I spend a lot of time around little boys. They’re loud and frequently smelly, but I love ’em. They really get in there and live life in all its messy, painful, imperfect glory. Whether they’re hitting balls or climbing trees or finding new ways to incorporate sticks and rocks into my living room décor, they really go for it. They are undeterred by skinned knees, bee stings, strike-outs, and time-outs. They are not afraid to cry, but they don’t let it stop them from forging ahead.
By observing the kids in my life, I have learned a lot about setting and reaching goals. It doesn’t matter if your goal is to jump off the diving board at the pool or to tackle a big project at work, the lessons are the same. Here they are:
1. Don’t accept help too easily. You thought I was going to say don’t be afraid to ask for help? Nope. On many occasions I have seen a kid struggling – to tie his shoe, get down from the monkey bars, settle a dispute with a playmate – and I have rushed to their aid. I can’t help myself, it’s a mom thing. Little-kid tears are my kryptonite.
My offers were usually rebuffed, though, and that’s a good thing. Because guess what? The kid figured it out on his own. Being too quick to call for help robs you of the opportunity to build up your problem-solving muscles.
I was reminded of this when our cable went out one day when the kids were clamoring to watch their after-school show. (A day without Cartoon Network, can you even imagine?!) I could’ve called my husband at work to walk me through it, but instead I handled it on my own. And by on my own I mean with the assistance of a friendly gentleman at DirecTV customer service. But hey – I solved the problem, right?
2. Sometimes you have to go it alone. On a trip to an amusement park this summer, one of my son’s friends was determined to go on that ride where the swings spin out at a horrifying height. The thing was, he was scared. And nervous. And no one else wanted to go on it with him. But he really, really wanted to do it. I watched this boy wait in line by himself, walk over to the swing by himself, walk away, talk himself into again, and repeat the process – 3 times. The third time? He got up the courage to do it, and the smile on his face was wider than the sky he was flying through.
Often when we’re pursuing a goal, it’s tempting and even comforting to rally your friends around you. Get everyone involved, on board, cheering you on. But when it comes down to it, it’s just you versus the swing. You’re the one who’s got to take the leap. No one can get on that swing with you. Seeing this kid conquer his personal goal without a cheering section made it that much sweeter to see him succeed.
3. The goal can be enough. Sometimes seeing how many marshmallows you can stuff in your mouth is an achievement in itself. Sometimes it’s just about finding out whether you can, in fact, walk along the outside edge of the railing without falling and cracking your skull. Your goal doesn’t always have to be a means to an end.
Adults have a tendency to make our goals these lofty, accomplishment-focused ambitions like “run a marathon” or “write a novel.” Then we track our progress by every 5k or chapter completed. That’s fine if checking that specific item off your list is what you’re after, but if your goal is really something broader, like “test my limits” or “move my body more” or “make something new,” then take your cue from kids. They know how to make goals fun.
LINKS O’ THE DAY: I love this message from Robin Roberts about being flexible with your goals. She got to Wimbledon, just not how she imagined.
And this article about how to frame your goal to increase your motivation is fascinating. The author differentiates between a mastery goal, where you aim to learn and get better at some skill, and a performance goal, where you aim to be good, either to demonstrate you’re talented or to outperform other people.
“When you’re focused on improving your own skills, rather than on demonstrating them, you’re less likely to get discouraged by obstacles, time pressure, or other unexpected challenges. You’ll believe that you can still improve and do better next time. You’ll have a growth mindset.”