In a recent post, I wrote about the SMART Goals system and how musicians can use this system to achieve their musical goals.

One of the five points in this system is to have Attainable Goals.  When your goals are clearly achievable, forward momentum rushes into your life, pushing you to achieve more and more.  This is a wonderful feeling.

Focusing on attainable goals leads to an interesting question, however:

What happens if you or your music teacher sets up unattainable goals?

Think about what an unattainable goal will do to you–not just in music, but in any area of your life.

For instance, I swim laps four or five times a week.  It’s great exercise, lowers stress, and keeps me in shape for the rigors of performing music.  But, if I suddenly got it in my head that I was going to make the Olympic swim team, I would just be setting myself up for disappointment and failure.  I could dedicate my entire life to this goal, but it is clearly unattainable for someone of my age and athletic ability. 

This question of unattainable goals gets to the heart of the practice process itself.  The thoughts, feelings, and emotions of musicians vary widely during practicing.  These variations in mood often depend on how dedicated musicians feel toward the goals of their practicing.

If your practice goals are not achievable, an enormous sense of frustration will quickly well up inside you.  This frustration will make practicing seem like drudgery and probably make you quit practicing for the day.

Over the long term, feeling frustrated can lead to resentment, dissatisfaction, and questioning why you are even bothering.  If your goals just seem impossible, playing your instrument won’t seem worth the time and effort.

This thought process makes many musicians simply give up on playing music altogether.  They put down their instruments for good, sometimes thinking they just weren’t cut out to be musicians.  This drastic reaction is completely understandable.

But, there is no reason to let these negative feelings affect you in the first place.  The key is to create the right balance in your goal setting.  Your goal can’t be too easy.  That just leads to boredom.  And, it can’t be too difficult.  That leads to frustration.

Like Goldilocks, you’re looking for goals that are just right.  They need to be attainable, and they need a certain amount of hard work to achieve.  Balancing these two factors is the secret to musical growth and should be something you and your music teacher discuss openly and regularly.

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