Avoidance Goals versus Towards Goals
By Jessica De Bruin, Managing Director and Life Coach at Meta4mance Coaching
Why is that we tend to focus on all the things that could go wrong Instead of what we could possibly achieve?In NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) we call this phenomenon “avoidance goals”. I had many life coaching sessions with professional athletes, musicians and managers. I coach by focusing on the mental side of performance in order to prepare them for their next competition, concert or team briefing. When I ask a coachee about his or her inner dialogue, let’s say during the build-up before a race, I often get the answer that their continuing thoughts are about unwanted scenarios for example “I don’t want to lose”; “I don’t want to make this mistake”; “I don’t want to disappoint my coach or team”.
Today I was asked to give an impulse talk on ‘How to become the best version of yourself’ at the Nationals of a Talent Show competition in Johannesburg. When I had the opportunity to chat to one of the younger modelling competitors, I asked her out of curiosity: “So what do you think about when you go out on stage?” She replied instantly “Just don’t fall”.
It’s fascinating that we all seem to have similar ways of talking to ourselves. We all are so different and unique, yet we are all the same. If you would reflect on your own thoughts for a moment. Have you ever thought that you don’t want to have financial problems, that you don’t want to fail a test or that you don’t want to hit that water hole when you were playing golf?
Well, unfortunately I have to break it to you. There is a challenge when talking to ourselves in avoidance goals: Where your focus goes, your energy flows. In an ideal world we would all be communicating with ourselves in “towards goals”. That inner voice of yours could sound something like: “I want to give my very best at this competition/test”; “I want to race/ jump/ swim my personal best time”; “I want to make my coach or team proud” or “I want to be financially stable”.
Now you might think, but where is the difference. Isn’t that basically the same? Not quite. If we talk to ourselves in avoidance goals, all we can actually see are obstacles and reasons why things could go wrong. However, if we talk to ourselves in towards goals we see opportunities, solutions to a certain challenge.
If that sounds to airy fairy for you, then I would like to invite you to test yourself. Look up and check the room around you for one colour only. Let’s take green for example. Try to take in everything that is green. Fantastic, now the tricky part. I am going to test you and you are not allowed to look up again.
What did you see that was RED? Hmmm, it’s difficult, isn’t it? The reason is that your energy flows where your focus goes. So if we only focus on avoidance goals, which could be the green in the little experiment you just did. Then all you see is the green, reasons why things could go wrong. It’s almost impossible to see the red, the opportunities around you.
The fantastic side to this realisation is: Now you know, if you do talk to yourself in avoidance goals, change your mind-set; change your inner voice. Rephrase your thoughts into towards goals. Focus on talking to yourself in towards goals and enjoy the world full of opportunities around you. May your day be full of red – seeing opportunities!