Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Do You Know Where You're Going?

You Can't Achieve Your Goals if You're Never Working Towards Them

The first sentence in the linked post is the one you should print and hang in your barn, over your desk, in your bathroom, and anywhere else you might see it regularly.

Having goals isn't the same thing as working towards them.

We've all been told  that we won't make changes in our lives without setting goals.  We've been told to keep the goals clear, simple, reachable, and quantitative so we'll know when we've reached them.  We've been told to celebrate small victories along the way.  

Rarely does anyone mention that we need to actually put in the work required.  Thank you, Eric Ravenscroft, for stating what should be obvious but often isn't.

Yes, for those of you who are regular readers, I'm off on another rant about task analysis.  This time there's a twist.  I've said over and over that it's important to break down goals into the steps required to reach them.  Working backwards from the goal has proved to be the best bet for me, and it's common practice among teachers.  Start where you hope to end up, then figure out the steps required to get there.  If you want the students to write a character analysis of the protagonist and antagonist in the novel you're going to assign:

  1. They have to have read the book. 
  2. They have to have a copy of the book on hand. 
  3. They have to know what "protagonist" and "antagonist" mean.  
  4. They need to be able to identify who those characters are.  
  5. They need to be instructed in how to write a compare-and-contrast essay. 
  6. They need to be instructed in English grammar and Composition.
  7. They need to show up to class.
You can see that those steps are in roughly reverse order.  First they have to show up.  Then they have to do the other steps in order until they have produced the essay according to the rubric (I love that word!) you've supplied.  If the paper will be due on December 20th, just before winter break, count backwards from there.  How many lessons will it take to achieve each of the necessary steps?  

Now apply that to your horse life.
Goals created and reached!
[Photo courtesy of Jessica Culnan]

It's easier for a teacher to do this because production is expected and required.  Lesson plans are sometimes graded by the administration.  Parents these days expect it all to be online where they can hover over every step and argue the logic.  

But between us and our horses there's no contract.  There's no penalty for failure.  There's no higher power (read "Punitive Trainer") on hand for most of us, so there's no one around to yell and fuss and make us feel terrible if we don't move from Step One to....anywhere.  When we've owned a horse for a year and still can't get him to stop biting everyone who walks by him, we are free to make excuses and blame previous owners (his) or a traumatic childhood (ours) instead of embarking on the repair journey.

You want your horse to take a blue at the next schooling show.  How far off is that?  A week?  A month?  Tomorrow?  What do you have to do to achieve that?  Is it possible and realistic that you'll reach that goal?  When, exactly, will you take the first step and what will that be?
I'm sure there's a goal in there somewhere.

If you're not working toward that goal, someone else is.  Someone else will learn the pattern, train a horse, win a ribbon, do a hundred-mile trail ride, have a horse that doesn't bite anyone.  There needs to be just a hint of competitive spirit, even if the competition is completely internal, in order to keep us moving forward.  That's how we roll.  

If you aren't going to work towards change, then don't pretend you have a goal.  There's no law that says you have to.  Honesty--with yourself and others--is still the best policy.

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