Design Your 2019: Finding the Pea

practicing technique Dec 31, 2018

In this third post in the “Design Your 2019” series, we discover the most important factor in achieving your goal.

The “Princess and the Pea” was always one of my favorite fairy tales. In this 1835 classic story, Hans Christian Andersen writes about the test that a prince’s mother devises to ascertain if a prospective bride for her son is truly of royal blood.

A young woman who appears at their castle door one dark and stormy night claims to be a princess but cannot prove it to the mother’s satisfaction. So the mother places a pea in her bed under 20 mattresses and 20 feather beds, believing that only a true princess would be sensitive enough to feel the irritation in the bed. When the princess awakes the next morning, exhausted from a sleepless, uncomfortable night, the mother concedes her royalty, and the price and princess live happily ever after.

The true test of the princess was not in how she looked or acted, but in her deep sensitivity, not in her outward appearance but in her inner beauty. In a similar way, your success in achieving your goal will be determined less by what you do and more by the purpose behind what you do. It’s less about activity and more about direction.

I’m sure that like me you’ve occasionally come to the end of a very busy day and felt like you didn’t really get anything important done. That can happen with goals too. It is possible to be very busy – to spend a lot of time practicing, to take regular lessons, to work very hard – and still go in circles. Just working hard doesn’t guarantee that you’re working on the right things.

This is why we did the sorting hat exercise. If you haven’t yet done that exercise from last week’s post, jump over and get it done before you continue reading. Our sorting hat was meant to help you find the actions that will move you forward, not just keep you busy.

Avoid the Time Traps

The steps that the sorting hat helped you identify as “Time and Energy” tasks are a major time trap. Simply because you know you can do them, they are easier tasks to start. And because you know that eventually you must do them, it is easy to spend too much time on those things rather than on some of the important “Growth” tasks that are harder to contemplate.

“Growth” tasks can trap you too. Working on them alone can slow down your overall progress, especially if you have a perfectionist streak in your nature. Growth tasks, like technical work or other skills work, should never be a single focus, but always just one part of your plan.

We often unintentionally blind ourselves to the biggest challenges before us. We think that by just “keeping at it” we will get where we want to go. To see just how flawed that thinking is, imagine you are driving a car. You know where you want to go, but as you drive you take random turns, telling yourself that eventually you will get to the right place. It is far more likely that you will run out of gas before you get there.

Just driving isn’t a guarantee that you will get where you want to go. And just practicing isn’t a guarantee that you will be able to play the music you want.

The secret to achievement isn’t in activity. Naturally, activity – intentional­ activity – is crucial. But achievement starts much smaller. It begins with one tiny pea-like step. Let’s figure out what that step may be for you.

Finding the “Pea”

First, look over your sorting hat list and look closely at every item that you have marked as requiring a change of “Habit.” Spend some moments reflecting on the habits that you will have to change or develop to make your goal happen. You will likely find that there is one habit that comes to mind repeatedly. That habit is probably not the “pea,” but the pea is hidden under it.

Now, imagine that habit as the pile of mattresses and feather beds in the fairy story. Peel away the layers. What is the one small thing at the bottom, the one irritant or obstacle that when you remove it, you will have removed a huge obstacle from your path?

Here’s one way to test if you have found the pea: Imagine if that obstacle were removed. In what specific ways would your path be easier or clearer? How would this make the “Time and Energy” tasks faster or less burdensome?

Once you have identified the pea, you must do something very un-princess-like: you must remove the pea. Unlike the princess who only had to complain about how bruised and sleep-deprived she was, you must find a solution, a trick, a hack, to get rid of the pea so that you can get on with your work.

In my experience, a “one day at a time” solution is the most successful. Take one small action each day that prevents the “pea” from doing any damage. You will need to stay vigilant, however. You may find more peas under your mattress as you go along.

It’s Your Turn

Now is your time to get the process of achieving your goal underway. This is the final step of the planning phase, before you begin taking action.

  • Identify the “pea” that will clear your path.
  • Find a quick, one-step action that will keep the pea from getting in your way.
  • Do that one step today and get cracking!

Here’s wishing you loads of harp happiness in 2019!


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