Here I am, on the very cusp of the major excesses of gluttony that is Christmas Day, munching on a late night bit of Brie and a slightly overdone mince pie. Well, it’s better than throwing it away, right? Of course, in a week or so I will swear that this year, that is 2015, will be the year that I get super fit and lose a bunch of weight, beating my sugar/carbs addiction and cycling fifteen miles a day. For Fun.
I might even set targets. You know the sort of thing: I will cycle x miles more, I will eat x calories fewer, lose x pounds of weight, yadda yadda. Because targets are the Thing! I mean, you read around this stuff, and the way to get fit and be healthy, the way you need to do The Things You Want To Do is to set yourself, meaningful, realistic goals.
Oh bugger off. Do really bugger off.
I actually mean that. Because in some quarters, popping a SMART target onto something is the magic bullet that will cure all ills, and will magically make something happen. The argument seems, as far as I can tell, that if I say “I will lose 4lbs by next week” this will engage and motivate me. If one of my learners has the target “write a formal email of complaint” then, goes the argument, this will astonishingly increase their engagement and motivation. Just like that! It’s marvellous, isn’t it? Simply adding some performance management cheese, my learners will learn English better, and I will become svelte and hunky. All my problems solved.
Trouble is, alas, motivation ain’t that simple. Motivation, the single argument in favour of the SMART target, is not something that can be reduced to a single act of measurable achievement. I did weight watchers once, a long long time ago. I even went to the meetings, an achievement in itself. I lost about half a stone in a few weeks, followed by the will to live in the weeks that followed. Certainly I found nothing motivating in the perpetual “woo! Janine lost 3lbs this week!” school of motivation. I recognise that, for Janine, that was an awesome achievement, however, I wasn’t motivated by it. Nor did the target of whatever-lbs a week motivate me, and certainly not the meetings (quit after six meetings). What motivated me was the person most important to me, and the people around me, who were worried about me. The trouble with weight loss, and learning English, actually, is that sometimes you know you need to do it, you really do. You know precisely what your problem is, and precisely what you should do about it. But you don’t. By and large you don’t because the rest of the world gets in the way, distracts you, is more important to you, and so you abandon whatever it was, or simply pay a token acknowledgement: do what needs to be done. But the problem is not the presence or otherwise of targets and goals, it is the problem of intrinsic motivation. You know you should, but, well, you don’t get round to it. Or something comes up that gets in the way, that sort of thing. No target in the entire universe is ever going to engage you if you aren’t engaged at that level.
The flip side of this, of course, is that if you are engaged to the extent on a very intrinsic level, then you are more likely to benefit from any intervention. Thus I have met, in the last three years particularly, learners in various classes who have really stuck at it, not because they have been setting SMART learning goals, but because they want to, on a deep, meaningful level. They learn neither because of, or in spite of, SMART targets, but simply because they really really want to learn.
And come January, will I be engaged, I mean really engaged with weightloss? Probably not. I have that sweet tooth to defeat first, for one. Will I succeed if I say “I will eat no more than three bars of chocolate each week”? Unlikely. Because deep down, my motivation is quite token: I should, I really should, but, you know, stuff. Stuff and things. I’ll get distracted, and probably never really engage. And then it’ll rain and I’ll only ride a mile or so one day, maybe pick up an extra Mars on the way home, and then something, and then and then and then…..
But anyway, a big sigh and I am off to bed for the most awesome day of the year. Tomorrow I will overeat, and certainly overdrink, and there will be fun and family and all those wonderful things. These things I know, and I need neither target nor goal to achieve them, because I really really want them to happen.
Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year.