Olympic Goals and Zero Harm

If this article and the excellent analogies provided by Dr Robert Long doesn’t convince you that the philosophy of “Zero Harm” is at serious odds with the path to success and achievement of reasonable goals in the real world then nothing will and you are a lost cause. If you liked this article then you should read the whole series: CLICK HERE. I highly recommend you check out Rob’s new book “RISK MAKES SENSE”

Olympic Goals and Zero Harm

It’s not long and the London Olympics will be upon us, 20 days of media frenzy and gold saturated discourse. Once again comparisons will be made between countries, performance and recognition all on the basis of a prized gold medal. I wonder if any Olympic athlete or coach sets perfection as their goal? Or, do they set goals of achievement, risk, fulfilment and learning as realistic goals?

Most coaches, athletes and leaders know that long-term, achievable and measurable goals are the most successful. They follow the wisdom of SMART Goals.

Most sports psychologists know that if target goals are not achievable or are unbelievable then athletes soon develop ‘learned helplessness’. Excuses soon follow, enthusiasm and motivation are lost just because the goal is unattainable. The worst thing is the language of perfection alienates the athlete subconsciously. When failure to meet the goal comes the scepticism appears saying: ‘I knew she’d fail’. All of this is the challenge of being human.

Coaches know that talk of perfection is non-motivating so, such talk is tactically ignored. Perfection talk is unhelpful so coaches don’t speak it. Instead, they speak talk which is realistic, attainable and motivational. They rejoice in small steps of improvement, shaving one tenth of a second off a 5000 swim is a big deal. They know it is nonsense to suggest that not preaching perfection target goals is a projection of failure goals. Silence on one thing doesn’t mean affirmation of its opposite. Coaches know that perfection target goals are mostly just talk, the ‘noise’ of those who don’t have to compete.

Athletes are not afraid of pain or failure and understand these as a by-product of the risk-for-achievement trade off.

When it comes to sport most people associate success with pain, suffering and endurance. There is plenty of talk about mistakes, coping with failure, managing loss and the costs of achievement. There is plenty of talk about endurance and ‘pushing through the pain barrier’ not avoiding the pain barrier. And target goals that are spoken about are not about perfection but improvement, enjoyment, maturity and gain.

Footballers know that a target goal of ‘no injuries’ is laughable, if there is no courage, there is no winning. To achieve in football one accepts the reality of injury as an unintended by-product of the game, yet does not desire it. Sports people know that goals of achievement are not the same as goals to desire injury but if they get injured they learn how to accept and manage it.

Sports people talk is about winning not, ‘doing what it takes to not lose’. When it comes to human performance and motivation athletes focus on the positive as success not the absence of failure as success.

Promotion thinking is often more successful than prevention thinking, offense is more positive than defense.

Teachers know that to get the best out of children one must set achievable goals, incremental steps to success are best. If a child can visualise their improvement they will be motivated to ‘stick with it’. Set the bar too high at perfection and in comes ‘learned helplessness’ again.

Police know every Saturday night that there will be problems, sometimes more problems than normal. They don’t set absurd goals such as no incidents, no alcoholism, no violence or no injury, they live in the real world. They don’t desire such things but know that in the real world, in the trade off for enjoyment as goal there will be some mistakes, sometimes things go wrong. This does not mean they desire injury but rather focus on the promotion of achievable goals.

Can someone please tell me then why safety non-leaders are the only group I know of who set an unattainable goal of perfection as a target goal and then try to explain why it is motivational by the non-endorsement of its opposite? Real leaders in safety set achievable goals not excuse perfection goals by calling them ‘target goals’.

Since when did measurement of learning, safety journey, achievement, improvement and gain become such poor safety goals?

What if my target goal in life was: ‘no suffering, no mistakes, no failures, no pain’? Is this an admirable goal? Is this a realistic goal?

Should such a goal stand alone or are there other goals which become excluded by the setting of a such a goal? Are there ‘higher goals’ that help relegate such goals to their rightful place? Isn’t it about time we thought about the psychology of the goals we set and what they do to the minds of the people who have to work under them?

I now see people holding positions in companies and advertising for positions called ‘zero-harm managers’. I’ll give a gold medal for the bright spark who thought up that one.

Dr Rob Long

Dr Rob Long

Expert in Social Psychology, Principal & Trainer at Human Dymensions
Dr Rob Long

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Dr Rob Long
PhD., MEd., MOH., BEd., BTh., Dip T., Dip Min., Cert IV TAA, MRMIA Rob is the founder of Human Dymensions and has extensive experience, qualifications and expertise across a range of sectors including government, education, corporate, industry and community sectors over 30 years. Rob has worked at all levels of the education and training sector including serving on various post graduate executive, post graduate supervision, post graduate course design and implementation programs.

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