Highland bagpipe is rife with things that must be learned in order to play well. As with any big task, setting goals for yourself to keep things moving and improving is a given. Formal goal-setting is a tactic can work but, sometimes, thinking too much of what your ultimate achievement or goal is can overwhelm you when you think of the amount of work to get you there. We can also sometimes get “stuck” at a certain stage of learning that just generates frustration. To break through these periods, we need a fresh outlook.
What if we set “anit-goals?” These are, in essence, the negative things your “goals” are steering you away from.
Tim Ferriss, productivity guru and author of the The 4-Hour Workweek is a proponent of a “not-to-do” list. As he puts simply: “What you don’t do determines what you can do.”
Think of all the time you spend on the “mistakes” you encounter, or the pitfalls that keep you from better piping. It’s one thing to think of crossing noises as a mistake and crafting better skills to eliminate them. But it’s quite another to think of them as unproductive annoyances that are just getting in your way. The former elevates them and gives them more prominence, creating a beast that must be slain. The latter minimizes and dismisses them as a trivial thing to be brushed away and moved past.
Goal setting and goal-oriented thinking promotes forward-looking, positive action. By thinking about “anit-goals” or minimizing negative actions that do not align with our positive goals, we force ourselves to look at our efforts a bit differently, encouraging a bit of reverse-looking action that promotes reflection and can help us identify underlying issues.
Business professionals have examined this type of approach in various fields. Many business consultants as well as professors practice variations of this method. For them, it is about minimizing unproductive actions in their business activities such as useless meetings, answering email, menial tasks that do not add value, etc.
But what if we take this same approach with our bagpipe practice? You might think a pesky crossing noise is not as easy to “stop doing” as a boring meeting, but what if it is? What if you set a simple anti-goal, “Stop making crossing noises”, rather than setting down all the actionable tasks you need to do to accomplish the “goal” of eliminating crossing noises (moving my fingers at the same time; cleaning up my scale navigation; resizing gracenotes). It is a subtle difference that can have a profound effect on how you approach the problem. Your “not-to-do” list should simply be the things you don’t want in your piping. Instead of overloading your brain with a laundry list of tasks and work that are supposed to rectify playing problems, boil those playing problems down into simple statements of “not-to-do”:
• No slowing down in the tune
• Stop making crossing noises
• No fluctuations in sound and blowing
Setting these sample statements for yourself as “anit-goals” frees your mind to instinctively draw on what you already know in order to achieve them rather than employing a limiting list of tasks that you’ve been told will achieve the “goal” of “better timing,” “eliminate crossing noises,” or “better blowing.” By setting these anit-goals, you will do what you need to do in order to adhere to the statement, approaching the issue with more creativity and problem-solving attitude than you would following a restricted set of instructions. A fresh perspective will sometimes be just what you need to break through those “stuck” periods as you work toward better piping.