! I guarantee you will have fun with it. It can even be a great way to break up other areas of musical ventures that frustrate you and may also help prevent burnout by having something enjoyable to play on your instrument again after running into roadblocks. Or perhaps you want to set the goal to work on specific techniques that improve your playing because you are hoping to compete or make it your career?
Set a realistic end-date for task prioritization and motivation. Be realistic with milestone goals, but I encourage you to also push yourself within reasonable limits. Sometimes the best progress can be made when you put yourself out of your comfort zone. However, don’t be afraid to reassess the timeline if you are struggling in any way.
Continuing from that point, it is always okay to change your goal or modify timelines if it is starting to stress you out, cause you injury, or if it simply does not spark joy within yourself. But don’t stop or change a goal just because it gets too difficult. Make sure you are doing so for the right reasons. End of the day, your physical and mental health is most important. You can’t keep playing your instrument if you hurt yourself.
There are many ways to create a plan to reach a goal. You may find that using the SMART method works, or you can use it in addition to other goal-setting methods. And maybe you didn’t find any of the above helpful. But if you try it and it does not work for you, at least you tried and hopefully learned a little bit more about yourself!