Effort, not outcome

Today was a busy day for M and me: first a group guitar lesson, then a swim lesson, then a private guitar lesson, then an extra private guitar lesson with the new teacher our school is looking at.

As I reflect on the day, I’m struck by how hard it is to have the right goals. A bedrock principle of sane living is to focus on effort, not on outcomes. After all, you can control your own effort (usually!), but you cannot control outcomes. To be sure, you can learn from outcomes, and they provide valuable feedback. But if your ego is invested in getting a particular outcome, your ego’s in for some regular bruising.

But during the group lesson, I couldn’t help but compare M’s performance (an outcome) with that of other kids. And I noticed myself feeling envious and competitive — even though I simultaneously know that M’s performance is, in most ways, better than the very same kids that arouse feelings of envy! Specifically, I found myself thinking, “I can’t believe [Girl X] is already on that Book 2 song and we’re still in Book 1! We’re behind!”

But I have made a conscious choice to embrace the Suzuki principle of mastery before progress, and I have deliberately resisted advancing faster through Book 1. Further, M has markedly better technique than Girl X, so what sense does it make to be envious when Girl X hacks her way through a song that she can’t even really play? I don’t even want M to do that — and yet my competitive, reptilian brain thinks, “We should be further than we are!”

Then, after the group lesson, I had a funny conversation in which M showed herself to be focused on an outcome in an unhelpful way. Several weeks earlier, she had shared the “killer tone award” in group class, but she hadn’t taken the trophy home because the student who previously had it didn’t bring it to class. So today, she got her chance to take custody of the award for a week. As we walked home, she was holding the trophy. We had this exchange: Continue reading Effort, not outcome