Should you bother to set Goals for 2018?

It’s that time of year again. That time when experts, brainiacs, eggheads, and bloggers all exhort you to set goals for the coming year. They delineate the process and give away worksheets. They remind you that 5000% of people who write their goals down achieve them and that 3756% of people never even set a goal*.

In other words, they nag you and sort of bully you into generating a set of goals. I start to feel like it is nearly immoral to not set goals.  And I know – because I have done the same thing to you in the past! And to myself. Well – not this year!

It is January and the beginning of a new year. It is a time many reflect on the previous year and our progress as humans to date. And it is nearly a habit to expect to generate some goals. And those goals better meet all the criteria of good, achievable goals.

But should you bother to go through goal setting for 2018?There’s a reason only 3% of people even bother to write their goals down**.  It clearly is a strategy that doesn’t work for most people. It requires a level of commitment difficult to bring to just about any activity, except perhaps a quest. And since many of us play for our enjoyment (and even for those who play for a living) – it becomes just one more thing to do (and therefore it becomes easy to ditch!).

So, if goal setting isn’t the right approach, what better ways could you use to identify what you’d like to do with your harp this year and check-in over time to see if you are getting there? If the standard goal setting hasn’t worked for you, here are three other ways to approach this:

  1. Keep a diary. Yes, this is a thinly disguised journal – but for some reason a diary is slightly less threatening than a journal (just look at Instagram or Pinterest – loads of journals not too many diaries). You can keep a diary in any medium and it really is just you talking to you. You can do this in the blocks of your planner calendar, in a separate book, on scraps of napkins – whatever fits in your day. The best thing – who gets you better than you? It gives you a place to pour out your frustration when you are having a hard time – and to capture your glee when something totally comes together.
  2. Make an “I Love Me” board.  I started out thinking that a Vision Board was a great idea but it comes with so much baggage. And of course, it is hard to find magazines with pictures of harps (except Folk Harp Journal, Harp Column, and AHS Journal – and who wants to cut those up?!***). But you can capture all you want to do in the future and what you accomplish as sort of a visual scrapbook. It can have photos and selfies, invitations, programs, contracts, etc. Capture and display the detritus of your successes as well as any artifacts that arise from frustration (sheet music so marked up that it is unreadable? string bits?). Be sure to put the board somewhere that you can see it – and see that you are definitely moving.
  3. Make a record. I like to encourage students to do this at Christmas time and spontaneously (or maybe not so spontaneously) throughout the year. Christmas is a trove of tunes you play every year, so it is easy to effortlessly hear your progress. But you should also include any other tunes you’ve worked on. You could make what is an audio diary and after playing the tune you could comment to yourself – how much easier it was to play the tune this year, how much you want to add tunes, how good you feel about something you’ve worked on for a while. You could do this more regularly (as a version of 1 above) but I kind of like the idea of a different means of reminding myself what I’m doing.

Or just write your goals down. There’s nothing wrong with writing them down, keeping a practice journal and actively looking for progress and successes. The key is to capture evidence of your journey in a way that helps you travel!  Let me know if you’re going to bother to set goals or how you might watch your own growth over the coming 12 months!

* these statistics may be randomly generated (i.e. made up)
** actual statistic snagged from this article – you’ll find various numbers in assorted sources, but they are all low
*** if you’re not already reading at least one of these, you might want to consider adding it to your readying list

Is it a Maybe?

So, here we are, about ¾ of the way through the year. Everyone’s back to school and the holidays are fast approaching. By now, hopefully, you’ve sorted out your yes’s and no’s. The next question is do you have your maybe’s?

Perhaps the biggest maybe at this time of year is related to the goals you set for yourself. So maybe it is a good time to review them. How are you coming? Do you need to tweak any? Do you know?

This is where that journal comes in handy – it’s a good time to review your notes to see if you are getting where you wanted to go. If not, can you see what you need to work on?  Do you need to:

  • Rededicate your practice time
  • Actually practice
  • Reprioritize your practice time
  • Actively schedule elements of practice
  • Review your goals to make sure they are realistic for your real life
  • Examine your journal to have a better idea how it’s going so you can continue to meet your goals

Are you getting there? Maybe part of the way?  Maybe isn’t bad at all – as long as you mean it!

Just Say NO!

After at least a week of saying “Yes!” perhaps it’s also time to start saying “NO!”

No can be so negative but sometimes it’s the best answer to allow you to hang onto your sanity! Or to make progress toward your goals.  I will always encourage you to stretch – to do things that are a little scary or uncomfortable. This is because typically these things only l-o-o-k scary but are actually a lot of fun once you break through.

But some things are scary for good reason. They are better avoided – a stretch piece that is a huge stretch, a stretch piece with an unreasonable or unrealistic deadline, something you just really do not want to do (or don’t agree with doing), something that will just add the straw that broke the camel’s back to your schedule.

Here are some things it might be helpful to say “NO!” to:

  • Weddings – if you don’t like to be stressed, don’t book weddings! Only do them if you feel confident – otherwise they will chip away at your confidence and possibly your self-esteem.
  • Short notice gigs – if you don’t have regular practice time in on your repertoire, you will not be ready at the drop of a hat.  So don’t do that to yourself. Only book gigs for which you can be confidently and competently prepared.
  • Music you’re not interested in – now, I’m not saying don’t experience new things but this music is also typically music you don’t know (so you won’t have tricks up your sleeve for dealing with not being rock solid on the tunes).  Or it’s music you haven’t worked with (so you’re likely not solid and confident).  And this is often coupled with short notice and/or weddings!
  • Only playing for the cat and the curtains – Get over yourself! No one plays perfectly and you never will either. The only way to get better at playing for people is to do it. You know – to practice doing it by doing it. The longer you put it off, the more you tell yourself you’ll do it later, the harder it will get. So get out there.

Say no to anything that will require more preparation than you will be able to devote. If you are only able to practice 30 minutes a day, don’t even think you’ll be able to take on a challenge and succeed (Carol of the Bells from scratch in 2 weeks? Ha, don’t even). You will be stressed and unprepared and miserable.

Practice saying No at the right times so you are ready to say Yes as appropriate.  And if you’re knocking yourself down (over these or anything else) – Definitely Just Say No!

Plan your work – work your plan

Whew! Now that we’re back from Harpa and all the focused preparation for that, it would be easy to think that it’s time to slack off. Or because it’s summer we could argue that it’s a good time to chill a little. Or because it’s Wednesday, we could convince ourselves it’s ok to take a break. There are plenty of reasons to rationalize that we don’t need to work at practice. But these are exactly the sorts of time when reapplication of focus to practicing is precisely the right thing to do!

No matter what your level of play is, no matter how much you only play for amusement or play only as a profession, practice is still work. And like the work you do in your day job or the work you do around the house, your practice will go better if you make (and adhere to) a plan!

What should you plan to do? Well, you already know. You might not want to do it, but you know what your plan should include. Your plan needs to include elements that assure

  • that you know how much time you intend to work
  • that you spend your time effectively
  • that you don’t practice mistakes into what you know
  • that you learn new material
  • that you distribute your time across the things you love doing (playing things you already know?), the things that aren’t so much fun (etudes?), and the things you just don’t want to do (metronome?).

Be sure your plan includes all the necessary work.  These things may not happen every time you sit to practice, but having a plan assures that you remember to work on things over time.

Once you have a plan – make sure you actually work that plan!  Don’t go through the exercise of making a plan and then leaving it in a drawer.  Write it down – and keep it near your work place practice spot.  Set yourself up to succeed by checking it each and every time you practice so that you are always moving forward. Occasionally review your plan to make sure it is still pushing you toward your current and long term goals.

Do you have a practice plan? Do you use it?

You set goals – so what? Five ways to capture your progress

All of January we have been talking about identifying, setting, keeping and meeting goals to improve playing, learning, and performance. The final question – how do you know if you are making progress? How can you be sure you are moving toward the outcome you wanted?

Well, like everything else, you need to record what you have done and see if you are on track to get there (or maybe that you are already there!). How do you go about recording your progress? Well, here are five ways:

  1. Write it down! And be sure to reread your notes. This can be in your lesson notebook or your journal. You can make notes on little scraps of paper – doesn’t matter, just so long as you can make sense of it when you go to review it.
  2. Record yourself. You can buy an inexpensive digital voice recorder at your favorite local office supply depot that are staples of most areas. This will give you good enough sound quality for this purpose. Then you can listen to your playing after you play as well as when you are playing – you’ll be amazed what you hear later!
  3. Check yourself against your plan – and review to see how well you are keeping up. Did you actually learn three nocturnes last week? No? You can always modify the plan but you won’t know if you aren’t watching!
  4. Ask someone to listen to you and provide you feedback (and then provide feedback on the implementation of their previous feedback). This can be your teacher or a helpful friend or family member. The point is to get some information on your progress (don’t lose sight of that).
  5. Videotape yourself. This is, of course, a variation of recording yourself but with the added benefit of having visuals as well – you might learn something you weren’t even expecting!

I’m sure there are more ways to be sure you are making progress – what do you do?

Just like you learn – you succeed!

So, you have written down your goal(s) for the year.  And that is an important step – you’re most of the way there if you have actually written them down.   But now you need to move from doodling in your harp journal to actually moving forward. Just like you learn music – a little at a time, and beginning with the end in mind! Here are seven ways to get going:

  1. Be honest – don’t make a harp goal just because I’m leaning on you! Make goals because you want to achieve something in particular, not just because it’s January.
  2. Make a plan – a real plan.  Make sure you know what you need to do, how long it will take, when you will expect to have things done. Use a schedule so you will know you are making progress.  If it helps you, make a road map.  Or a vision board, or Goals storyboard…it doesn’t matter, so long as you have something you can work with. This will help you keep your eye on the ball!
  3. Make small steps – in that plan, make sure the steps are small and achievable.  If they’re too big (play Carolan’s Concerto?) break it down into bite size chunks so you can actually get there.  You know the joke – how do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.
  4. Make “tests” so you will actually do the work – we all know that we work to a deadline.  No one says you can’t set your own test schedule!
  5. Schedule a lesson – which will make you practice – just so you don’t embarrass yourself! Think of it as a pop quiz. And the bonus is you’ll learn a lot while you have the lesson!
  6. Continue to document to keep track of what has happened and what is coming next.  Use your phone/laptop/ipad to help you! No, not to watch youtube videos of other people playing the harp! Rather, use the calendar, the recorder, the notepad – all ways to help you keep track and keep moving toward your goal. Or, keep it all in one place and include it in your lesson book/harp journal.
  7. Get support. No one gets anywhere alone.  Enlist the aid of your family, friends and other harpers to help you – to make sure you have time, that you learn what you need to so that you get to the next level, to cheer you on when you have challenges.

By keeping track, you are much more likely to have success in getting to where you want to be – and you can be proud of you progress.

New Year’s Goals or Wishes?

It’s the beginning of a new year. Time to build on last year’s successes and set goals for the coming year. Call them goals or resolutions, they represent what you think is important for you to try to accomplish in the coming days, weeks or years.

Things you think are important to accomplish.

So, if these things are so important to you, how will you get there? Are you going to set goals or are you going to wish for something? Are you going to make it so or just hope something fortuitous occurs? In 354 days will you, upon looking back at this year, be proud and feel accomplished? Or will you be sad and dejected that what you thought was important has slipped by you, undone?


To help you be in that first group, take just one little step – Write -it- down!

Write down what you think is so important – the goals you want to set for this year. Write them all down – the ridiculous, the sublime, the ones you’re embarrassed to admit to – write them all down!

Then, sort through them. Pick out the few that really REALLY matter to you. Not the “should do” ones (you know, “practice every single day” or “lose 10 pounds) but the ones you really want to see yourself complete (you know, “host a harp circle” “learn that piece you have always admired”).

Then – here’ the crucial step – write those select items in your journal. Make sure they are with your daily work so you can remind yourself why you are working so hard. For those days when you forget where you mean to be going. For those days when you wonder why you ever started playing. For those days when you don’t particularly like your harp (you know we all have those days!). You have already started your 2017 harp journal, haven’t you?

Write it down, make it real. Because while wishes are nice – goals are real!

Auld Lang Syne – Seven Ways to Reflect on 2016

It’s that time of year when we wrap up our celebrations and prepare for the year ahead. 2017 is already started and we have the opportunity to make it a great harp year. We know it’s the time for goals and resolutions — we might even have already made some. If you haven’t, you’re probably feeling the pressure to get a move on and make at least one resolution for the coming year!

There’s a small problem with this though. As the saying goes, how can you know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been? Where have you been? Reflection, even if brief, will allow you to glean from your past year how to best prepare (and conduct) the coming year.  Here are seven ways to reflect on the previous year and your harp playing. 2016-in-review

  1. Interview yourself. Ask specific questions about how 2016 went for achieving your goals and how you wanted the year to go. Questions could include:
    • what did you do really well? of what are you most proud?
    • what “do over” do you wish you were going to get?
    • what’s the best thing you learned?
    • what did you play that you wish you could have skipped?
    • what did you just not get around to doing?
  1. Review your notes to see how your year went?
  2. Review your calendar to see if your goals happened or if were they unrealistic, unmet, and driven by life or other events?
  3. Review your lesson book or journal – there might be some real nuggets in there! It’s blank? Really?!? Consider actually writing to yourself this year.
  4. Review your “what went well” answer, and refine it – what went well in a sustainable way that you’ll be able to keep doing into the new year?
  5. Map out what worked and what didn’t work for you.
  6. Note what you’re grateful for. Gratitude is all the rage just now and it likely should be.  What lagniappe or serendipity happened in your harp playing this year? This will give you something to smile about.

This review does not need to be a long drawn out exercise. Pour a cup of tea, pull up your journal (or a post it note!), think and reflect, and jot it down. It’s a great way to prepare for what’s coming!

You might have seen that there are only 90 days remaining in the year (fewer by the time you read this!).  Have you made significant progress toward your harp goals for the year? Do you remember what they were? Did you write them down? Did you make a plan?

Fear not – all is not lost – there are, after all, nearly 90 days remaining to make some progress.  So you can end the year with a strong (and deserved) feeling of accomplishment!  And if you are no longer aligned with the goals you set (or if you never got around to setting goals), here are seven things you can still finish this year to end on a high note of accomplishment!


  • Now is not the time to be wishy-washy – identify specifically what you want to work on (e.g., “I want to play Glenlivet at 200bpm” rather than, “I want to play faster”).You can file your paper music – Alphabetically? Chronologically? By type? Up to you, just do file in a way you can find it!
  • Make your 3 x 5 card index of tunes so you can keep more of your repertoire in your fingers (see this previous post).
  • Identify “little things” that need to be fixed in tunes you are already playing – and dedicate the remaining year to fixing them (you know, smooth out that fingering that always makes you miss in the fast tune; actually do the exercises and etudes that will allow you do perform a technical element accurately; commit to memory that chord progression for that air that you love but always stumble in).
  • Identify appropriate, strong, measurable goals for next year – and write them down! (and there is nothing magic about 1 January – you can start now)
  • Commit to actually practice every day for the rest of the year.
  • Write down what you do each day so you can see your progress.

Just keep focused on what you’d like to accomplish and make a plan to spend the end of the year moving toward that!

What are you afraid of?

It’s nearly spring which means that it will very soon be competition season! Competitions are a great way to push yourself to learn, to grow, to be a little bit daring, to find out something about yourself.

I know a lot of people (especially adults) are very quick to say that competition is not for them. And that is true for some people. But for most people, it really is a great opportunity that shouldn’t be missed.


Really – where else will you have such a good chance to make great strides in your playing? What holds you back? There are plenty of reasons – some of them good. Many people are afraid of the potential pain of stretching. Some have a running list of questions – What will the other harp players think? What if I don’t play perfectly? How will I walk away without dying of embarrassment?

But competitions are a great way to collect the answers to these questions! What will others think? Well the ones you’re competing against are typically focused on what they will play (or asking the same questions of themselves) to worry about what you’re thinking (and it’s likely that the people who aren’t playing are wondering “what if”  and how great you’re doing). What if you DO play perfectly?!? Did you ever think of that? And typically you cannot be too embarrassed to walk off the stage – and it’s hard to be embarrassed when all those people are applauding to show their appreciation and enjoyment of your performance!

It’s not about winning – in fact you learn so much more when you don’t take first place. You learn more about yourself, you meet new people, you get great feedback and specific actions to make yourself better, you become better, and you know it. So, I would strongly encourage you to push yourself, just a little, to get out there, to enter a competition, and enjoy answering your own questions!