Hone Your Human GPS

Setting Goals, Defining Problems, and Devising Solutions

by Mark Schulman

I’ve researched how people define GPS as it relates to the human condition, and I think best-selling author Jim Samuels’ philosophy is the simplest and most effective take. Samuels’ formula involves goals, problems, and solutions. We set goals and then solve problems that arise as a result of those goals. For example, if you’re thirsty, you get a glass of water. The process is actually quite sophisticated if you try to break it down, but most of the time we handle it subconsciously.

No More Negative Goals

Most of us will create negative goals at various points in our careers. I did it during my audition for Bad English, which I shared in my article in the March 2017 issue. In order to win the audition, I needed to focus on playing with rock-solid meter, but my “don’t rush” mental chatter moved me in the wrong direction. The brain tends to cooperate with whatever we emphasize, especially when we’re under duress or our sensibilities are impeded by anxiety. In those stressful moments, a negative goal will never give you the clarity that you need to be successful. When you create a negative goal, your true objective is obscured. Without clarity about what you want to achieve, you end up solving the wrong problems, which distracts you from your original target.

People spend a lot of time solving problems that obscure goals and create busywork. Stop trying to work through unnecessary challenges, and figure out the clearest path toward your goals. Does that involve problem solving? Yes, but always ask yourself if the problem you encounter is leading you back to your goal. If it isn’t, stop trying to solve it.

The first step toward clarity is to define the length of your goal. Is it something that can be accomplished in the short-term, mid-term, or long-term? Knowing the timeline will help clarify the path and build confidence. Every time you accomplish a goal, no matter how big or small, you create a win for yourself. As you accumulate more wins, your confidence grows, and the ratio of confidence to fear tips more in your favor.

Solidify Your Integrity

Transformational models expert Werner Erhard once wrote, “By ‘keeping your word,’ we mean doing what you said you would do and by the time you said you would do it.” There’s power in taking action, specifically the exact action you agree to do. This agreement can be with yourself or others. Remember that the end goal isn’t to reduce your anxiety but to build confidence.

My short-term goal was picking a tempo or tempo range for each practice session and getting to the point where I could clap along with a metronome for a minute and not hear the click. I needed to get so synchronized with the metronome that my clapping and the metronome beep were one. This required stopping and starting many times until I found complete concentration. Depending on my level of focus that day, the practice could take ten minutes or more than three hours. But eventually I could bury the click at tempos from 40 to 220 beats per minute.

My mid-range goal was to play my drumset for a minute at various tempos in that tempo range, moving in and out of beats, fills, style changes, and transitions, while continuing to lock with the click the entire time.

For the long-term, I wanted to master playing with a click. I can now play beats and fills at any tempo and bury the click for the length of an entire song. And I can do this in any situation (recording studio, live shows, or seminars), in front of anyone. I can also play consistently behind or ahead of the click. This has come in handy when the click is slightly out of sync from the rest of the recorded track. In live rehearsals with Pink, we often received tracks from the record where the click was slightly ahead of or behind the music. Because of all the practice I did, I can shift the placement of my drumming to accommodate.

Action Steps

Now it’s time to get to work! To begin, copy the list of questions below. Write your answers in a journal or jot them down on a piece of paper that you can post on your studio or practice room wall. You’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish once you clarify exactly what you want to do.

1. What is something you want to achieve?

2. What are the problems standing between you and your goal?

3. What is one solution that you could implement that moves you closer to fulfilling that goal?

4. What’s something you can do in the short-term (daily) to make progress on your objective?

5. What’s a good mid-term (weekly or monthly) target to shoot for?

6. What’s the ultimate long-term (life) goal?

Mark Schulman is a first-call drummer for various world-class artists, including Pink, Foreigner, Cher, Billy Idol, Sheryl Crow, and Stevie Nicks. For more information, go to