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Goal setting: how bad goal setting defines the road to failing.

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Why is goal setting so important when we talk with our children? Read this real life conversation:

Me: “What is that you want to achieve?”
Boy: “ I want to play football and score 5 goals in the next game” (excited and thrilled tone of voice)
Me: “wow, that sounds like a lot”
Boy: “yes, but that’s what I really want”
Me: “How many goals do you score normally in a game?”
Boy… silence
Me: … silence
Boy: “Not many. In most games I don’t get to score a goal at all”

This script is a real situation from a 8 years old boy that I worked with a few months ago. Goal setting is in every part of our lives, yet we struggle to do it properly.

From very early on we set goals to ourselves, we want to achieve something good, we want to validate ourselves. As parents, we also set them goals to push them to do better and enjoy more.

What we don’t realise is the effects a bad goal might have on us or them. Over ambitious goals are as bad as too low goals or no goals at all. We all seem to know that. In the corporate world everybody talks about SMART goal setting and things like that, yet so few people do it for themselves.

Finding the right goal and defining it in the right terms will be the difference between failure and success. Here are two simple techniques that I work with children to set their goals

The excitement scale. How excited are you about your goal? really excited? thrilled? then change it as chances are that you won’t achieve it.

In our sessions I ask children to create their excitement scale. We represent it as a 1-10 scale in which 1 is boredom and falling asleep and 1o is hyperactive excitement. I then ask them to fill the gaps in between with whatever representation comes to their mind (ie. 8 is fireworks going, 5 is a clock, precise and constant).

I ask them, what level do you think you need to be to achieve their goal. The normal answer is 7 or 8, sometimes they even want to be 10. We then rehearse through the journey to achieve their goal. Through games and talk they quickly realise that the more excited they are the worse they perform.

Eventually, they tell me things like “I think that I need to be at a 5 or maximum 6. If I go higher I get excited and with that I get nervous”

Then we work on defining the goal itself.

In that goal you set for yourself, what is that you control? the thing that is mostly under your area of control.

The idea of this part is to separate the part that he or she can really do, from the outcome. The effort and work that they have to put towards something vs the outcome. Most likely the outcome will be affected by a lot of other things that they can’t control or even know.

I can’t control to win the race but I control how I prepare for it.
I can’t control to achieve 25/30 right answers in my speed test, but I can control training and practicing for it.
I can’t make that girl to be my friend. But I control how I talk to her or what I say.

In my last corporate job I used to tell my team “you don’t control that the client signs the contract, but you control how you prepare for the meeting, the communication you send, how you answer their questions”.

By focussing the energy in the things that we have more control over, we gain strength and confidence and perform our best. Then we then just have to wait for the results to come.

This is our my conversation with the boy I mentioned at the beginning ended after a few other talks.

Boy: “I scored a goal today!”
Me: “That’s great, well done. what else happened?”
Boy: “I had a great time, I was in a good mood because I had gone to practice every week.”
Me: “well done. Anything else?”
Boy: “not really. I was just having fun and enjoying playing with my friends”

And here is me thinking: “Just having fund and enjoying playing”