Lacking the Motivation to Practice?  Focus on Your Systems, Not Your Goals.

I’ve been talking to a lot of colleagues and conservatory students about how they have been spending these weeks (months!) of “Pandemic Time”.   Most of them feel a sense of overwhelming loss and confusion when it comes to their current and future careers and aren’t quite sure what to do. These are the things I have been hearing:

 • “It’s hard to motivate myself to practice when I don’t know when I will be able to perform again.”

• “Why should I bother preparing for grad school auditions when I don’t know if or when they will happen?”

• “How am I supposed to plan my teaching schedule for next year when I don’t know if we’ll be in-person, online, or whatever?”

I hear you.  It’s scary to see an uncertain future and not know where or how the goals you set out for yourself this past January 1st fit into it. Was your goal to increase the number of concerts you booked from the previous year? Yeah, good luck with that (in the traditional sense, anyway.)

But what if you reframe your thinking, and shift from thinking about the Goal itself (which, really, is just one moment anyway) and start focusing on the Systems you can create to meet the goal?

I can honestly say that my results are far better when I do this at ANY time. Not just during global pandemics.


What’s a system, you ask?


Well, if a goal is to book more concerts, then the system is the act of sending concert proposals to presenters each week or regularly updating your website and promotional materials, or building fanbase via social media or your email list. The system is the set of ACTIONS you take in order to meet the goal.

Here’s a quote from James Clear’s Atomic Habits that might help put it into context for you:

“The purpose of setting goals is to win the game. The purpose of building systems is to continue playing the game. True long-term thinking is goal-less thinking. It’s not about any single accomplishment. It is about the cycle of endless refinement and continuous improvement.  Ultimately, it is your commitment to the process that will determine your progress.”

Goals are important in certain ways.  Goals offer us direction, and they provide our systems with a WHY.

To take it a step further, look at your goal, and find the core value in it.


What is the core value around taking grad school auditions?  Getting your playing to a high enough level where you are in the top percentage of your peers and have more opportunities to choose from? Well, then the real goal in that goal is to improve your playing as much as possible. It’s not really JUST about taking the auditions.  Because if you find out that the auditions aren’t going to happen and you stop practicing, your playing goes to hell.

But if you’re focusing on your system of actions that will improve your playing and make you a top player, then you’ve met your goal whether you take the audition this year, next year, or not at all.


What is the value behind setting up your teaching studio for next year? You want to be an amazing teacher, right? You want to provide your students with the dedication, attention, and opportunities for growth that they deserve, correct?

So…what does that have to do with your exact schedule of in-person, online, offline.  All you need is a start date and lesson times.  You bring the motivation, dedication, attention, and opportunities, and the rest (recitals, group classes, studio pot-luck, etc.) can be figured out as you go.

What is the system? Signing students up, providing them with materials, creating a strong and trustworthy communication path with the parent.

What is the value behind wanting to book more concerts? To reach a wider audience? To grow your fan base? To gain experience? Is it really just to get on an airplane and hear the thunderous applause from an appreciative audience (I mean, that’s nice, too…).  But in today’s current predicament, the world of live streaming and YouTube performances is your oyster.


So, go ahead and set your goals.  We all need them, and no one loves a goal more than I do! But when planning the rest of this uncertain year, focus instead on the systems that will get you to that goal.  It’s the actions that define you, and the actions that get you results, and those results are what makes you ready for amazing opportunities–whatever and whenever they might arrive.

P.S. If you’re a cellist (student, professional, adult amateur) interested in learning how you can ensure a successful and productive summer in the practice room, join me for a FREE 3-part training I’ll be doing on June 10, 11, and 12, at 12pm EDT.  We’ll be talking about the Systems and Habits that I have been tweaking over the years, and how to make sure you don’t let the next 3 months pass you by!

If you liked the January Practice Cure, you’ll LOVE this! You can sign up HERE to reserve your spot.


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