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What is Your Secret Goal?

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I’ve led games for thousands of people for over twenty years and at the start of every keynote, workshop, and class, most people are engaging in the activity with one primary goal in mind: they don’t want to mess up.

Most people have a secret goal. Sometimes it’s so secret they don’t even know it themselves.

That’s why they ask so many clarifying questions and want to run though rare scenarios before we start. (And why I often shrug and won’t give them a straight answer.)

That’s why they play slowly, double checking every response so they get it right.

That’s why they disconnect from the group, turn inward, and stop breathing–to really focus all their attention so they don’t slip up.

That’s why they roll their eyes and dismiss it, so no one thinks they are actually trying in case they do mess up.

That’s why they play quietly, so if they do mess up, maybe no one will hear them.

And that’s why the game can be so awkward, stressful and not fun.

It took me a long time to realize, but no matter what people’s stated or unstated goals are, most of the time they are playing to avoid mistakes. And I find that having ANY other focus, helps the individual and the game. It can help them let go of old patterns that might have been completely justifiable when formed, but may no longer be serving them. I often give them the focus of making eye contact or breathing or being louder. Anything will do, especially my classic advice of being EPIC: playing with Energy, Pacing, (being) In the Moment, and Commitment.


© Flickr user Florian Christoph.

And it makes me wonder, in this time of goal-setting and New Year’s Resolutions, what are the hidden goals underneath our stated goals? What are the things on Maslow’s hierarchy that are preventing us from being able to go after the things we say we want?

Shana Merline, Guest BloggerFor me, I have had publishing a book at the top of my professional goals for years. And yet, it always gets moved down the list. Part of that is how big a goal it is. (I know, I know break it up into smaller goals and chunks.) And part of it is how it’s something I would mostly be accountable to myself for, as opposed external deadlines which I find more motivating. And a big part of it is about wanting to not mess it up. Like thinking, “This will be my book and it will be me and if it’s dumb then I’m dumb…” or something along those lines. Even though there’s a very practical part of me that knows if I slapped together a compilation of these newsletters, I could have something up on Amazon in a month or so. And if I’d done that years ago, I might have a bunch of books done by now. And I’ve slowly been convincing myself that I just need to put one really crappy book out and I will advance my career and move forward with my life. Not that the book would end up being crappy, but I need to convince myself it’s okay for it to be crappy before I can really begin. Or, more accurately, finish.

So, I’m being bold with this one: I can write a crappy book this year! #Goals

What are your stated goals? What are your hidden goals? And how can they be more in alignment?

The Founder of Merlin Works, Shana Merlin is one of the most experienced and effective improv teachers in Central Texas. The former Dean of The Heroes School of Improvisational Theatre, Shana has been an internationally touring performer and award winning teacher since 1995. Shana has trained with some of the top teachers in the field of improvisation including Keith Johnstone, and members of Second City, The Annoyance, IO, The Groundlings and more.

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