Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Goal-Oriented Everything (and the GOPP)

I will begin this post with an assumption about you: You haven’t yet achieved everything you desire.  If I am wrong about you, please accept my humble apology and save yourself the trouble of reading further… this particular post is not for you.  For those who still have a few yearnings to fulfill, onward we venture!

I am a musician.  This is not my hobby after I get home from the J-O-B… playing music is my main source of income.  I am truly blessed to do what I love and make a living from it, and as part of my quirky musician nature, I’m never satisfied with my playing ability.  Mind you, I have quite a few days where I bump knuckles with my bandmates and share the pride of a well-played gig, but I’m always striving to improve.

Ask any musician how to get better and they will say one word: “Practice” (of course, some will also push the latest method books or instructional DVD, but the idea is to include those in a practice routine).  One could practice for three hours each day and, without specific direction, overall improvement would be minimal. In fact, practicing without direction is typically referred to by phrases such as, “noodling,” “messing around,” or, “playing what you're already good at.”  At some point, you must identify where you are, where you want to be, and how to get from point-A to point-B.

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Enter the Goal-Oriented Practice Program (GOPP).  Before I go any further, let me say that GOPP is not my original idea.  I learned it from a phenomenal saxophone player, and it wasn’t his original idea, either.  I’m offering wisdom you would probably pick up listening to your grandfather!  The short version goes like this:

            1)   Something inspires you to improve.
            2)   You identify something specific that you want to improve.  “I want to play jazz better,” doesn’t cut it.  You must quantify what improvement you want to make.
            3)   Figure out where you are.  Be brutally honest with yourself.  Quantify the skill level where you feel comfortable performing.
            4)   Set a timeline to get yourself from where you are to where you want to be.  As an example, I'll use an arbitrary time of 6 months.
            5)  Plot your daily path to get there:
a.     “Where you want to be” minus “Where you are” = “The ground you have to cover” (mathematically known as, “the difference”)
b.     "The Difference" divided by 6 months = How much ground you need to cover per month (we’ll call this the, “monthly difference”)
c.      Rest is important when practicing.  Budget two days per week to step back from what you are learning.  This leaves an average of 21 days practice days per month.  If you don’t rest, your brain won’t properly process and organize new information and skills.
d.     "Monthly Difference" divided by 21 days = Your daily required progress.  
e.   Create a task that will challenge you to achieve this each day.
f.     Set a time limit for how long you will practice (perform the task) each day.  Anything more than 15 minutes at a time on one specific item is too much.

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This works wonders for music, but it applies to everything!  The principle is always the same: Set a large, specific, time-constrained goal; break it down into small, bite-sized goals; accomplish those mini-goals through daily tasks.

Write your regimen down on to-do lists.  Chart your progress.  Hold yourself accountable, and ask your spouse, a close friend, or a mentor to check on you and hold you accountable.

Now it is your turn.  Where do you want to be?  How are you going to get there?  Can you think of a time in your life when you've applied these principles and succeeded?


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