Goal Setting, Emotion and ‘The Dark Knight’

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It might shock you to know that in the recent Batman movie, an unlikely wise man provides a key insight in Batman’s character development.  After all these years and all these movies you would think they would have run out of wise insights that can be passed on to the film’s hero but it seems they haven’t.  To simplify the story, Bruce Wayne is having difficulty completing a physical task.  After another failed attempt he returns to his cell where the wise ‘Blind Prisoner’ has this exchange with thim.

Blind Prisoner: You do not fear death. You think this makes you strong. It makes you weak.
Bruce Wayne: Why?
Blind Prisoner: How can you move faster than possible, fight longer than possible without the most powerful impulse of the spirit: the fear of death.
Bruce Wayne: I do fear death. I fear dying in here, while my city burns, and there’s no one there to save it.
Blind Prisoner: Then make the climb.
Bruce Wayne: How?
Blind Prisoner: As the child did. Without the rope. Then fear will find you again.

Sports psychology is very clear on the subject of goal setting.  Goals must be process oriented because processes can controlled.  Goals cannot be outcome oriented because outcomes cannot be controlled.  So informed, coaches go about their work.  By focussing on the process coaches focus on the rational, the controllable, the dispassionate.  By focussing on the process the negative effects of pressure and stress and emotion are minimised.  By focussing on the outcome, the great danger is that emotions will get out of control and a player will perform below their best.  It is better to keep emotions in check.  Process, process, process…

But what of the positive effects of emotions?  There are innumerable success stories of  teams and individuals who have used some emotional event to raise their performance.  And I have seen it personally enough times to know that it is real.  As recently as the Olympics, the women’s gold medal was won by Brazil who used emotion to raise their playing level enough to beat a USA team that was expected to roll to the gold medal.  Of course, focussing solely on the outcome or expecting emotion to take the place of preparation (which I have sadly seen far too much) are poor and ultimately doomed ways to work.  But I can’t think help but think that removing emotion completely is an equally doomed strategy.  Emotions (for example fear), properly harnessed, can push people to heights they never expected.  As every blind prisoner knows.


  1. there’s definately a place for emotions in raising performance levels and besides it’s a lot more exciting to win by letting your emotions go wild than by executing only on process alone. But can it be sustained week in, week out and relied upon to be the catalyst for producing good performance? I’d be interested to hear more about how you’d manage this in a team environment with different personalities to juggle.


    1. You can’t rely on it week in, week out. The basic strategy has to remain sound preparation and tactics. I’m not sure exactly how to ‘manage’ it. I think the first key is not to supress it. People already have emotion.


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