Begin At The End

One of the most valuable lessons to be learned, in terms of achieving goals, is to begin at the end.

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One of the most valuable lessons to be learned, in terms of achieving goals, is to begin at the end. When working towards any goal, most people begin at the beginning (sounds logical doesn't it?). The problem with starting at the beginning is most of us are focused on where we are right now. It is natural to begin from where our current strengths and weaknesses are, where our preferences lie or based what our present circumstances are. Then what we normally do is put one foot forward (take action) based on those things. For many of us, the direction of that step (and the rest that will follow) is typically on the path of least resistance. A common mistake in planning to achieve any multi step goal occurs when we begin planning from where we are in the present moment (from the beginning). This is the bottom up approach. Contrary to popular belief, the key to effective planning is to design your strategies from the top down (not from the bottom up). After you have established clearly defined and specific goals, the next thing to do is to develop your plans in reverse order (also known as backwards or top down). To do this we need to know what the final step would be to reach that goal (notice I did not say the first step, I said, the final step). Once we have that answer, we need to know the step just before the final step. We repeat the process until we get down to the level we are at now. You might be wondering, why should it matter if I make plans from the top down versus the bottom up? Is there really a difference between top down and bottom up? Won't all the steps be exactly the same? The answer is almost always: NO! Why? Well there are many reasons, the main one is this: When you plan from the top down (starting from the end result you want and building your plans backwards to where you are now), you must take action IN ADVANCE to gain the knowledge needed to create the plan. This means you need to actually know (or be committed to learn) what the final steps are. Most people do not know what they are (which is perfectly normal), and/or don't invest the time to find out (this is not good). What typically happens is people begin from the beginning (where they are right now) with an attempt to do things from the bottom up. Figuring out the first step to take from where they are now is usually easy to plan. And maybe the next 3 or 4 steps are also pretty easy to see how those things point in the general direction of their goals. Then they get stuck on what the rest of the steps might be and instead of really finding out, they usually begin to take action without a completed plan. They tell themselves things like this: I don't know exactly what to do, but I have a general idea of the obvious stuff that I should be doing now, so I'll do those things and then I'll try to figure out what to do after that. Or; I can't plan that far ahead so I'll just get started now and see where that leads me. Imagine if a corporation developed strategies in this way. What would happen? They would waste a lot of time and money not really knowing what all the steps are and their competitors would put them out of business. What happens when politicians or military leaders plan military campaigns in this way? Thousands of soldiers die unnecessarily (is anyone old enough to remember the Vietnam War?). What if financial planners only looked at developing investment strategies based on the next few steps without taking into account other longer term steps, changing markets, tax laws, etc. In all these cases the results are almost guaranteed to be negative. The other problem with building plans from the beginning (bottom up) is that it is very likely that the steps will take you in a direction that is off course from the outcome you want. Sure, strategies may evolve over time, but the chances of staying on course are greatly increased when you know what the final 5-10 steps need to be and plan the earlier steps around getting to the later steps.

What's Next?

Imagine 3 circles (as in the diagram shown above): 01. The smallest circle represents everything that we know at the present time. 02. The middle circle represents everything that we have questions about but do not know the answer to yet. 03. The largest circle represents all the things that we are not yet even aware of. These are the things we are really totally ignorant about. We all know to search for answers to our questions. Most people spend their time finding answers to the questions in the middle circle. But how can we succeed if we don't even know what it is that we don't know? Finding the answers, the solutions, the guidance, and your own path to achieve what you want will be so much harder if you don't know what the right questions are (the things in the largest circle). Think back to when you were a beginner and had no clue what was involved in becoming a good musician. You probably knew there would be a lot to learn, but didn't know, at that time, how much there is to be learned. In other words, you didn't know what you didn't know. As time went by, you gained more experience and now understand more about music than you did before. And this is good, very good. But if you are like most people, you also realized that music is an even bigger and deeper topic than you originally thought. The more one learns, the easier it becomes to see how much more there is to know. I remember entering college as a music student thinking that I knew a lot about music and was only there to fill in some gaps in my knowledge - it wasn't an arrogant mindset, just an ignorant one. I found myself in awe of the abyss of musical knowledge that I didn't even know existed up until that point. This became clearly evident to me in a physics of sound / music perception class I was in at Roosevelt University. The professor designed the entire semester for this class without any real plan. He said something like, this is a class where you basically learn whatever you want on the topics of the physics of sound and music perception. He called it student initiated learning. What this meant was, every day in class we were to ask him any question we could think of on the topic we were studying. In the beginning, it seemed very strange and I didn't like the class format because I didn't really need him to answer my questions (I could study on my own, use the text book, run experiments, use other resources, etc.). I felt that the class was essentially a waste of time (and a lot of money). What I wanted from the professor was for him to make me aware of all the things in my biggest circle. I wanted him to expand my awareness of all the things I was ignorant about. I told him, I can research my existing questions myself, what I want from you is to help me develop new questions that are beyond my current level of understanding. I don't know what I don't know. Teach me what's beyond the text book. Imagine you are seeking solutions to an important problem or challenge in your life (such as becoming the musician you want to be, or making a serious career as a professional musician perhaps). You go to a huge library searching for solutions. Lets assume that somewhere in that library is a book (or set of books) that contains the answers you need. Now imagine that for some strange reason you don't want to ask the librarian to help you locate the book(s) that have the solutions/answers you seek. How easy will it be to get lucky and stumble upon the right resource you need? It seems obvious that the fastest way to acquire the knowledge is to go straight to the librarian and tell him/her exactly what you are looking for, or look it up on the library's data base. It's not very effective to read every book in the library to find the specific answers you are searching for. Yet, this is exactly what some people try to do in order to reach their musical goals. Other people look at the massive size of the information out there and become intimidated by it. These people give up on their goals because it seems to unrealistic or impossible. 01. The number one reason why people fail an attempt to become a great musician is because they never really commit themselves to it. 02. The number one reason why people fail an attempt to become a professional musician is because they never really commit themselves to that either. Some people spend years chasing things that don't matter and ignoring the things that do matter either because of ignorance or unwillingness to commit to finding a better way. (I can relate. I used to be exactly like this.) Those that have the greatest chances of finding the solutions to their problems or challenges are the people who seek first to discover what it is that he/she does not know. To have the right answers, you need the possess the right questions. Many of those answers may lie beyond what you are even aware exists right now (as represented in the largest circle described above). To begin at the end you must: 01. Be specific about what the end actually is (this article may help you) 02. Build your plans from the top down (not the bottom up). 03. If you don't know how to build from the top down, find someone who does know. Every person, situation and goal is different. Outlining a complete hypothetical plan that is specific and detailed would be overly cumbersome in this format. The purpose of this article is to shed light onto the principal of beginning at the end, not to engross you into a plan that may not be relevant to you, your goals and your present circumstances. For more information on this topic check out these following resources:
  • Tom Hess's Music Careers Mentoring Program
  • More articles by Tom Hess here.
  • Tom Hess's world tour dates. Copyright 2006 by Tom Hess. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
  • 57 comments sorted by best / new / date

    comments policy
      niguitars.com
      ^ i agree but i hate tom hess's spam like bs he is a master of spinning a simple message into a overly embellished literary drudge he is all that good music should not be (donboy)
      darkspider 0
      I likes this article, it may be a little long, but, her certainly communicated his message well. I agree with this concept that if you get to the "outer circle of unknown you will in turn go though the smaller one. Ie. Learn by doing things that you find difficult, being committed, of course. It sure has always worked for me. Too bad they beat me to posting an article like this. =p
      ihaveatail
      Fecker wrote: One who keeps his eyes focused on his goal often loses sight of the road I think this was some kind of Buddhist saying
      buts he's not telling you to keep an eye on the goal... this whole article is about keep your eye on the best least off course "road" to the goal. good article. i don't think it's too lenthy. if u don't want to read it cuz ur too lazy to then don't and leave the man alone. there's a lot of shit here he doesn't need... good article
      thirdeyepried
      So does this mean if he was building a house for example, he'd build a roof first. That would seem useless to me because what good is a roof if there's no foundation or walls to support it.
      Tedrick
      Meh, I'm not a Tom Hess fan at all, all articles seems to be centered on getting motivation or the order to do things insead of helping us learn techniques like Pick n' Grin or the Swedish guy. Not to mention some obvious self promotion in the articles.
      Metallica
      he isnt saying to build from the top down, he is saying to plan from the top down. when you plan from the top down, you can make sure that all the peices fit together most efficiently. i dont like this article very much because he tells you what to do, but doesnt teach you how to do it.
      03. If you dont know how to build from the top down, find someone who does know.
      i believe you, tom hess, know how to do this, why dont you teach us.
      FrenchyFungus
      Fecker wrote: One who keeps his eyes focused on his goal often loses sight of the road I think this was some kind of Buddhist saying
      Sounds like a confucius. Checked...Quebec Style
      Fecker
      One who keeps his eyes focused on his goal often loses sight of the road I think this was some kind of Buddhist saying
      gibson sg!
      This is like saying you should think about getting married before dating. You need to crawl before you can walk. You need to walk before you can run. It's okay to think about your future goals...but you need to build yourself up to those goals slowly. It's easy for people like Tom Hess to come onto UG and spout off nonsense about "practice doesn't make perfect...perfect practice makes perfect" and working from "top down," because they're so out of touch with the beginning musician after so many years of playing guitar. If you are a beginner...please don't take this article seriously. There is some truth to be found...but don't base your practicing on anything that Tom Hess says. Please.
      agreed!
      dann_blood
      What happens when politicians or military leaders plan military campaigns in this way? Thousands of soldiers die unnecessarily (is anyone old enough to remember the Vietnam War?).
      Or Iraq. Anyway, not really helpful in any way at all to me, if your going to plan something then of course you need to start at the beginning. Its not like a corporation says "Alright, im going to end up with a successful business" and then not know where to start.
      Mupp
      very interesting reading. it caught me, i think it was really good 'cause it make sense and inspire. i see how i can use this method on much more than just my music progress. thx for this awesome article!!!!
      biohazardous59
      its a great idea on paper, i have friends that have done this and they are great shred players. but the thing they missed after 2 years of accelerated learning and playing was they lacked the basic skills to communicate musically,both on a one on one basic basis and in a group setting. this theory makes for a great player but detracts alot from the development of musicianship.
      LORD V4DER
      Tom Hess sounds like one of those washed-up motivational speakers who travel around the country visiting poor rural schools in an effort to raise drug abuse awareness while promoting sales for the fabulous new Hess album. Maybe when Randy Rhoads, Kurt Kobain, Jimmy Hendrix and Dimebag Darrel come back to life and tell me to begin at the end, I'll listen. Until then I'll do things as I please.
      Muppet
      You can't begin with the end cause there's AWAYS more to learn and you will always evolve and change as a person and as a guitar player. I disliked the article.
      CodySG
      First of all. Tom Hess > Almost ever person here. Yea he could teach all of us some silly technique that is explained and gone over in 10,000 other videos and articles on the internet. Teach us some scale that we could learn elsewhere, or some cool licks. He could teach us something that would give us instant satisfaction. That's what most people do...and that's why most people don't reach their goals, don't get to record a full length album, don't get to tour the world. If you just go willy nilly into things and don't have goals, you won't get anywhere. I feel that the reason he's speaking like this is because if say you really do want to play guitar or whatever for a living. You spend years and years on your skills, technique, songwriting, whatever. Then you form a band and want to tour around some venues in your state. Well since you spent all your time and effort into practicing to become a good player you have zero knowledge on how to get the best deal from venues, draw the most people, how to promote, how to spot when someone is trying to screw you ect. ect. You end up sorta "getting a feel" for it and tour around some small venues in your state. You might pick up a small following, and you still are wondering how to get a record deal. Again, since you spent all your time into playing you have no idea how the record industry works and how to go about getting a record deal. You just kinda think "If we keep at it long enough, it will happen" that might be true, but it might not...you can't just expect things to go in your favor. The point of this rant and this article, is KNOW somewhat about HOW to get to where you want to go. Ask questions, get answers. Don't just sit and expect fame to fall in your lap while you are playing some cool riff you learned by some random guitarist on the internet...
      Oozora
      I liked this article, I think the reason why he makes it so long is bacause he gives enough exemples so we see the way it's not different with normal life, and then we can use it, to it's knowing the start and the end helps to find the middle, like studies, knowing what you want to do in your life helps you to choose the right studies to make so you don't end up wasting time uselessly.
      pariah452
      i believe tom hess has alot to offer. But what i've noticed is that almost every lesson he trys to teach. He doesnt actually teach you anything at all. Yea sure he tells you things that make sense. But he doesnt show you how to start at the top and work your way down. No examples no suggestions. Just a find someone who can in every ****ing article.
      FBassman
      One of the most valuable lessons to be learned, in terms of achieving goals, is to begin at the end. When working towards any goal, most people begin at the beginning (sounds logical doesnt it?). The problem with starting at the beginning is most of us are focused on where we are right now. It is natural to begin from where our current strengths and weaknesses are, where our preferences lie or based what our present circumstances are. Then what we normally do is put one foot forward (take action) based on those things. For many of us, the direction of that step (and the rest that will follow) is typically on the path of least resistance. A common mistake in planning to achieve any multi step goal occurs when we begin planning from where we are in the present moment (from the beginning). This is the bottom up approach. Contrary to popular belief, the key to effective planning is to design your strategies from the top down (not from the bottom up). After you have established clearly defined and specific goals, the next thing to do is to develop your plans in reverse order (also known as backwards or top down). To do this we need to know what the final step would be to reach that goal (notice I did not say the first step, I said, the final step). Once we have that answer, we need to know the step just before the final step. We repeat the process until we get down to the level we are at now. Summary: Work backwards from the end to the beginning. There may be something to what he is saying but the whole first two paragraphs are redundant. Spend less time on the explanation of the title and more time on examples of how to do this.
      HavokStrife
      TheUnholy wrote: I really, really dislike all the Tom Hess articles. Yes, often they make sense, but they don't teach anyone anything. It's like listening to the Wise Elder out of a crap fantasy novel. But no, wait a minute, this isn't sage advice. This isn't great wisdom. This is some guy taking a handful of common sense, a pinch of bullshit, and pretending it means something anyone didn't know already.
      See, I agree with that a lot. Not as harsh though, the guy is just trying to contribute, ya ain't gotta be an ass. But there was actually a time I was into this guy a lot, thinking about getting his correspondence lessons and stuff, cuz I would read his articles and be like, "That's the way I think it!" or "That's how I do it!" and at that time, my then-moreso-simple self saw it as a good connection and that I should consider his lessons. But now I've realized I've always had enough intelligence to apply common sense to most matters... And I still have no interest in paying someone to teach me how to play guitar..
      Ilmarinen
      Your article is interesting and original; however several problems are bothering me about that. You give no example of a source of assistance on instruction of subjects I am completely ignorant of. I have neither the resources that I believe you have, nor the view of music as continually expanding. When I first began, I saw music as a new system for every instrument, which in itself was enormous, and as I began to learn more and more about instruments, I felt the difference shrinking and the composition part of music to expand at a corresponding rate. In either case, I still believe firmly in a bottom up structure of study, for flexibility and availability of resources sake. However I am intrigued at the potential of your methods I just can't seem to understand how you EMPLOY them... Please PM me if you would, to help me understand the topics I've asked about above.
      TheUnholy
      I really, really dislike all the Tom Hess articles. Yes, often they make sense, but they don't teach anyone anything. It's like listening to the Wise Elder out of a crap fantasy novel. But no, wait a minute, this isn't sage advice. This isn't great wisdom. This is some guy taking a handful of common sense, a pinch of bullshit, and pretending it means something anyone didn't know already. Can we have less "philosophical" articles on UG, please? I like being shown how to help my guitar playing, I resent being told what my life philosophy should be by some jumped-up jerk like this dude.
      Mikeoman
      Man, whys everybody knocking Tom Hess? He's just trying to be helpful. Ok, so his articles are a little long, but, hey, he's just trying to get the point across. If he just wrote, say " To achieve your goals, you should plan them from the top down, because if you plan from the beginning up, you lose focus" or some such, ok, yes, he's be concise, but it doesn't really get it across, you know? You'd probably forget it. But if he writes something like this, it sticks in your head.
      TheUnholy wrote: I really, really dislike all the Tom Hess articles. Yes, often they make sense, but they don't teach anyone anything. It's like listening to the Wise Elder out of a crap fantasy novel. But no, wait a minute, this isn't sage advice. This isn't great wisdom. This is some guy taking a handful of common sense, a pinch of bullshit, and pretending it means something anyone didn't know already.
      You talk about common sense, but, if you wanted a guitar lesson, then WHY ARE YOU READING THIS ONE? Go read a lesson article!
      nimrod74
      An excellent article. I've been using the same method for years (though I learned about it in teacher's college). With my students, I have found that it is an efficient way to get them to where they want to be in a more enjoyable and quicker way. Anyone can show a kid a few riffs and a pentatonic scale. The goal of every teacher, I think, should be to arm the student with the tools necessary to take responsibility for their own learning. Of course, this is easier with an older student because they have a clearer idea of the type of guitar player (or musician) they want to be. Find that out and trace the steps back to where they are. The result is a clear plan with easier to attain goals (stages)that reinforce motivation/inspiration and build confidence.
      mnhockey99
      I read this article from the end to the beginning and it was still a bunch of filler.
      mattyp90
      kerryking112 : This is like saying you should think about getting married before dating. You need to crawl before you can walk. You need to walk before you can run. It's okay to think about your future goals...but you need to build yourself up to those goals slowly. It's easy for people like Tom Hess to come onto UG and spout off nonsense about "practice doesn't make perfect...perfect practice makes perfect" and working from "top down," because they're so out of touch with the beginning musician after so many years of playing guitar. If you are a beginner...please don't take this article seriously. There is some truth to be found...but don't base your practicing on anything that Tom Hess says. Please.
      Exactly.
      \m/(--_--)\m/
      I have to disagree. Starting from the start is more logical IMO, because then you have time to establish the goals and work towards them, while making a plan on how to do so, but I guess the article is just showing another way of doing that, so it all works to the same point in the end.
      no1joel
      Quite long and interesting and i'm fairly sure i understood it, but what ARE my final goals? I mean my final final goal would be becoming a very skilled guitarist, or would that be my closer goal, mastering the barre chord structures?
      Kole*
      Great article, Tom. I really enjoyed it and learned a lot from it.
      Belgian Bastard
      I think he says that you have to look at a goal the other way round, making steps from end to start.( instead of the "logical" from start 'till end.) Then of course, you can follow these steps to reach your goals. (in the "regular" way, meaning from start 'till end.) First, make steps, then, take steps.
      SethMegadefan
      zzzzz wrote: that was extremely gay. I think that tom hess likes penises waaaaay too much to write anything good. By the way, is the plural of penis penises or peni. I know the plural of cactus is cacti and i wonder if the same grammar rule applies. Either way tom hess loves the cock.
      Shutup. Leave. I hope you get banned, you scum. You have absolutely nothing to contribute to this article. Maybe it's "trendy" to pointlessly bash good articles for attention, but either way, there's absolutely no excuse for saying something as retarded as you just did. Seriously, get the hell out of here.
      FretboardToAsh
      well I think you shouldnt try something that's way out of your capabilyties(such as my english). you'll end up playing the wrong way, I've seen my students do it. you gotta take it slow, not go the hardest way if your not ready
      SethMegadefan
      I wasn't quite sure I knew what you were getting at until I read the paragraph about your professor at Roosevelt. I think this article has a lot of truth in it, although in all honesty, this is essentially knowing your goal but continuing to work from the bottom up to it, is it not? I was under the impression that, for instance, if an extremely beginner guitarist wanted to learn Joe Satriani's "Surfing With the Alien," that they should go ahead and try it right away because it's at the top of their "want-to-learn" ladder. Basically, I got confused with the way you called it "backwards" learning, but the way you explained it made me understand and agree with it. Interesting article. 10/10.
      ChordProgressiv
      You say it's important to seek new questions which, by answering, you will advance your knowledge/ability, but you don't give any hint as to how to do this. Most of your essay seems to repeat the point that you need to establish your final goal before you begin attempting to reach it, which could easily be condensed to a single sentence. It seemed very long, and it didn't have to be.
      FunKRawK
      Chord progressiv you are soo right, i used to be interested in theese article but all he seems to be producing is quality drivel
      SethMegadefan
      niguitars.com wrote: ^ i agree but i hate tom hess's spam like bs he is a master of spinning a simple message into a overly embellished literary drudge he is all that good music should not be (donboy)
      I didn't notice anything like that in this article, to be honest. I didn't think it was overly long, or over-explained, and all in all it was a pretty sweet article. I guess when I realize how much effort someone took to write an article (on top of the fact that I also like the article), and then some dickhead comes along and flames it for no apparent reason, that tends to piss me off. That's just personally how I feel.
      Submerged
      Every Tom Hess article I've read on here has been an overly elaborate way of saying a very simple, obvious point. Plus it annoys me how he plugs numerous references to his own awesomeness in every single article. I'm not reading anymore, he's proven to me he's a waste of time.
      vIsIbleNoIsE
      Emil_Gorecki wrote: You know whats funny... Tom hess has a few accounts on this webpage and he uses them to give good comments on his articles and uses them to give his article rating a high number. The truth has been found about you man.
      that would be pretty sad...how do you know that's true?
      niguitars.com
      Night_Lights wrote: niguitars.com wrote: ^ i agree but i hate tom hess's spam like bs he is a master of spinning a simple message into a overly embellished literary drudge he is all that good music should not be (donboy) leave.
      your argument is both elegant and well researched cretin
      kerryking112
      This is like saying you should think about getting married before dating. You need to crawl before you can walk. You need to walk before you can run. It's okay to think about your future goals...but you need to build yourself up to those goals slowly. It's easy for people like Tom Hess to come onto UG and spout off nonsense about "practice doesn't make perfect...perfect practice makes perfect" and working from "top down," because they're so out of touch with the beginning musician after so many years of playing guitar. If you are a beginner...please don't take this article seriously. There is some truth to be found...but don't base your practicing on anything that Tom Hess says. Please.
      Emil_Gorecki
      You know whats funny... Tom hess has a few accounts on this webpage and he uses them to give good comments on his articles and uses them to give his article rating a high number. The truth has been found about you man.