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Monday, August 6, 2012

Monday Morning Check In: Mini-Challenges

When we think about goal setting, we tend to envision a grand picture. Our goal assumes lofty proportions, right? Of course, we need lofty big picture goals, because these types of goals fuel our vision and our desire to make a large impact on the world. There are other types of goals, however, that will accomplish much in our lives. These are our what I refer to as our mini-challenges.

What is a mini-challenge? This is a short term goal and may even be a really, really short term goal. Generally, short term goals are goals that can be accomplished within a year. The mini goal or challenge, however, can be as short as one week, or even one day if that attracts you and suits your purpose.

The reason I use mini goals is to keep my focus and concentration on a linear progression, since I can be easily distracted by many things. I am a curious person and am fascinated to learn about many things. If I gave myself free rein, I would not accomplish much because I would be chasing rabbit trails all over the place. No, I am not ADD. I just like learning about many things. Mini-challenges keep my head in the place where it belongs. I maintain a schedule of learning, and there is logical sense to my efforts and therefore to my mini-challenges. This is also why I write so often about systems, logs, and other methods of record keeping. When we lend structure to the chaos that abounds in our lives, we provide ourselves with useful tools to manage the nonsense and the necessary.

Here is how I use mini-challenges and goals. I might choose one mini-challenge per week. For example, let us suppose that I noticed in my last orchestra concert that my shifting felt uncomfortable in the high positions. Maybe my shoulder rest needed adjustment. Maybe I sat on the outside of the orchestral music stand rather than the inside. Maybe I wore a shirt that was slippery for my violin hold. No matter what the reason might be, for the next week I will challenge myself to address this issue by framing one or two mini-challenges.

If it is a shifting exercise, I will focus my practice efforts on addressing shifting in general and perhaps one or two shifts in particular. Maybe there is a Twinkle variation that I can practice or turn into a special variation that will address my issue or problem.

Maybe I notice that my bow articulation is not as clean as I would wish it to be. I might devote the next week to fixing this by using a mini-challenge. I would play one or two of the Twinkle variations, or Etude (Suzuki Violin Volume 1) every day for a week and listen very closely to my execution and articulation.

Maybe I want to improve my vibrato speed or evenness. I will set up a mini-challenge to perform several vibrato exercises in the coming week.

Mini challenges are even more fun if you have a partner to work the challenge with you. For this purpose I often involve my students. We challenge each other, write the challenge on a small index card, and then we check off our efforts during the coming week. At the next lesson, we compare notes about how well we did. Maybe our goal was to perform a particular exercise daily for a week. Maybe our goal was to see who could do the most repetitions of a particular exercise or skill in a week.

Mini challenges work well with character development issues as well. In these cases though, I might not involve another  person, preferring to go it alone. For example, I have been very stressed lately due to performance commitments and a schedule that drew me out of town frequently. I do not do stress well. I get grouchy and irritable.

Knowing my own propensity for anger and grouchiness, I started wearing a black ponytail holder on my arm. The purpose of the ponytail holder is to remind me that I need to maintain a positive attitude, even if I am tired or grouchy. Patterned along the lines of the purple rubber wrist band for a complaint free world (read more about it), I have structured this week's mini-challenge to work on making myself more aware of any anger or crankiness. If I get through the day without altering my positive attitude, I get to keep the ponytail holder on one arm. If I slip up, I have to move it to the other arm. My goal is to go at least 3 weeks without having to move the pony tail holder to the other arm. So far I have not succeeded. Bummer!

What will be your mini-challenge this week?

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