What Playing the Saxophone Can Teach You About Writing a Book or Starting a Business

So many of the things I've accomplished in life seemed impossible at first. Take playing the saxophone. The first time I put that instrument to my mouth, the result sounded like an angry, squawking goose. It was a far cry from the fantasy I had of playing like a master, my fingers dancing up and down the instrument with perfect flow. To be honest, I felt stupid for even trying to learn. What business did I, a juggling circus ringmaster turned public speaker, have with something that belonged in the hands of greats like Charlie Parker?

But once I declared my fears, laid out all my doubts and insecurities, I was able to move on. I sat down again to practice the next day...and the next...and so on, until suddenly, one day, I sounded decidedly un-goose-like (is that a word?) and, optimistically, musical. I was no master, but I had accomplished the goal I set: playing saxophone well enough to incorporate it into my one-man show. That was my measure of learning success, and darn it if I didn't achieve it!

In today's post, I'm going to show you how the techniques I used to learn saxophone can apply to anything you've always wanted to learn. And maybe that is saxophone, but I could just as easily be writing a book or starting a business. These seem like impossible goals, but they really aren't. All you have to do is get clear about what you want to achieve and then set a specific deadline to accomplish it. So let's get started!

Define Clear Intentions

The key to being successful with your learning goals (or any goals, for that matter) is to get super clear on what success looks like to you. Otherwise, you'll spend forever flailing and never get anywhere.

So, here's what I want you to do: Close your eyes, and visualize what it looks like to accomplish your goal. See yourself giving that speech, playing that guitar, growing that garden, creating that website, etc. What specifically are you saying, playing, growing? Are you smiling? Are you happy? What time of day is it? What clothes are you wearing? Who’s there with you? How does it feel? This exercise makes your goal real. And when it’s real to you, everything along the way has much more meaning.

Once you've visualized achieving your goal, write it out in super clear detail. When I was learning the saxophone, my vision of success looked something like this:

  1. Incorporate the saxophone into my one-man show.

  2. Be able to express myself fully through the instrument.

  3. Be able to play an instrument that would continually encourage me to learn and grow, that I would never have complete mastery over.

  4. Be able to communicate with others and create happiness and joy in them through music.

Your own vision will likely differ, and that's great! What matters is that make it super clear and vivid. With that done, you can start planning how to make it a reality.

Set a Deadline

Setting clear goals is the first step to learning success, but you're still missing a key piece: a clear deadline. Saying that you want to start a business "someday" isn't likely to get you anywhere because, well, "someday" isn't a date on the calendar. To propel your learning goals to new heights, you need to set a super clear deadline to achieve them.

When I wrote my book, for instance, I was hired for a speaking engagement with a nationwide company and pre-sold 220 copies to them—before it was even written. I literally signed a contract that demanded I finish my book! You may not have that kind of pressure, but you could still commit to giving a friend $20 or wearing an embarrassing outfit for a day if you don't achieve your goal by the set date. Put a healthy amount of pressure on yourself, and you'll be amazed what you can achieve.