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“My Mother Wants Me to Get Higher SAT Scores”

Why you need to own your goals.

Key points

  • If a person doesn’t own their own goal, they won’t take the necessary steps to reach it.
  • Being focused means having a goal and taking actions to reach it.
  • Focus is a function of the spirit: Your spirit is your driving force, your fire.
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Suzie, a bright 15-year-old with a high GPA and captain of her high school soccer team, is sitting in my office, flanked by her mother and father. I direct my first question to her. “Do you know why you’re here today?” I ask, smiling.

Suzie is not smiling. Her eyes dart back and forth from mother to father. Then she looks at me and says, “I’m here because my mother wants me to get higher SAT scores.”

I’m happily surprised. “Wow,” I think, “a kid who’s telling the truth in front of her parents.” Then Suzie stares at me, laser-like, and says: “And I don’t want to work for it.” In my peripheral vision, I see the parents give off visible twitches of discomfort. Now I’m not so delighted. “Here’s a kid,” I think, “telling me right to my face that she’s not willing to work. So what am I supposed to do?” The three of them lean in toward me.

For the moment, I’m flummoxed. I have no idea how to respond. Suzie doesn’t want to work, and her parents have no idea what to do with her. Now I don’t know what to do with her. Being a man of deep spiritual practice, I start praying. No, I don’t fold my hands and close my eyes. I look at the family and say, “Give me a second; I just want to jot some things down.” But while I’m pretending to make notes, what I’m really doing is praying for help. “Good Lord, I’m stuck. Please give me some direction!”

Suddenly, something on my bookshelf jumps to my attention. It’s a jar of gold glitter. “Thank you, Lord!” I pick up the jar and shake it a few times. “Suzie,” I say, “Do you know what this is?”

She rolls her eyes and, with a very “Duh….” tone, says, “It’s glitter.”

“Oh no!” I say. “This is magic dust. Take this jar, and every night between now and the SAT, unscrew the top, take a pinch of magic, and sprinkle it, counter-clockwise, over your head three times. Then you won’t have to come here, your parents don’t have to pay for my services, you won’t have to do anything, and maybe your scores will go up!”

Suzie can’t hold back the laughter. Her parents are mortified. Their faces are practically screaming, “Who is this clown?”

I asked them to go out to the waiting room, so Suzie and I could chat together. We have a lively conversation. She’s a great kid: clever, quick, and animated. I give her a few simple things to do before our next session.

When she returns, she sits down, looks at me, and says, “I didn’t do anything you told me to do.”

I shrug it off with gentle amusement. “That’s OK,” I say, “that happens with most people who come here.” We then proceeded to have another animated conversation, and again, I gave her a few things to do before the third session.

When she returns for the third time, she folds her arms and says defiantly, “I didn’t do anything you told me to do!” Clearly, she’s trying to get a rise out of me (and respond like her parents do—angry and frustrated— when she refuses to work).

Instead, I take quite a different tack, “No problem! You don’t want to work? That’s fine! But this will be our last session. I like you a lot, but I don’t fight or argue with the people who come here. I give them tools to practice with so they can reach their goals when they take a test. If they don’t practice, there’s no point in coming here.” Suzie looks shocked; quizzical. Shocked because probably no one ever “fired” her before, quizzical because I didn’t get stuck in the quicksand of the old family dynamic.

I pick up the conversation. “So, which college are you aiming for?” She has a ready response. She knows exactly where she wants to go. “That’s a great school,” I say. “And oh, do you happen to know what SAT scores they’re looking for?” As she told me the number, I could see the penny drop. Suddenly, the higher SAT score was Susie’s goal, not her mother’s.

I taught Suzie the three tools for staying focused while she used her test prep book to learn what she needed in order to have a working knowledge of the test content, the questions, and the strategies for answering them. She followed the coaching and stayed focused while she studied and took practice exams. When test time came around, Suzie got exactly the scores she wanted

Most people would say that focus is a function of the mind. It isn’t. In performance terms, the mind is what you’re saying to yourself, about yourself, at the time of performance. It either encourages or discourages you (“I can do this,” or, conversely, “I can’t do well”).

Focus is a function of the spirit. The spirit is your fire; it defines and drives your purpose: the role you are meant to fulfill in supporting the greater good. In the dictionary, “focus” is a noun and a verb. As a noun, it’s the goal (think basketball: the hoop). As a verb, it’s the actions you take to get to the goal (dribbling, passing, running, shooting).

If you don’t own your goals (“My mother wants me to get higher SAT scores”), you won’t be motivated to take the actions you need to achieve a goal someone else has defined for you.

Once getting a suitable SAT score for the college she wanted to attend was Susie’s goal, she did the work necessary. She was focused. For so many students these days, goals are defined by teachers, exams, parents, and social norms. No wonder students are so disaffected.

The word “focus” has a Latin root that means “hearth or fireplace.” Think about it: The hearth or fireplace was the center of the home, the place of heat, light, energy, and nourishment. It was also a gathering place.

When you’re focused, all those qualities come to the fore: You’re literally “fired up.”

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