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Trust Your Piping System, Not Your Goals

Trust Your Piping System, Not Your Goals


The path to achieving anything typically starts with setting some sort of goal and setting actionable steps to get you to it. Here at Dojo U, there are numerous bagpiping milestones to set your sights on and move you toward becoming a better piper and musician.

James Clear though, has other ideas about the effectiveness of goal-setting and has what he thinks is a better way to make progress in the things that matter to you. To him it comes down to the difference between “goals” and “systems.”

Think about your overarching bagpipe goal(s). If your goal is, say, to do well in solo competition, then your system is the practice regimen (like classes at Dojo U) you follow to improve your playing. Clear claims that improvement will still come, and goals still reached, if we ignored our goals placed our focus instead on the just the system.

For example, if your goal was to win a 2/4 march competition, and your practice regimen consisted of regular work on a manometer to improve your sound production, and then exercises to build rhythmic and technical accuracy, would you still improve if you did those things anyway and ignored the goal of “winning” a competition?

The question is almost rhetorical. Setting goals really takes a back seat to the actual work we do. Clear makes a good case for the relative pain and suffering that “goal-setting” brings, and its conflict with what really matters in our efforts:

Consider someone training for a half-marathon. Many people will work hard for months, but as soon as they finish the race, they stop training. Their goal was to finish the half-marathon and now that they have completed it, that goal is no longer there to motivate them. When all of your hard work is focused on a particular goal, what is left to push you forward after you achieve it?

Bagpiping can be a lifelong journey of learning and practice, irrespective of achievements. The best artistic pursuits are. Buddhists talk of walking “the path” as being more important than ever reaching ultimate enlightenment, and they have a point. Constant focus on goals that reinforce our lack of ability or give us the illusion of control over the ultimate results of our efforts, only make us unhappy and have a way of taking our eye off the target. Target your process, the system that is moving your efforts forward. The results of your "system" is its own reward. Any kind of "achievement" will come and is simply icing on the cake.

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Goals and Timelines

Robert Mathieson - Long Term Goal Setting [Vintage]


Vin Janoski Vin is a long-time piper based on the east coast of the USA. He has been on the Executive Committee of the EUSPBA and been the editor of the acclaimed Voice magazine. Recently, he has played in the Grade 1 Oran Mor Pipe Band, and the Grade 1 Stuart Highlanders pipe band. He currently produces the websites Pipehacker.com and WhiskyTunes.com.... And, needless to say, he spends way too much time than is allowed for any one person playing, writing about, and thinking about bagpiping.