Level Up Faster with Focused Goals

As a kid, you encounter some great and wonderful things in life, and it inspires you to do better, to be better, to try harder. As an adult, life gets in the way, and like Langston Hughes says, your dreams sometimes get deferred.The first time I heard Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” was at a friend’s house on a cassette tape. I was 15 and had just learned to play the guitar, and I was carried away by the music. I had no idea what the song was about (and still don’t really), but I know how it made me feel, and I know it took me somewhere.

I remember thinking, “Wow!… if I only I could play guitar like that!…”It’s taken me 21 years to get to this moment, but I can finally say that I’ve learned all parts of the song! Thanks to the increased time at home during the pandemic, I’ve found a way to play guitar after the kids go to sleep and all my work is finished for the day. It makes for some late nights, but I’ve been able to grow as a person and as a musician. It’s made me rethink how I accomplish something.

For over 20 years I’ve wanted to learn the solo to “Stairway to Heaven,” and I would only get about a quarter of the way there just messing around with it and looking at the music book occasionally. It was just a general goal, but there were no steps and no plan.But then when I sat down and said, “I’m going to learn this passage…TONIGHT!” and played just a few measures over and over and over again…then moving on to another section…

With smaller, more reachable goals, what had taken me twenty years was now accomplished in 2 days! I came across this passage which speaks to what I’m describing here:”…we tend to declare goals without intervening levels. We declare that we’re going to “learn to play the guitar.” We take a lesson or two, buy a cheap guitar, futz around with simple chords for a few weeks. Then life gets busy, and seven years later, we find the guitar in the attic and think, I should take up the guitar again. There are no levels. Kamb had always loved Irish music and had fantasized about learning to play the fiddle. So he co-opted gaming strategy and figured out a way to “level up” toward his goal:

Level 1: Commit to one violin lesson per week, and practice 15 minutes per day for six months.

Level 2: Relearn how to read sheet music and complete Celtic Fiddle Tunes by Craig Duncan.

Level 3: Learn to play “Concerning Hobbits” from The Fellowship of the Ring on the violin.

Level 4: Sit and play the fiddle for 30 minutes with other musicians.

Level 5: Learn to play “Promontory” from The Last of the Mohicans on the violin.

BOSS BATTLE: Sit and play the fiddle for 30 minutes in a pub in Ireland.

Isn’t that ingenious? He’s taken an ambiguous goal—learning to play the fiddle—and defined an appealing destination: playing in an Irish pub. Better yet, he invented five milestones en route to the destination, each worthy of celebration. Note that, as with a game, if he stopped the quest after Level 3, he’d still have several moments of pride to remember. It would have been a fun ride, like quitting after 30 levels of Candy Crush.Heath, Chip; Heath, Dan. The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact (pp. 163-164). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.I’m grateful for music and the joy that it brings me, and I want to encourage you that, if you set your mind to it and set some realistic goals, the sky is the limit! Keep the music alive and keep playing, friends!https://youtu.be/CY4RNI89_2k

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