Honestly, this is going to sound lazy. But, a recent epiphany I had is why being relaxed and lowering expectations yields greater results. With grades, in sports, and with relationships, the way to bring success is to be prepared but also, and more importantly, just do it. Do it without giving setting the bar too high. Do it without making a plan on what has to happen. Yes, this goal-setting mama has witnessed firsthand the benefit in not worrying about the end result and just enjoying the race.
Anna miraculously completed her first 5k race last weekend. We had trained for months with the wonderful Girls on the Run program. And much like a good running program, the weeks of workouts prepare the young girls to have the endurance to complete 3.1 miles. But, Anna hasn’t been hardcore because this running group is just as much about friendships and self-discovery as it is running.
She surprised us by only stopping 3 times throughout the race. She finished in 33 minutes. This is not record-winning. However, she wasn’t winded. In fact, she seemed happy and finished with a smile on her face. We didn’t talk about it beforehand. There were no expectations so she certainly exceeded them!
Then there was Brody who half-heartedly decided to also run the race. He planned on not running with Anna and Bo as he assumed he’d run faster than them. However, we also didn’t talk about it or make a plan except that maybe he could start by running with me. Well, that didn’t last long and he broke away from the group. He won the race. Yes, won first place in the race.
I was equally surprised with both accomplishments. But when I think about my children’s accomplishments, they tend to be most successful in the areas that we don’t harp on. Grades. Test scores. Sports. The less we stress about it, the better they naturally do.
There is preparation along the way. Discipline, practice, and focus on daily tasks are important. We expect for them to do their homework, finish their chores, and have good behavior. But with most performance-based activities, I believe that we can sabotage our children’s efforts, despite the best intentions, when we expect them to perform. The pressure to succeed can make children and adults cave under pressure.
And, as parent, we can be pleasantly surprised instead of disappointed when we don’t have concrete expectations. Valuing best effort, a good attitude, and hard work will result in a good outcome without the stress of pleasing. Do I want to abandon goal-setting? No because it provides growth in self-awareness. But, I do think with our children, we should let them guide their goal-setting. Studies show time and again that intrinsic motivation is more important than extrinsic anyway.
And, I’m now seeing that we can even encourage our children to be easy on themselves too. This week at school, I met with a super, engaged student about test anxiety. Digging deeper into the topic, I discovered that she currently has a ‘B’ in math. But as a type ‘A’ personality, this isn’t good enough (or so she thinks). So after going through some concrete test-taking strategies, we ended with me having her speak to me as if I were a close friend in the same situation. I asked if she’d put her friend down for not finishing first and getting a ‘B’. Of course not so why would be that demanding of ourselves? She coached herself in this activity, practicing kindness and grace.
When parents or teachers berate a child, the child feels small and incapable. That’s not motivating and inspiring. I know of an adult who once told a 7-year old girl that didn’t read fast enough on the silly, mandated reading assessment; she needed to do better. She is an ESL student who speaks Spanish at home. Needless to say, the next time she read to her teacher, she was in tears. The pressure doesn’t motivate. Pressure only sets unnecessary stress. And, we know stressed out kids don’t do as well.
It’s ok not to shoot to be first or get straight A’s. We don’t have to win every game. We don’t need to be first. We actually only need to win being a good person. That’s not performance-based. By removing expectations, talking less about the end result, and allowing things to naturally play out, kids just do better. We can allow natural talents and gift to shine.
Just do it.
(And, if you do your best, be happy with the results!)