Monday, March 19, 2012

Is It Your Goals, or Is Your Mouth Stopping You?

his is an especially interesting video, in my opinion, because it so openly flies in the face of traditional ("conventional") wisdom.  Over the years I've tried (and failed at or abandoned) a bevvy of goals, and have held tight to the self-help theory that the key to success in goal-oriented behavior is to make one's goals public.  Want to lose weight?  Tell everyone you know that you're on a diet so they'll encourage you and avoid force-feeding you Chunky Monkey sundaes.  Quitting smoking?  Share the news so you'll work hard to avoid embarrassment, which leads to feeling incredibly depressed and engaging in terminal self-flagellation if you fail.  Sharing the goal has been Number One (with a bullet) on the self-help hit parade for decades, so who is this guy to tell me that I need to keep it quiet?  What is he, an expert or something?

Well, yes.  And he's got a very impressive history of actual (not virtual, as mine tends to be) success.  

His point, well-taken, is that often once we've verbalized our goal to enough people, we fool ourselves into thinking we're already half-way there.  Or all the way, if we really didn't want to accomplish much in the first place.  This resonated with me, not just as pertains to my unmet riding goals, but in all areas of my life.  Almost really isn't good enough, and lowering expectations to meet accomplishment in the middle of the road is hardly something to write home about.

Gratification from social acknowledgement is likely to become a huge factor in success in the near future.  A recent Huffington Post article about social network fetishism supports my theory on this point.  Say it often enough to a large enough audience, and you reap all of the praise without actually doing much of anything.  The wider the audience (look around you, Facebook denizens) the more impressive the heaping of praise and the less likely you are to move forward.  Facebook, in particular, holds a great deal of power in this regard because, while you're busy counting how many friends "liked" your most recent goal announcement, there's no one actually watching and holding you accountable for completing it.  

I could post right now that I'm going to start working toward new dressage goals with a new trainer and some exciting inner stimulation in the form of new friends who are on the same path.  I can pretty much assume that within minutes the status pronouncement will have a handful of "likes", mostly from people who don't live anywhere near me and so have no clue whether I'm being honest with them...or myself.  When the idea fades into the pile with the rest of my unaccomplished goals ( 1984, for instance, was the year I was going to become a Famous Painter....heard of me yet?) no one will notice.  That status update will have slid down the page by the end of the day and been forgotten before morning by all but maybe one or two nit-picky types who track other people's lies with great intensity.  And they may not bother to mention the lapse, either.  

Let me also posit an addendum to the above:  Sufficient negative feedback, even from total strangers, can cause one to abandon otherwise reasonable goals as being too difficult, too silly, too stupid, or not worthy of the time involved.  This social networking thing has blades all over it that will cut in unexpected directions. 

Over the years I have announced and allowed to slide goals such as dressage testing beyond Training Level, getting back into jumping something higher than six-inch cross-rails, starting a program to use my idle horses to help humans in need of some sort of bonding or therapy or something (that was a very vague goal from the get-go), becoming a Famous Writer, breeding endangered chicken varieties, participating in more clubs and social organizations, and on, and on.  Once labeled, twice counted is my mantra.  

So the next time you decide to proclaim your goal to the world before you've actually done anything constructive to launch the process, at least pick someone nearby who doesn't like you very much and will delight in pointing out how you've failed.  "How's that exotic chicken-ranching thing going for ya'?" is a fair question and one I'm not going to ask of myself because the answer speaks highly of my total lack of commitment. 

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