Make Success a Habit with this Simple Formula

goals habits success Apr 06, 2020

Success is an elusive concept. We know that success doesn’t have to be defined in terms of a bank balance or superstardom or awards. However, convincing ourselves that we are indeed successful can be difficult.

This is particularly true in music, when we can feel accomplished one day and feel like we are back at square one the next day. Even when we understand that this is a necessary part of the cycle of learning, we find it hard to stay on the path toward our objective. We often decide that it is best to put the piece away for now, telling ourselves that we aren’t ready for it “yet” and we will come back to it “later.”

In truth, perhaps we aren’t ready for it right now. Perhaps we need to develop our technique or our music reading before we can take the piece to the finish line. But there is an insidious enemy in this line of thinking. We make the “smart” decision to put the piece away and in so doing inadvertently create a habit of not finishing, of not being successful, and this habit can be hard to break.

Imagine for a moment that you were confident that you could meet the challenges in the piece of music you were practicing. In our imaginary scenario, you know that there are difficulties in the piece that you will need to work on and conquer, but you are secure in your belief that you will be able to conquer them. Most importantly, this belief is based on your own personal past experience.

This positive past experience is what I refer to as the habit of success.

Creating a habit of success allows you to meet challenges and obstacles with the inner certainty that you already have the skills and strategies you need in order to overcome them.  Your certainty is built on your track record of growth and achievement, the tricky fingerings and unaccustomed coordinations that you have mastered before now. 

A success habit must be carefully built. It is created with daily and weekly steps that are clearly defined and within fairly easy reach. Thoughtful teachers create these steps for their students by helping them to design practice plans that will allow them daily or weekly “wins.”  The experience of the teacher is invaluable in helping to guide the student through the steps that will lead to success while preventing the student from slipping into unproductive habits.

The formula of the success habit is simple, though, and you don’t need a teacher’s help to begin developing it for yourself. Here is the formula and you can apply it to each piece you are learning or any technique you want to develop.

    • Identify your “next step” goal. What is the most immediate problem that must be solved, or challenge that must be met? This should be a clear goal and one that you feel would be attainable in a week or two at the most. Resist the temptation to choose an ambitious goal. You are building a habit of success, and that requires a goal that you are confident you can meet. Remember too that a series of small steps will get you to the same place as one large step, but those small steps are much easier to take.
    • Decide on the first “baby step” that you can take and achieve today. This is not a goal but an action toward that goal. For instance, if your “next step” goal is to be able to play the first page of a piece hands together, your “baby step” for today might be to put the first line hands together and review the rest of the page hands separately. The essential feature of the “baby step” is that it doesn't require you to solve the difficulty today; it is simply a way to begin solving it.
    • Each day create a new “baby step” action. IMPORTANT: do NOT repeat the same baby step two days in a row. Each day should be a different approach to the next step goal. If your baby step for today was to learn the first line hands together, your baby step for tomorrow might be to review that line hands together and add the second line.


  • Continue with the baby steps until you are ready for a different next goal.


While those are the steps in the success habit formula, the power of the formula rests in this one critical factor: you must acknowledge your success. Your confidence in your ability to meet new challenges is rooted in your recognition of your past wins. Celebrate your baby steps every day, even if you don’t see immediate progress from them. Celebrate when you move on to the next “next step,” which is moving you closer to your ultimate goal. Without taking a moment to acknowledge your efforts and the results of your hard work, you won’t have the inner certainty you need to approach the next challenge. 

You might find this thought helpful: Success should not be a distant destination. Success is a mindset, created by habitually setting small goals, accomplishing them and recognizing your achievements.

Are you ready to begin building your own success habit?

NOTE: If you would like a practice journal system to help you create your success habit, check out the Harp Mastery Spark Journal. The Success Habit formula is built right in!


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