Build Goals

Imagine this: you’re coming to an intersection, and your navigating passenger pronounces, “Don’t go left or straight.”

Huh? The opposite response, “Take a right,” is obviously much clearer.

Build Goals

In the first situation the passenger was trying to destroy options, but he did not show the correct option. That’s obvious in that example, but how often do we see teachers instructing by defining what they don’t want instead of what they do want? Instead, the best first step for changing behavior is to build goals. Why?

  • Students will become less frustrated when their faults are no longer objects of destruction.
  • Students will know exactly what you want and will aim towards it.
  • Students will then fix faults automatically if they are reminded what the goal is.
  • It is easier to think of one clear goal rather than try to – in real time – fix several faults all at once.
  • It’s less taxing on the teacher to build goals rather than tear down faults.

It takes some thought before speaking, but nearly every situation can be addressed by naming the desired goal. For an example, if we only define breathing by what we don’t want then we might give instructions like this:

  • “Don’t tense up your neck.”
  • “Don’t slouch.”
  • “Don’t lock you knees.”

Defining what you actually want might take more thought, but it can be done:

  • “Support your voice with your torso.”
  • “Expand and stand tall.”
  • “Feel the ground and let your knees bend slightly.”

If they don’t understand your first constructive approach, then try another constructive approach:

  • “Fill your belly up with air.”
  • “Lengthen your spine.”
  • “Find equal balance in both feet.”

Do this until you and the student have found a goal that speaks to them and achieves the desired result.

Always? Yea, Mostly

Are there ever cases where you should define things negatively? Sure. If there are problems that recur in many people, then it may be helpful to say clearly, “Don’t do that.” But it will be safer if this is paired with a reminder about the goal:

“Don’t yank your tongue back in the throat because that will prevent you from maintaining an open throat.”

It Takes Practice

This has taken me quite a bit of practice for it to become second nature, but it feels much better than trying to destroy someone’s faults. I can speak more often without fear of totally ticking off my student. I also see my students fix their own problems automatically by working towards the goal we’re covering in that lesson.

If you try this, then you may have to pause before you speak to think of a constructive rather than destructive way of approaching what you see as a problem. But your student will appreciate this constructive approach.

What is the difference between “do” and “don’t” to you? If you’re a teacher, why choose one over the other? If you’re a student, how do you feel after being instructed to “do” or “don’t”? What else do you think?


  1. says

    If all you ever get is “don't do this; don't do that”, it's the only thing you're aware of and suddenly you're paying attention to the 'don'ts' and will probably give 'don'ts' rather than 'do's' because you haven't been made aware of the 'do's', know what I mean?