Goal setting seems to be crucial to the martial arts. Each class, students work toward their next stripe or belt. The topic of this blog may be goal setting, but I want to start by talking about how I think that goal setting can be over emphasized in some situations, or, perhaps, how certain aspects of goal setting may not be given enough thought. I will share some strategies that have worked for me (and some that did not) in hopes that my experience will benefit others.
A great deal has been written on goal setting as it relates to success in any field. The idea that setting a solid, specific goal will help to motivate us is crucial to a lot of books that I have read in the self-help field. Many books that I have read left me with the belief that if I set good goals I would become a huge success, whereas if I didn’t have solid goals I was doomed to a life of failure and mediocrity.
I even read about a study done on a graduating class of Harvard, where 3% of the class had written goals, and greatly outperformed the remaining 97% who did not. Intrigued, I performed an internet search on this study, because I planned on sharing it with my students and wanted to provide them with more info. Unfortunately, I learned that while this “study” seemed to be a tool used to emphasize the power of goal setting in several books, there was no record of it ever actually occurring. When questioned about this study, the authors that cited it all claimed to have heard it from other authors.
Now, my goal here is not to criticize the people who cited this study. I myself was about to tell our students about it, and was only able to learn the truth via the wonders of the internet, something that was not really around when this “study” became such a powerful example. What bothered me, however, was that if goal setting really were the “end-all be-all” to life, there would be many real studies out there proving this, without having to rely on the Harvard study which apparently never occurred.
I decided to investigate further. A quick internet search revealed that while there are some studies claiming to show how powerful goal setting is, there are also numerous articles written by psychologists explaining how goal setting does not work.
Now, I guess we are setting and achieving goals of all sizes all the time. For example, when I sat down at my computer my goal was to type this blog. But in this case we are talking about big goals that demand time and effort: What do I want to do for a career? What belt do I want to achieve in the martial arts? Can I learn an instrument or a foreign language?
It may seem like I have used the first half of this blog to attack goal setting. However, that is not my intent. I have known people who were very successful in their chosen field who swear by goal setting. My “goal” so far has just been to point out that the data regarding the effectiveness of goal setting is inconclusive at best, and challenges the notion that we MUST decide exactly what it is we want out of life. It seems to me that there may be a missing link somewhere in the traditional concept of goal setting.
This leads me to an observation that I would like to share with you: People generally succeed the most in things that they enjoy doing. This may seem obvious, but I know that I’ve overlooked this fact countless times when attempting to set goals for myself. I know that I myself have set many goals that I never achieved, and I feel that the main reason why was that while I may have greatly desired the end result, I did not (or would not have) enjoy the process required to achieve said result. With many of these goals I was attempting to force myself to go against my nature.
I recently learned that Michael Jordan, widely regarded as one of the greatest athletes of all time, had a “love of the game” clause put into his contract that allowed him to play basketball anywhere, at any time. Similarly, I believe that martial artists who achieve the highest levels do so because they enjoy coming to class and giving their best effort on the mats. They are happy when they achieve their belts, to be sure, but the greatest reward is the fulfillment they attain from the training itself. If there were no belts, they would still train.
This is why I believe that as an instructor I have a huge responsibility to make every class as exciting and enjoyable as possible. I also feel that as an instructor/mentor/future parent maybe my job is to encourage my students to explore and discover their own passions, rather than pressuring them to write down their goals.