In a discussion about how to set goals, I feel uniquely qualified to contribute. Not only have I accomplished major goals that I set for myself in the past, but I find myself at a point in my life where I am reevaluating and setting new goals for myself to accomplish in the future.
While my previous goals were playing in a full time orchestra and making a living as a professional musician, my goals are shifting towards finding new ways to serve the musical community in new and exciting ways.
I cannot control which of the long term goals will come true. My only option is to focus on the things I can do right now to move myself closer toward accomplishing them, and trust that I will be placed where I am supposed to be. The goal of this post is to help show how to find daily disciplines using our long term goals, so we can develop a tangible and practical plan for chasing our dreams.
Long term goals
Long term goals are the type of goal that we are most familiar with; our long term goals are often called our dreams. When we are asked, “What do you see yourself doing with your life,” we are trying to determine what our long term goals are. A few examples of long term goals (in music) might be:
- Get into a certain grad school
- Win an orchestral audition
- Teach at a university
- Write a book
- Have a solo career
Every self help book that exists will undoubtedly have a section that discusses the importance of setting goals to help guide us. There’s just no way you can have a solid plan of how to move forward in your life without some idea of where you would like to end up. At this stage of setting goals, it’s not important for your goal to be what you or others would consider to be “possible”. All you need is something you can see yourself doing that brings you joy.
It is worth noting that when setting these long term goals, or chasing our dreams, this step is just a start. We can accomplish anything with the help of a great amount of perseverance. However, it is my belief that the goals we set when we are starting our journey don’t always reflect where we might end up. Being obsessive about achieving goals can lead to problems if we aren’t able to achieve them.
For example, having the goal of “Winning a job in a professional ensemble” will absolutely be achievable with hard work and perseverance. Having a goal of “Winning principal trumpet of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra” may not be under your control. For the person with such a specific goal, not achieving it could lead to dissatisfaction in the ensemble they do end up in, which can often lead to resentment of colleagues and even their instrument itself.
So dream big. Reach for the stars. Don’t hold back. But we don’t necessarily know EXACTLY what is the best path for our lives, so I’d recommend leaving a little wiggle room.
Medium Term Goals
The next level of goal setting can simply be called medium term goals. These are the goals that help you begin to walk the path to your long term goals. Using the long term goals from before to influence the medium term goals we set, it might look something like this:
- Apply for the schools you want to get into and learn the required audition music
- Apply for a professional audition and practice the excerpts
- Get a doctoral degree in music
- Decide what subject your book will be about
- Compete in solo competitions
Medium term goals are goals that we can set in the future that have a finish line. Quite often there will be more than one medium term goal that will serve us in accomplishing our long term goals.
In this type of goal setting, we can look to mentors and people who have been successful in walking the path that we want to walk for advice on how to be successful ourselves. Whether you are receiving an education or reaching out to professionals in your field, this advice is essential to getting our ship pointing in the right direction. Don’t be afraid to reach out if you feel lost.
Short Term Goals
Short term goals are where the magic happens. They are the daily disciplines we can implement to move us closer to our medium term goals. The short term goals we set WILL BE what determines our success. Once we set our short term goals, all that’s left is to put in the work, invest in ourselves, and commit all the way.
Again, using the examples from before, here are some examples of short term goals:
- Break down the difficult sections of the required music and practice them slowly, in many different ways to gain complete mastery
- Listen to recordings and study the score while running mock rounds and attacking your weaknesses
- Wake up 1 hour earlier to dedicate toward writing your doctoral thesis
- Write 2 pages of your book every night
- Beginning 10 weeks in advance, work on two solos per day.
The interesting thing about short term goals is you can always make smaller and smaller goals. Taking a piece of music you need to learn for a graduate school audition, the goals could be broken down like this:
- Break the piece into sections
- Begin at half tempo
- Play each section 4 times
- Stop and sing intervals that are difficult
- Play with a metronome
- Take a break every 20 minutes to refresh your mind
There is no right or wrong when it comes to short term goals. What strategies work for one may not work for another. There is only one constant that applies to everyone and it is this: you have to do them. Consistency of action is the name of the game in so many areas of life. It really is that simple. But as everyone reading this knows.. It’s not always so easy.
The single most helpful tip I’ve read from both “Atomic Habits” by James Clear and “The Slight Edge” by Jeff Olsen is if you want to be successful in being consistent with your daily disciplines, make them easy and seemingly invisible. Learning a 20 minute concerto can seem daunting. Practicing 30 minutes 3 times per day.. not as daunting. Practicing 90 minutes a day for 8 weeks can make learning a 20 minute concerto seem like a much more attainable goal.
Putting It Together
As an exercise, I want you to write down one long term goal that you have. It doesn’t have to be realistic, this is just for fun (although it could absolutely be real if you want it to be). Once you have your long term goal, write up to three medium term goals you have that will put you on the path to achieving your long term goal. After that, write down every short term goal you can think of that will help you achieve those medium term goals. Some books will recommend putting time frames on these goals; I only think that is necessary if you are doing this exercise seriously (I’ll put some great books at the end of this post that are some must reads if you want resources that go further into depth).
The goal of this exercise is to help you see how to reach your long term goals. Small daily disciplines done with consistency is the key to success, but I think it can be beneficial to track how they will serve the end goal. Please feel free to use the contact page on my website to send me your goal tree (that’s what I’m calling it). I would love to be a part of helping you reach your goals!
“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end” – Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand Of Darkness