Wednesday, January 23, 2013

How Goals Can Kill Your Fun

Something I see quite often at parties and classes is that beginners have a lot of fun and intermediates and advanced ones less. When talking to them, it matches the impression - beginners tell me how great everything is and how much fun they have while intermediates and andvances ones tell me what they are working on and what they are doing wrong and what they need to improve. Think about it for a second - How was it when you started, and how is it now? How come there is this shift? I think this is due to a shift from process to goals and faulty comparisons. 

Process vs. goal orientation

What is so much fun in the beginning is the dancing. It's the process of dancing. When people dance longer, the wish for improvement becomes very strong. Remember, - you also advanced as beginner without to strong of thinking about the getting better part. Dancing becomes goal focussed. There are two problems with this:
  1. The process isn't important anymore, despite it not being the goal but the process what we actually spend time on.
  2. "Good" is not even close to clearly defined and usually the "good" shifts always higher and hence is never attainable

Is it bad to have goals? No, not at all! I think they can greatly enhance the process of everything, e.g. when preparing classes, but there are two things to watch out for:
Goals have to be reachable so that they stay motivating and even more important, goals should be used to define steps of a process!

Faulty Comparisons

The other observation I have made are faulty comparisons. People compare themselves with others. "Karlheinz learns faster than I", "The W Project rocks so much harder than we do". What happens here is that when you compare yourself with others you are likely to oversee that Karlheinz goes out dancing three times a week and dances all night long, while you might go only to your weekly classes. We tend to oversee the process. This can be quite demotivating and very inhibiting to your own learning process and maybe even the whole dancing. The W Project rocks indeed very hard, but they also train a lot!  Also something I find quite note worthy about the W Project is the comment from Anais S├ękine that most of all they had a blast during all their trainings. That is process orientation right there.

While the work has in the end to be done by each individual themselves, there is at least one thing we can do as teachers to encourage desired thoughts in our students. Both faulty comparison and goal orientation are part of the description of what Dr. Ellen Langer calls mindlessness. So what we can do is support mindfullness. Mindfullness can be encouraged by not using absolute facts, but conditional facts. Instead of what you are telling the students is the truth, it is the truth for a certain context. 

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