Impossible goal update

About a year ago, shortly after I started this blog/musing, I shared my impossible goal for 2019.  It was to learn to play Bach Cello Suite #1.  My year-long attempt to learn to play this solo cello suite was incredible.  I learned so much, and I even got better at playing cello!

Let me refresh or introduce the concept of setting an impossible goal.  I highly recommend you consider setting yourself one for 2020.  You may be wondering why any sane person would intentionally set an impossible goal.  Why would anyone decide to fail on purpose?

Because when you know and accept you are going to fail but choose to go for it anyway, you set yourself up for exponential learning and growth.  And that exponential growth comes in the form of strategic byproducts.  A concept attributed to Dan Sullivan, strategic byproducts are the unanticipated ‘side effects’ of setting an impossible or unrealistic goal.  Unanticipated is the key word here.  You cannot predict the result.  I expected to get better at playing cello – and I did.  But I learned so much more than cello technique and those beyond-cello-technique side-effects were unanticipated but most welcome!

I’ve also learned that reaching a specific goal though quite the achievement at the time, loses much of its meaning as time passes.  Sad fact but true none the same.  PhD… tick, lots of people have them.  MD… tick, lots of people have them…  Lose 75 pounds… tick, lots of people have done it.  Hmmm.

So, if the importance of actually reaching a goal fades with time, why not set impossible goals and gain all those strategic byproducts?

What were some of my beyond-cello-technique strategic byproducts? In no particular order…

  • Consistency.  When I first started cello, I practiced inconsistently.  Sometimes days would pass, and I never picked up my bow.  Now I practice every single day without fail.
  • Focus.  Some aspects of learning something new can be not so fun.  Like scales and long tones.  I have learned to focus intently – listening for intonation, smooth sound and tension free vibration.  Initially my happy-wanderer mind would drift imperceptibly.  Where is Molly?  Is the laundry done? Whose car is that driving by?  Now I catch my mind wandering and redirect it.  An hour can go by and I’m still working on scales and long tones.  It’s so fun to be lost in concentration!
  • Discipline.  There were times when I just didn’t feel like practicing.  I have no doubt you’ve experienced this – it’s an annoying default of the brain.  It’s the ‘I-want-this-but-I-don’t-want-to-do-this’ paradox.  Now, practicing cello every morning is just what I do.  There is no discussion, no internal argument, and no convincing required.
  • Considerably less frustration. This is huge.  Initially I would get so frustrated with my lack of progress, or my dreadful intonation, or the tension is my shoulders, hands and wrists, grumbling I would give up, promising to return later but then not return.  That rarely happens now.  Rarely.
  • Tempering of my inner critic. This was a real eye opener.  I was always critically judging my ability or complaining about my lack of progress.  I would say things like “I always miss this shift,” “I never get the pitch accurately” or “I worked on ‘x’ all week and still it’s no better.”  One day my very patient cello teacher called me on it.  It’s not true that you never or always do anything.  This was well into my journey to accept myself and to stop my self-criticism.  Somehow criticizing my skills was acceptable, where criticizing myself was not? Hmm.

All of these unanticipated side effects have permeated into other aspects of my life.  My frustration tolerance for computer tech is much higher.  I have added daily cardio to my morning routine, no convincing required.  I can redirect my mind with greater ease.  I can maintain my focus longer.  My inner critic is not so accurate with her punches and her punches are considerably less frequent.  I no longer argue with myself about doing things I want to do.  Incredibly, I have shut off the want-to/don’t-want-to toggle switch in my brain.

What you learn and become along the path to your impossible goal is more far more important than the accomplishment of the goal itself.  Adopt an I-am-all-in-attitude and plan to fail for the sake of learning and growing.  Since you have already accepted that it’s an impossible goal and you will fail, you have nothing to lose and so much to gain.

And no, I cannot play Bach Cello Suite #1… but I can hit all the notes in the right order, sometimes even in tune.  So fun.

Now to decide my next impossible goal… What about you?

Have a great week.
Dr Karen