Use S.M.A.R.T. goals to set achievable ukulele goals

It's New Year's Eve -- the cusp of 2019/2020 -- and I don't dare look behind me. I know I'll see a tangled heap of optimistic goals laying just inside the threshold of each new year. How many years have I vowed, "THIS year will be different!"? All of them. So, I'm switching up my game plan.

What's different about setting this year's goal?

Usually, when I wing a big, ambitious-but-vague goal into the starry eve of a new year, there's not much but champaign bubbles to keep it aloft. This time, I'm taking a little more thought and time to craft a goal that I can actually achieve -- and make sure not to over-build it. I don't need another planned failure to make me feel progressively bad about myself as the year moves inexorably forward without me.

I'm using a nerdy tool to keep me on track. Key ingredients include focus and introspection, and it just might keep me from spending all of 2020 kicking myself for not achieving the impossible.

This year, I am creating a goal that is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound -- a S.M.A.R.T. goal: Yep -- totally nerdy ... and exactly the power tool I need in my goal-setting arsenal.

Crafting the goal

I'm sharing my goal-setting process in hopes that, in describing it to you, I'll be forced to make a good, achievable-yet-challenging goal for myself and to fulfill it as well. After all, I'm putting it out to the world (-wide web), so I've got everyone who is reading this to hold me accountable. Here goes:

  1. Narrow the focus. When I complete the sentence, "I want to learn how to...," I'm swamped with ideas. It's like picking out a puppy, though: I let 'em come tumbling out in a wiggling heap and play with them all until I keep coming back to the one that will follow me home. My puppies include becoming a better fingerpicker, tip-toeing farther into music theory, playing solos up the neck, learning some fun tricks immortalized by Cliff Edwards, George Formby, and Roy Smeck.... This is all pretty fabulous and ambitious. Now for the focusing questions: What will make me a more versatile and nimble player? What is it that has stymied me this past year? What one goal will serve the other goals as well? Looking ahead to the end of 2020, what do I see myself doing with ease and joy? Playing solos up the neck. It's related to chord soloing, so I'll rope a little of that into my fabulous achievement as well. It also involves a little music theory and fingerpicking to make it happen -- but the focus is on the overall goal. To keep things entertaining, I'll pick one fun trick to work on as well. So ALL the puppies are coming home with me after all! How am I going to keep it all from collapsing in on itself?

  2. Make a plan. Here's where the nerdy S.M.A.R.T. goal tool comes into play, forcing me to break it down to achievable steps, whittling out anything that doesn't feed the goal. It doesn't mean I have to do only goal-related stuff. It just means that I have a plan and a timeframe. Let's do it: SPECIFIC: Be able to play a solo, at speed, for three songs - at least one in the key of G and one in the key of C. This will involve knowing the scales for the keys those songs are in, in at least two positions on the neck. It involves training my fingers to land in any number of 'right' places, to know what tone they want and where to find it. The 'why' behind what is 'right' involves some music theory, which will serve me well for many purposes. MEASUREABLE: I need some kind of yardstick to measure my progress by throughout the year. Something along the lines of: By Jan. 31: Be able to play the G scale fluidly in two places on the neck. Begin applying it to a solo break in a specific song. By Feb. 29: Know how to play G, C, D & Em chords in several positions and shapes up the neck. Begin applying it to a specific song. ... and so on throughout the year. I'll flesh each one out with what resources I'll tap into, whether it's a book, a lesson, or something of my own making. To keep from being overwhelmed by the goal-setting process, as long as I have the overall goal in mind, I can chart the course just a couple of months at a time to allow my progress to evolve as I learn how to learn. I'll be sure to make a date with myself in mid-February to create those fresh steps in time to keep the ball rolling. ACHIEVABLE: It's easy to dream impossible dreams. The challenge is setting it up so I can actually incorporate what I've learned, on the fly, in different scenarios - not just the songs I've focused on. That's why I'm aiming at only two keys, G and C. And only three songs, with the notion that, by learning how to create a solo for those three songs, I'll be able to translate what I learn to more songs and techniques. For example, once I learn the G and C scales, all I have to do is move those patterns up two frets and I'll have the A and D scales. RELEVANT: When I'm playing for my own enjoyment or jamming and performing with other musicians, I'm always insanely jealous of those who can take solo breaks and noodle around with the melody. As a performer, I can contribute more by developing the ability to take solo breaks. That's what gives me intrinsic incentive to keep working towards the goal. TIME-BOUND: Funny thing about time: Let it trickle through your fingers and you'll never have enough for working on those goals. Yet, there's always time to catch up on a favorite TV show. Knowing me as I do, I need some structure. I need to set dates for myself to do the work, with a plan that leaves room for life's glorious vagaries and filligrees to happen without derailing my efforts. I'll gather what resources I need to make this happen. As rabbit holes open up, I need to be able to stay focused on my plan for the allotted time. I can invite all hell to break loose afterwards.

In the end, I'll have gotten over a hump that has held me back for several years, be better able to hold my own when jamming and performing with other musicians, and, most importantly, increase my own joy and spontaneity of play.

What's your goal? How do you plan to achieve it? What will you do to triumph over your usual pitfalls? What are you rewarding yourself with? Be gentle and kind with yourself. Don't overload. Keep it simple. Keep it doable. Keep on it! I'd love to hear how you're approaching becoming the player you dream of being by the end of the year.

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