All students will achieve their maximum potential by becoming responsible, productive citizens and life-long learners.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Take the Small Steps

There were quite a few reasons for this post, but it really hit me when I started discussing students and setting goals at the middle of the year.  We all set goals, but how many of us attain them? More importantly, how many students even understand how to go after their goal once it has been written down?   This post focuses (in short order for brevity’s sake) on that piece.  It is meant to shed some light on succeeding by not focusing on the end result, but instead the small behaviors that get us there. 

Consider the following statement.

Consistently taking the small common actions is what leads to uncommon, incredible results.

How many times have we heard this phrase, thought it made sense, and started to follow it only to stray from the consistent aspect, not achieve greatness, and then discount the saying?  There is only one way to realize success (in any area) at a level that will surprise even ourselves.  We must be purposeful and practice mental toughness and character.

We have all heard of the idea of setting goals and that they are essential to anyone’s success.  Unfortunately, that message is often not understood by many people due to the counter intuitiveness it takes to be successful at attaining those goals.  It essentially comes down to the following:  You achieve your goals by not focusing on them. Rather, you realize long-term success by focusing on the small incremental behaviors that move you toward your goal.

Wait…how do you achieve something by not focusing on it?  It has to do with character, mental toughness, and perspective.

Sooner or later, anyone who has tried to accomplish something in life realizes the most important aspect; control.  There are people who will tell you that you must take control of your life to be successful, while others quickly retort that too many things are out of your control so it is useless and success comes more from luck than control.  I assert it that the former is unrealistic and the latter is all about excuses.

If you set a goal and then try to control every part you will fail.  The true road to success is to focus on the smaller aspects that you actually have control over.  What I’m talking about are your behaviors.  I will keep the example to academics, but this system works for any area of your life.

Academics – We usually (unfortunately, too often) measure academic success by grades.  So we tell our students to set goals to address what grade they are receiving.  That’s good; however it’s more important to realize what part of that goal to focus on so that it is manageable, attainable, and long lasting.  There are many factors that go into grades (most people know this) that are not entirely in the student’s control.  So the idea that they will reach their goal is unlikely; resulting in another failure and the deep down belief that they will not be successful no matter what goal is set.  Instead, students should focus on the behaviors that they have complete control over; their own.  What behaviors typically produce good grades? They must:

·         Complete homework
·         Participate in class
·         Study on their own
·         Stay for extra help

These behaviors alone will not help unless they are done consistently and become habits.  If students focus on setting a schedule they will keep and then practice it consistently no matter what temptations (mental toughness) or hardships (character) get in the way, they will reap the benefits of the behaviors (better grades) without focusing on them.

We become what we view as our reality.  Students (and adults) who set a vague goal often do so for one of two reasons.  First, they may not understand how to set goals.  Second (the darker side of this) is that a vague goal is easier to excuse if we fail.  Whenever someone approaches (or sets) a goal with the idea that they will probably fail anyway is going to want some wiggle room to make excuses. Hello vagueness.  If the focus is on small behaviors that we can check and succeed at each week; success follows due to the pride and self-confidence built up in the behaviors that become habits.

Mental Toughness
There will be temptation and distractions that are followed by failure unless there is commitment.  Changing behaviors is not easy and it takes the ability to identify the behavior that needs to change or start, create the plan to do it, ignore the temptations, and follow through.

We all need to learn how to fail.  I could say the famous “fall down seven times and get up eight”, but really…who hasn’t heard that and still done the opposite?  I have come to understand that getting up is great, but learning each time you fall is the only way to keep from falling again.  Every little failure (missing that one homework out of 5 this week) is an opportunity to recommit and grow.  When you fail at something you are given two choices; quit or carry on.  Think about all those resolutions about weight loss that are made each year.  People eat better and exercise for a month, don’t hit the goal they set, and instead of realizing the progress they have made quit the behaviors that will help them realize long lasting success. It’s not that character counts rather, character is the only thing that counts.  It is only strengthened through adversity, because improving ourselves never gets easier; it’s just that we get stronger character.

In the end, be purposeful. Focus on the small steps and stick to what you want by avoiding temptation and facing adversity.  Don’t think about the end.  Think about teach step and as you accomplish it, count it as a victory. Long lasting success isn’t attained with one fell swoop.  It is reached through incremental change over time. 

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