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Goals vs. Processes

Yixi Zhang

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Published: April 22, 2014 at 11:55 PM [UTC]

Are you goal-oriented or process-oriented? I used to be the former kind until I noticed the pattern of my emotional ups and downs; I was never entirely happy with my achievements and felt greedy. Slowly I started to realize that if I don’t enjoy the process of my pursuit, I will never be happy.

Obviously, not all processes can lead to happiness. The process of smoking leads to bad lungs and bad companionship. A process of undisciplined daily practice will quickly bring me boredom and deterioration of my playing.

What I am talking about is a productive process, which has built-in mechanism that not only will guarantee success but will also be enjoyable in its own right. To me, such a process must contain goals that can be carried out and even replaced by a sound system. For example:

I want to be able to play the Mozart violin concerto #4 by the end of this year.

1. Objectives: Play all the notes in tune and in tempo with good tone, musical and stylistically correct.
2. Strategy: details on what I will do to practice each day and how to get the help from my teacher to achieve these objectives more efficiently.
3. Performance measures: concrete numbers are preferred so my success will be quantifiable (e.g. week 1: page 1, play all the notes in tune, quarter note at 60bpm).

You may say, we are doing this all along so what's the big deal to write a blog? If you are doing this, congratulations! But I believe it is useful to have a rational account of something we are doing right and something is worth pointing out:

First, I think there is a danger in focusing too much on the goals. Goals can be short-sighted or unrealistic. They are always future-oriented so their success of which is neither entirely predictable nor within our control, also the satisfaction of achieving goals is often short-lived: “So I’ve done this, what’s next?”

On the other hand, the beauty of a good system as I outlined above is that, because of this disciplined approach, each step we take is reassuring and confidence-building. You know you are getting something big down the road so moments of obstacles and plateaus don't stop us but only enrich the journey.

Goals can be movable targets as we improve but a system is constant so long as it works. We often hear beginners saying they just want to be able to play some songs and they’ll be so happy if they could do just that. Once they have reached that point, many of them usually look for more.

With a sound system, we are safe even when goals start to slip; in fact, goals are not even necessary if each step of the system is working: by following a system, we can live a life in a monastic way, and wisdom, spiritual enlightenment and character building are just a few additional benefits to the violin practice.

This blog is inspired by Scot Adams' book "How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life", specifically, by the chapter called “Goals are for losers. Systems are for winners”, details of which can be found in his blog . Check it out if you are curious but don’t want to read his entire book.

From Gregory Lawrence
Posted on April 24, 2014 at 9:29 PM
Well said on your blog...

'Perfection' at least technically is an unattainable goal anyway, is it not... and one's rendering of any given opus
is subjective, and very personal.

Greg Lawrence - San Diego

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