Matt Edwards

Associate Professor of Voice, Shenandoah Conservatory Artistic Director of the CCM Vocal Pedagogy Institute

Mix it up Monday: Project or Goal, Obstacle or Excuse?

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goals2Voice teachers spend their workdays helping students achieve “success.” Some students progress quickly, others slowly. Life coach and author Michael Neill lays out numerous strategies for achieving success in his book Supercoach: 10 secrets to transform anyone’s life. As I was reading the book, “Session Three: The problem with goals” really jumped out at me. We live in a society where students are often told that they can acquire whatever they want (school of acquisition) or they can will it to be (school of attraction). These approaches, while well intentioned, often fail to produce results and students can easily become discouraged. Neill suggests a third mentality – the school of creation. The school of acquisition places the ability to achieve success outside of us in the physical world. The law of attraction places the power to get what we want in the metaphysical world. However, the school of creation asks us to accept that the power to achieve what we want is within ourselves. By focusing on creation, the power to achieve is accessed by the choices we make and not what the outside universe does for us.

Project or goal?

While focusing on long-term goals works well for some students, for others it can inhibit growth and success. Some people place such intense focus on reaching their long-term goals that their happiness and self-worth are determined by whether or not they reach said goals. There is also a tendency for long-term goal setters to reset their goals as they achieve success, which prevents them from feeling fulfilled. Neill suggests an alternative to long-term goal setting – focusing on short-term projects. Focusing on projects allows us to live in the now by taking actionable steps towards the long-term goal. Here are a few differences between goals and projects according to Neill:

  • Projects are in the present, goals are in the future.
  • Projects are things you work on, goals are things you work towards.
  • With projects the focus is placed on daily actions, with goals the focus is on the desired end result.
  • Projects can make you feel successful until the moment you fail, whereas goals will often make you feel like a failure until the moment you succeed.

If we can turn the student’s focus towards short-term projects, we can often prevent them from getting discouraged while still acknowledging their long-term goals.

Obstacle or excuse?

While shifting the focus from long-term goals to short-term projects is important, we must also teach our students how to confront challenges. No matter how diligently the student works, there are always going to be roadblocks that get in the way. The student can view the roadblocks as obstacles and find a way to get around them or they can choose to make excuses for why they cannot get past the roadblock. Students who choose the later are doomed to failure. We need to help our students get into the mindset of overcoming obstacles and help them realize if they really want what they say they want, there’s always a way to get it.

Use the following exercise to help your students analyze a roadblock, and determine what to do next.

  1. First ask the student to identify the task at hand (the project).
  2. Next ask the student to identify what is in the way of them completing their project. Does their struggle have to do with a lack of information or skill, a belief, their well-being, other people, a lack of motivation, time and/or money, or fear?
  3. Next ask the student if they have been viewing the roadblock as an obstacle or an excuse. If they have actively been looking for ways to overcome the roadblock, it is an obstacle. If they have been saying “Oh well, maybe next time,” it is an excuse.
  4. Finally, help them choose a path forward:
    1. If the roadblock is an obstacle, help them develop actionable steps to blast through it.
    2. If it is an excuse either
      1. Turn it into an obstacle and strategize a way to blow past it
      2. Or take a break and move on to a different project for the time being.

Neill’s book is full of useful tips for helping people create the life they want. Although he is currently a life coach, he began his career as an actor. As you read the book, it becomes very clear that the challenges of pursuing a performance career have deeply influenced his work. While it is easy to primarily focus on the technical and artistic side of performance, I believe books such as this can provide insights that are just as important. The summary provided above has been adapted for brevity and clarity. If you find this approach of interest, check out pages 43-80 in Supercoach: 10 secrets to transform anyone’s life. If you are not yet following the blog, please sign-up on the bottom right-hand side of the screen. As always, thanks for reading Mix it up Monday!


3 comments on “Mix it up Monday: Project or Goal, Obstacle or Excuse?

  1. Sharon Buck
    November 7, 2016

    This is right on! I just took a personal growth course and how we view ourselves and obstacles in our path is pivotal to our feelings of self-worth and contribution to society. Thanks for sharing!


  2. Katharina Rössner-Stütz
    November 7, 2016

    Very important things are approached here, in my opinion. I think it is necessary to include mental training in our daily training, as we do vocal exercises, so that we get used to a certain mind set. Thanks, Matt, for the book recommendation. I recommend ‘the inner game of music’.


  3. Pingback: Mix it up Monday: Don’t take “no” personally | Matthew Edwards

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This entry was posted on November 7, 2016 by in Misc. Thoughts.

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