Monday, January 14, 2013

Intentions vs. Goals

All along, as I've been reading others' insights and writing my own on the goal-setting process, there's been a little feeling niggling inside.  It has to do with the fact that in my personal life, I have been going through a transition away from the rigors of outcomes, goals, successes, and so forth.

As you may be aware, I spent a couple of decades working in a corporate environment.  I wasn't ever really big on baloney-talk like "maximizing potential rewards by regularizing throughput". (I just made that up, but you get my drift!)  Still, my company produced software for use by engineers and in this environment improving a target measurement by one percentage point might actually be a very meaningful goal.

In that context, "measuring up" can be important.  But in everyday life, it can create a lot of stress!  A habit of drawing a line between "acceptable" and "not acceptable" creates many opportunities to "not accept".  In other words, it creates potential for imperfection and failure that didn't exist before the line was drawn.  A person can end up striving endlessly to be "acceptable" while ever re-setting the line.  When it's something beyond your control that doesn't measure up, there can be anger ("It should/shouldn't be like that!"), fear ("What if it stays like that or gets worse?") or depression ("There's nothing I can do about this hopeless situation.").

OK, so there's the nutshell pop psychology lesson for today!  But that's just background.  About 10 years ago I started a self-examination process that evolved into a more accepting life.  It also evolved into my retiring and taking up English teaching.  Today if I draw a line, I question if it really needs drawing.  Lots of times, I erase it again. The main thing is to notice it when I do it habitually and then make a conscious decision about how useful it is. And to bear in mind that it's "just a line I drew", not an immutable fact about the world. (I'd like to eliminate the habit entirely, but I've grooved it for many years so it's no surprise that it hangs on!)

Even though I've been exploring the SMART goals process with a lot of energy, I still have expressed some ambivalence about it.  There are certainly times when setting a specific goal is useful, but in my exploration of a more accepting approach to life, I've found that a more open "goal-free" approach also has its uses.

I'm no expert on the topic, just someone who wants to take this approach when I remember to.  (I hope I'm remembering more and more often!) It doesn't mean just floating along and letting life take you wherever it will.  First, there's self-examination to know what you want.  I mean, what you REALLY want -- not what you think you're supposed to want. Then setting a daily intention, remembering the intention throughout the day and acting on it accordingly. Next day (next hour, next minute), begin again.  No deadline, no endpoint, no conclusion, no goal. Sometimes, if you look back, you may see many changes. They may not be the changes you would have predicted. That information can help when considering intentions next time.

That's how I would like teach.  That's how I would like my learners to learn.  That's how I would like to grow as a teacher.

Of course, such an everyday practice can be punctuated with goal-setting when it's relevant.  After all, there are deadlines and other goal-oriented things related to our jobs, families, whatever, that we have to accept!  Actually, I guess the more open-ended approach can be useful in goal-setting, too.  It helps to keep a healthy perspective on a "failed" goal: remember the line is artificial.  Let it go, set another if needed and keep going ...

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