A Path to Success: Robert Ringer’s “Chip Away” Method

As you can see from my prior two posts, I’m going after a deferred dream with a passion:  to become a proficient jazz bass player.   When facing a major challenge, it is easy to get discouraged and quit before you start.  There’s so much to do and so much to learn!  Where do you start?  What do you do first?

When I restarted my music project, I remembered some words of wisdom from Robert Ringer, one of my favorite pop philosophers.  Ringer says that he accomplishes projects using the “chip away” method.  Using this method you don’t worry about how much there is to do, you just make a start.  Then you just concentrate on one small facet at a time.  It’s like a sculptor sculpting a masterpiece in marble.  You just chip away a little at a time.  Eventually the statue begins to emerge from the big block of rock.  Chip away long enough and the project will be finished.

I find that the chip away method may start slowly, but it doesn’t continue that way.  Once you start making progress your enthusiasm grows and your speed increases.  The project takes on a life of its own. 

Three weeks ago I decided that one of the reasons I didn’t want to practice my bass was because of the strings.  They were too thick and hurt too much to press down.  So I made a deal with myself:  ordering new strings would be the official kickoff of my music project.  I ordered some medium gauge strings and a tool for turning the keys quickly so I could replace the strings with less effort and do it more quickly.   The strings arrived in less than a week and I installed them on my bass.

Once the new strings had stretched enough to stay in tune (it takes about three days), I committed to practicing 15 minutes a day.  That was about all I could take before my hands got tired and my fingertips got sore.   After a week, however, my strength had improved noticeably and my fingers had become hardened and calloused.  Now I am practicing about an hour a day, usually in two shifts, a half hour in the morning and a half hour before bedtime.  In two weeks of practice I have made noticeable strides.  I’m enthused now and music has become my greatest interest outside of work.

The chip away method works.  Don’t worry about how much you have to do, just focus on how much you can do right now and make a start.  A major goal can be divided into many smaller goals; let one of these be sufficient for the day and the rest can wait their turn.

You may surprise yourself with what you can accomplish.


3 responses to “A Path to Success: Robert Ringer’s “Chip Away” Method

  1. Breaking something larger into smaller parts is the key, I believe. This seems like an obvious strategy intellectually, but in practice it’s harder to get the hang of.

    I often talk about intellectual understanding versus emotional understanding. Intellectually, yes, you need to break something large into smaller parts and work on each smaller part. But sometimes it’s hard to make that leap. There’s an emotional contingent to it that prevents us from going ahead with that and believing it will actually work. It’s almost as if you have to take a leap of faith at some point and just start creating smaller parts to work on.

    Oooohhh… I think you just inspired a post for me about goals and breaking things down into smaller parts. I can tie it in with my programming career. As I usually do, I’ll link to this post as a thank-you.

  2. Pingback: Top-Down Design: A Life Lesson — Sunrise, Soul

  3. Pingback: Top-Down Design: A Life Lesson – Challenges, Programming, Goals

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