Saint Francis of Assisi on Doing the Impossible

Tuesday Quotes are short explorations of music, life, and the daily endeavor of practicing classical guitar. Find more here. Enjoy!

“Start by doing what’s necessary, then what’s possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” 

Saint Francis of Assisi

In his book, The Art of the Impossible, author and peak performance expert Steven Kotler cites three different types of goals. Each comes with a different timeframe.

A “massively transformative purpose” is a life ambition. For us, this may be to become a high-level musician. This is an overarching life pursuit. It is a vision of ourselves in the future, transformed.

Next, he refers to a “high, hard goal.” This is one that could take years and will require loads of work. For guitarists, this could be to play Albeniz’s Asturias or Francisco Tarrega’s Recuerdos de la Alhambra. These concert pieces are playable, but take a certain level of proficiency to play well.

Then we come to “clear goals”. These are the ones on the to-do list. In a guitar practice, this could be a specific list of exercises and studies.

As an example, here are a few possible clear goals for a guitar practice:

  1. Play measures 1–12 from memory before looking at the music.
  2. Memorize measures 13–14 (play without looking 4 times in a row).
  3. Practice switching between chords D7 and G with the metronome at 60.
  4. Do pull-off exercises with the metronome at 80.
  5. Do right-hand patterns (arpeggios) with chords with the metronome at 80.

These are clear, specific goals. They direct our attention and allow us to sit down and get after it.

Ideally, these flirt with the edge of our abilities. They should be hard enough to bring us close to our breaking point, but not so hard we actually break.

Working on clear goals leaves us motivated and inspired, even though they may be challenging in the moment. They are rewarding because they don’t come easy.

Our daily goals should be guided by our “high, hard goals” and “massively transformative purpose.” But thinking of these higher goals during practice is actually de-motivating. It works against us.

Instead, we get our best practice when we plan our clear goals ahead of time, then focus on them in practice.

This means we plan tomorrow’s practice today. Then tomorrow we set about our list. At the end of practice, we plan the next day, and so on.

Over time, this brings us to our higher goals. And eventually, we awake to find we’re doing the impossible.

Allen Mathews

Hi, I’m Allen Mathews. 

I started as a folk guitarist, then fell in love with classical guitar in my 20’s. Despite a lot of practice and schooling, I still couldn’t get my music to flow well. I struggled with excess tension. My music sounded forced. And my hands and body were often sore. I got frustrated, and couldn’t see the way forward. Then, over the next decade, I studied with two other stellar teachers – one focused on the technical movements, and one on the musical (he was a concert pianist). In time, I came to discover a new set of formulas and movements. These brought new life and vitality to my practice. Now I help guitarists find more comfort and flow in their music, so they play more beautifully.
Click here for a sample formula.

Since a year ago with my subscription to CGS it has been for me a pleasurable adventure and a discovery of all the facets of the classical guitar.
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I came on board three months ago and I’m loving it more than ever. I have maintained my practice pattern. I’m sticking wholeheartedly with the program as written. That makes it easy to see what I NEED to work on rather than just playing the shiny places I’ve gone beyond…..I’ve learned to focus 100% on what I’m doing that very minute….I’m developing strength in my left hand...I spend time with the videos in the evenings and always find something more to help me. I’m not looking for info anywhere else. Everything I need is right here in The Woodshed. You say “Jump” and I say “How high.” I’m so grateful I found you. You speak in a language I understand.

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