It is all about What Happens in the Ring – Goals vs. Experiencing the Process

Can a goal hold you back rather than propel you forward? Common practice is to focus on the goal, and keep at it – over and over. Have you tried that with your child and found you are both frustrated and, even if the goal is reached, it is anticlimactic after all the struggle? (My daughter and I still remember the pain of her 5th grade State Report and not a whole lot of the information.)

Many clients tell me they are working very hard to help their child reach milestones and IEP or Behavior Contract objectives. Yet, they are exhausted and feel defeated. I wonder if Focusing singularly on the Goal can, at times, get in the way of the experiences necessary to successfully achieve the objective. Let me illustrate with a story —

100 ft is a long way to throw a 8 pound metal object and yet my 16 year old daughter is close to throwing the discus 100 ft. It is a remarkable feat to me, who probably couldn’t throw it more than 15 feet. But then again I haven’t been training every day. She has been 3 feet from her goal for awhile now, so it makes sense to keep her eye on the goal of 100ft, doesn’t it?

To give you some perspective, last season she threw 75 feet once and the rest of the time in the high 60s/low 70s. Still impressive, yes. But not where she wanted to be, even then.  This season she came in and just threw for the joy of throwing; feeling her body and the power in it. She attended to her posture and her form and what she did in “the ring” in preparation for the throw. And without focusing on the distance she was at 86, then 93 then 97 feet. Then she began to focus on the goal – 100ft. An interesting thing happened, she stopped progressing in distances, stopped having fun and ended up so stressed she had migraine headaches.

Why did it make such a difference? Why did focusing on the goal have such a dramatic negative effect on her performance? That seems counter-intuitive. Let’s look at that….

Our culture is very goal oriented – run the fastest, get the highest score, look me in the eye every time; meet the goal. And for some, this is motivating. For others though, it is immobilizing, a set up for failure. Effort gets channeled into avoiding the failure rather than accomplishing the goal.

With HANDLE® activities we often say it is not task mastery but task process. We often do activities long after mastery has been attained.  Accomplishing other goals can be very much the same. This can be perplexing for both parents and kids.

3 problems that often arise from being solely goal focused, especially when the goals are externally created as is often the case with kids who are struggling with learning and behavioral issues, are…

1.    There is little or no connection with the meaning of the goal or its purpose so internal motivation is often low. This leads to the introduction of external reinforcements which sometimes work, for awhile, but rarely encourage full integration or establish meaning and purpose.

2.    With the goal as the focus there is often less learning along the way – the steps required as foundational building blocks are skimmed over or bypassed to just “do it.” Also once the goal is achieved (times tables learned, sitting at the table without jumping up, etc.) practice is needed to integrate the skill. If the goal is the focus, where is the motivation for the continued practice? The activity becomes “boring” or they have “done that,” why do it again? This can create frustration and failure. Failure can be devastating from a goal focused perspective because the effort and process is less valued and all the work can be seen as meaningless.

3.    Self-esteem, confidence, and a sense of competence and satisfaction are often not developed because they are less important –it is the final product that is valued , so self-evaluation is based primarily on the its achievement. Fun is often lost in the mix and life becomes much more about work. Resistance is a common result.

I am not suggesting eliminating goals or objectives. I am suggesting that with each goal the process, the learning, the experience hold at least as much significance as the goal itself, if not more. In doing so

1.    Self-Esteem, confidence, and competence are enhanced
2.    Experiences are integrated and can foster more forward movement
3.    More goals are meaningfully attained
4.    More fun and enjoyment is had by all

If goals are not being achieved, more struggle than fun is occurring, and/or less generalization of function is happening; then try shifting the focus from the goal to the experience and see what happens. It can be magical.

As my daughter’s coach says, “It is all about what happens in the Ring,” then the discus flies and goes as far as you have let it go.

What is going on in your Ring?

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