Saturday, February 07, 2009

Succeeding with Goals

Note: I was interviewed via e-mail the other day by the Aspiring Polyglot. You can find that here. You can find lots of other great stuff including more interviews by visiting her site, linked by name and in the sidebar.

I've been digging into hypnosis and NLP stuff again and ran across the rules for a well-formed goal. I'm drawing from Richard Bandler's Guide to TRANCEformation, which looks at hypnosis, NLP, therapy and self-improvement and how the language we use shapes our approaches to life for good and for ill. In NLP, one sets goals to achieve a "well-formed outcome" because if your goals don't make sense, not only are you unlikely to achieve them but you may well regret it if you do. Thinking about a well-formed outcome also occasions thoughts about a what a well-thought plan for learning a language should take into account. Below are Bandler's rules (p. 62) for defining a well-formed outcome in bold and my thoughts about application to language learning in italics.


"1. Stated in positives"

Language learners tend to have positive goals anyway. Even if your problem is not studying enough, you're more likely to set a goal like "I will study more" (positive) rather than "I will not fail to study as much" (negative). It's not like dieting where you vow that "I will eat less" and your subconscious identifies the core of the goal to be "I eat." However, there is a place where language learners can shift easily to the negative goal: error correction. Don't tell yourself that you need to stop making a certain mistake. Instead, identify the right form and tell yourself that the new way is what you will do from now on.

"2. Initiated and maintained by the individual"

If a person decides to quit smoking because his or her partner is complaining, the chances of success are limited. Success comes when you make a decision to make something happen. So make sure you're setting short-, mid- and long-term goals based on what you want to achieve and that you have your own means of gauging whether you're sticking to it. Use that book on goal-setting or that website (including this one) to get ideas but make sure your plans are your own.

"3. Ecological"

Will achieving your outcome have a negative impact on other aspects of your life? What about the process of achieving your goal? If you want to be a polygot - or even fluent in just one other language - the people around you are going to have to put up with you carrying around flashcards, muttering strange things, buying books and getting distracted because you're not thinking in English at the moment. Fair enough. But asking them to move with you to Vanuatu so you can perfect your Bislama may be pushing things too far. Try to find a balance where your language studies and the rest of your life complement each other, not conflict with each other.

4. Testable in experience

What will achieving your goal look like? Feel like? And since we're talking about language, what will it sound like? You're not learning for a chart or a checklist. You're learning for you. So make sure you've got a real sense of what success means to you. And if your results aren't resonating with you, consider moving in a new direction.

I think it's especially important to consider the "ecological" and the "testable" components. A great study plan is not a great study plan if you don't have time both to implement it and to get to work on time. Likewise, if every box is checked on the goal list but you don't feel good about your progress, you need to make sure you're setting goals that are meaningful, not just measurable.

For lots more on how people think and act, and why it works out better some times than others, check out Richard Bandler's Guide to TRANCEformation.

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