Thursday, July 12, 2012

Behavior Versus Outcome

Head over to Scrutinies and read what Dorian has to say about self-discipline and encouragement and change. She is honest; she is insightful; in many ways she is me.

On her struggle with nutrition and health, Dorian writes:
So, the focus now is on behavior, rather than on outcomes . . .  I need to cultivate those healthy habits the experts recommend.

Behavior is within my ability to control. Outcomes? Not really. I can control whether or not I’m doing the things that should produce the outcome, but – you never know. For me, with my wacky personality, using mini-goals like “5 pounds down by the end of the month!” is always, always, ALWAYS going to backfire.

But if you tell me: here is this small goal for your behavior for the week – that will be a lot more likely to work.
A while back I penned a post called Let Your Effort Be Your Goal. In it I wrote:

Ainsley at meal times is a sight to behold. She is determined to master the use of utensils. She holds her Winnie-the-Pooh spoon rock steady and then picks up her chicken in her chubby fingers and carefully deposits a bite on the spoon. Down the hatch it goes!

When we pull into the driveway, she yells, "I do da keys! I do da keys."

She toddles to the front door and wrestles with the keys until -- Woila!, as John is want to say -- she turns the key.

For a pseudo-type A mother who is perpetually in a hurry, all this requires patience. Because the point of it all is To Eat the Dinner! or To Get into the House! On to the next task at hand.

For toddlers the process is the task at hand.

Last Sunday's epistle echoes the thought Dorian captures. Saint Paul has a thorn in his side. God knows all about the thorns in our sides. In his permissive will, he allows us areas in which we founder and squirm and struggle. Is it all like that? Of course not. I have areas of my life in which I have appealed to God to help me change and been met with sovereign, unmistakable grace to do just that. And it all happened in such a manner that I could not deny that God himself had moved.

God has three answers to prayer: Yes, No, and I have something better. Sometimes I have something better means cultivating the virtues of humility, empathy, kindness, and gentleness. Sometimes the process is more important than the product. Sometimes our effort should be our goal.

Dorian writes:

As a teacher, I had greater success when I rewarded students (particularly younger students) for certain behaviors rather than specific outcomes.

I actually could say a lot more about this but for now I’ll just go with – as a book-smart kinda gal, I think my own struggles with fitness have helped me really understand what it feels like to tell yourself you’re not going to be successful no matter how hard you try, and that has made me a better teacher. It lets me relate to the student who is discouraged and doesn’t even want to try.

I close with a quote from my friend and former pastor, Father Brett Brannen. He's the author of To Save a Thousand Souls, a beautiful reflection on discerning vocations to the priesthood. Father Brett writes:

A proud priest is an unmerciful priest. He treats God's people and his brother priests poorly and he is unmerciful in the confessional. God will sometimes use a man's struggle with sin to keep him humble, to keep him on his knees praying for help -- to help him be merciful to other sinners. Saint Augustine wrote, "We learn to do good by having done bad." God is orchestrating all things to make us into the saints he is calling us to be within the vocation he is calling us to embrace. And God is so awesome, so good, and so powerful, he can even use our sins to accomplish this.
And he continues:

Eventually a life of prayer will help him to love God more than he loves this particular sin. Only then will he stop. And when that day comes, this man's faith will be much stronger and more mature. He will not become proud and unmerciful. He will know both in his mind and in his heart that the words of Jesus are absolutely true: "Without me, you can do nothing" (John 15:5).
The other day I was Determined! that we would be On!Time! for the potluck I would be attending with three kids and no husband. And I was. But I barked at the kids and berated myself for my lack of organization and generally failed miserably in the area of charity no matter how you measure it.

And maybe that's just it. Maybe I need need a new sort of measure.


Dorian Speed said...

I was thinking along the same lines on Sunday (re: the second reading)! Kind of stuck pondering the happy medium between striving for self-improvement and being at peace regardless of where I am on various "goal spectrums."

Kelly said...

I agree -- we strive to improve, and we work at being at peace. ANd somehow the two don't contradict each other.