Goals are important. They give direction to the tasks of our lives and to our success in the world. But sometimes, big goals blind us to the recognition of the small steps and take us out of the process of learning. Going directly for something skips the process that makes the experience meaningful. Holding goals loosely provides the brain the opportunity to pay attention and discover the importance of the small steps.
I have a student in my NeuroMovement® classes who has MS and muscular dystrophy. She had trouble lifting her left foot because she has lost the muscles that do that. Before we worked together, she would trip over her left foot as she walked. One day in an individual lesson, I noticed, after working on her whole body, that she could move her left foot more like her right one. She began to walk more easily, be able to walk farther, and trip less. This little change made a big difference for her. Recently I was skiing with a friend. She had been working on her skiing and turned her skis abruptly at one point in her turns. I introduced her to rolling her outside ski from its outside edge to its inside edge as she was adding pressure to that foot at the
beginning of her turns. The shape of her turns became more round and she was thrilled. Just this movement of her ankle changed the action of her skis on the snow so that she skied differently, felt the difference, and perceived of her skis differently, as tools that she could use to create an action on the snow.
Long-range goals are important. They give us direction. But holding goals loosely, knowing that small changes make a big difference, helps us be present, pay attention to the process, and gain meaning from the process of change. The brain and body
are one integrated information system. You can’t have one without the other. The brain would not exist without the body and the body would not function without the brain. There is not a separation. What seems like a small change to a part of the
system is actually a big change to the whole system. The change in the way my student moved her foot was a change in her whole body and brain, as was the change when my friend began skiing differently.
Holding goals loosely allows the brain greater opportunity to change and is an important condition for learning. Anat Baniel, my trainer in the Anat Baniel Method of NeuroMovement®, created the Nine Essentials from her observations of working with children with disabilities. Flexible Goals is one of the Nine Essentials. She realized that the societal expectations of success pushed on parents—a child’s ability to walk, speak, “be normal,” and go to Harvard—were getting in the way of the meaningful small changes that constituted significant change in the process of their children’s success. Recognizing the small changes, and the way they built on each other in the learning process, helped children realize success in their comfort, function, feelings, and intelligence at that moment and through their whole lives.
In this world in which the pressure to succeed is so strong, it may be hard to slow down and recognize the smaller steps to a goal, the smaller successes along the way, and the importance of the experience happening now. The movement lessons I teach are designed to recognize this process. There may be a functional goal, such as rolling from your back to your belly, but the final result is not as important as the information that your brain acquires during the process. In fact, jumping to the final movement shortcuts all the variations and learning that are possible and important to doing the movement well and inhibits the opportunity to be aware of and in the process.
Holding goals in a flexible way, in which the larger goal exists in your mind but you recognize the small successes and changes along the way, can change the way your brain works. What is a small thing that you can do today that could make a big difference in your life?
David Singleton, ABM, teaches NeuroMovement® classes weekly in Dillon and Breckenridge and is available for private Functional Synthesis lessons by appointment. He works with children with special needs, older adults, and high performers. He is the editor of Listen, Share, and Be Kind, and is an alpine and Telemark instructor and trainer at Arapahoe Basin. (970) 389-6480, firstname.lastname@example.org.