Be The Boss!

Updated: Jan 19, 2020

January 1.

The date itself brings a sense of optimism, doesn’t it? Especially as we welcome not just a new year but a whole new decade. A new decade that starts with 2020, which is synonymous with perfect vision, no less.

This optimism in the air can make even the most jaded of us wonder if maybe this is the year we will keep our resolutions; this is the year we will run a marathon, get rid of the bad habits that have been holding us back; this is the year we will achieve our personal goals for weight loss or get better at time management; this is the year we will get off and stay off the rat race and pursue a lifestyle that reduces stress.

Are you among them?

Or are you like many, whose past experiences have cause you to think, “Who am I kidding? It’s not going to work and then I’d feel like a failure. Again.”

Before you give up altogether, you should consider ways to approach this problem, and I’m not talking about flogging yourself for not having enough self-discipline.

I want to start by addressing the types of goals we set. I'm sure you have come across the acronym S.MA.R.T as a checklist for our goals. A quick search on social media will bring up lots of graphics and how-tos on setting the type of goal that is more likely to be achieved. Specific , Measurable goals, Achievable goals that are also Relevant and Timely.

The list is very helpful but I am looking at goal-setting from a slightly different tangent.

Let me take an example from my martial arts teaching experience.m The most common goal I hear from my students is this: “I want to be a State/World Champ!” Every time I hear that I know I have work to do, not only on their martial arts, but much more importantly, their mindset.

You see, setting this type of goal could work if two conditions are met:

  1. the goal leads the student to do what is necessary: train more seriously, create specific habits, learn to sacrifice;

  2. they understand that they have not failed if they don’t win the title

For most students, however, saying they want to win a title may not lead to doing the work that is required.

But the biggest problem with this type of goal-setting is this: they have no control over the outcome.

Even if every condition is fulfilled perfectly--and we all know about perfect anything--for the student, the goal still depends on too many other factors: their competitors that year, the judges they draw, their health on competition days, the idiosyncrasies of the mats, just to name a few.

This is when Condition No. 2 becomes essential. But let’s be frank: how many children, or even adults, will not feel like a failure if they don’t win the title they’d been working for all year? Worse, how many have lost faith in working hard?

An effective goal-setting process starts with focusing on what the student can do, for example, replacing unhealthy foods with healthier choices, building good habits incrementally, and getting back on track after veering off.

In other words, let the student be the boss of their own actions and their results.

I’m not saying these types of goals are less daunting. In fact, they probably involve exactly the same actions taken by the students who set their eyes on a title.

What I am saying is that this gives students more agency and it affects the way they receive unwanted outcomes and how they view future experiences. John Dewey stresses that an educational experience is one that has a positive impact on future experiences.

Not winning will always sting. But goals that are in the form of concrete tasks that can objectively measure can be fulfilled and repeatedly. These ongoing successes will not only add to the motivation, but they also build confidence. And that confidence is how the sting is lessened. It’s how a student takes the result, whatever it is in a beneficial way.

Now, what about you? I’d love to hear about the resolutions you’ve kept and the goals you’ve achieved. What were the elements that helped you succeed?

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