5 Ways To Reboot Your Motivation

December 19, 2014 • 8 minute read • by Saeed


“Use only that which works, and take it from any place you can find it.”

– Bruce Lee –

Your manager’s job is not to motivate you. If anything, your manager’s job is to maintain the motivation you started with.

Remember? You, like everyone else who starts a new job, came on board with excitement and enthusiasm. You grinned from ear to ear when you met your new colleagues. You liked the view outside of your window. You liked your new desk. Your cubicle. You liked it all.

But along the way, your managers slowly sucked the motivation out of you. Dysfunctional systems, lack of clarity, kooky policies, late nights, wacky performance reviews and, well you know the rest. That’s why people don’t quit their jobs, they quit their managers.

Even if your manager’s job was to motivate you, they wouldn’t know how. To be fair, some do. But most don’t. If they did, a recent Gallup Poll would not have found that worldwide, only 13% of employees are engaged at work! Listen carefully. These extrinsic factors can be demotivating, but research shows that even if managed brilliantly, fixing these factors won’t motivate you to work harder or smarter.

Most managers are still stuck on the carrot-and-stick approach of the industrial age. The secret to high performance isn’t reward and punishment. Far from it. True motivation is intrinsic. It is the drive to do something because it is meaningful and fulfilling. Most managers think you are motivated by money. But you and I know that you are not. Countless surveys on employee motivation have shown that money is much farther down the list for you.

In his book, Drive, former Al Gore speech writer Daniel Pink says true motivation boils down to three elements: Autonomy, the desire to direct our own lives; mastery, the desire to continually improve at something that matters to us, and purpose, the desire to do things in service of something larger than ourselves.

Motivation that is sustained is based on meaningful work, challenge, learning, growth, increasing responsibility and feeling good about what you do. You may or may not be able to attain this on your current job. You may have to find another one or even switch careers. You may have to stop doing meaningless work and finally go after that thing that has always stirred your passion. You may have to start mainlining frappuccinos.

But in the meantime, there are a few things you can do to reboot your motivation where you are now. At least, you owe it to yourself to try.

1. Take responsibility for your own motivation

What if you were in control of your own outcomes and learning objectives at work? Talk to your manager. They may have assigned you a goal but they probably did not assign how you are supposed to reach that goal. Trust in your abilities. If you lack skills, learn new ones by taking a class. Talk to your colleagues and ask for help. There is no shame in that. Learn to take initiative and be proactive on a daily basis. Become more self-directed. Take responsibility for your own growth.

2. Get inspired

Inspiration is one of the best motivators around and your best source for inspiration is your own sense of creativity. Do you like photography? Take a class. Do you like to write? Start a blog. Do you like art? Go to a museum. Are you inspired by ideas? Listen to a TED talk. Think back to your childhood. What did you love to do? When did you feel so lost in an activity that you lost track of time? Do more of that. Join a community of people who are doing more of that. Meetup is a great source for this. Reach in – reach out. Don’t be afraid. It’s medicine for your soul.

3. Find your purpose

It may be stating the obvious, but your purpose is entirely unique to you. To find your purpose, you need perspective. You have to see the dance floor from the balcony view. Ask yourself: what am I really good at doing? What do I love to do? How would either of those things add value to the world? What would I be happy to do even if I wasn’t paid for doing it? If you are not sure yet, volunteer your skills at a non-profit or a community group. Giving to others selflessly, will help you feel fulfilled and purposeful. The greatest untapped source of motivation is a sense of service to others (hint: that includes your teammates and your boss). Finally, try this: imagine yourself on your deathbed looking back at your life. What kind of life would you have had to lead in order to feel it was a life filled with purpose? Write the answer down. This is your manifesto from now on.

4. Write stuff down

Your deepest thoughts in a leather bound journal is great. But even for mundane daily things, write stuff down. When you make your own schedule and write your own to-do list, you will recognize what needs to be done and the best way to do it. You’ll become more efficient, focused and more effective at your daily life. You’ll feel more empowered and in control. You’ll get more stuff done. You’ll feel better and more motivated. Writing is also cathartic. We move so quickly from day to day that we barely have time to process what happened to us on Monday before it’s Friday again. Journaling, even for a few minutes a day, will help you understand your own feelings and motivations. Then, you can strengthen the things that motivate you and abandon those that don’t. Try it, it works.

5. Get a coach (or at least a cheerleader)

This may be one of the more expensive ways to motivate yourself, but the investment is worthwhile. We can all use a thought partner in the journey of life. That person is not always our relationship partner. A professional coach will work with you in a structured framework with the aim of achieving tangible results. Professional coaches know about motivation. If you struggle with communication, they can help you be more assertive. If you struggle with stress, they can help you combat it. If you struggle with your boss, they can help you find ways to manage up. They can help you face your fear of success or your fear of failure.

I know a lot of this is easier said than done. But give it time, be patient. Results won’t come overnight but they will come. Work towards creating new habits and abandoning old ones that no longer serve you. Monitor your thoughts to keep them positive. If you hear negative thoughts, stop them. If you are unable to achieve your goals, it may only be because they are too big not because you are incapable. So break them down and create mini goals. Take smaller bites off the apple and take responsibility for your own success. Ultimately, you may even shape the organization you are in and have a positive impact and legacy. You may even begin to like your job again.

Good luck.

©2014 – All Images and Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.

The Gift of Failure

December 17, 2014 • 10 minute read • by Saeed


“The moral flabbiness born of the exclusive worship of the bitch-goddess SUCCESS. That – with the squalid cash interpretation put on the word ‘success’ – is our national disease.”

– William James –

He did not speak a word until he was 4 years old. When he did speak, he muttered incomprehensibly to himself causing his parents great alarm. He was visual. He tended to think in pictures rather than words. He had great difficulty memorizing words, texts and names. Compounding his poor performance in school, he routinely showed his disdain for authority. He was eventually expelled and told he would never amount to much. He flunked his college entrance exam. When he did finally get in, he skipped classes that didn’t interest him and he antagonized his teachers. By today’s standards, he would have been said to have had observable learning disabilities. He would have been labeled dyslexic, autistic or suffering from a personality disorder. Socially, he was inept. He was awkward, aloof, self-isolating and emotionally detached. His hair was long and unkempt and his clothes were old and drabby. He didn’t like public speaking or socializing. He was a philanderer, who had multiple affairs and a child out of wedlock.

By all measures, he would have been considered a failure before it was discovered he was a genius and before he radically changed our understanding of the universe. His name was Albert Einstein. And he is but one example out of many social outcasts and underperformers, who were considered failures but ended up achieving greatness.

In our modern culture, we stigmatize and try to avoid failure (and people we consider to be failures) at all costs. We worship at the altar of success. New York Times columnist David Brooks sees the American fixation on productivity and professional success as an epidemic that is contributing to our cultural demise. This is more or less the same sentiment expressed in the quote above by William James– one of the most influential philosophers the United States has ever produced – more than a century ago.

So what is the opportunity cost for our societal obsession and hunger for success and what is the price we pay for our fear of failure?

Failure builds strength

While Wikipedia and Webster would like you to believe differently, success and failure are not polar opposites. “Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor,” said Truman Capote. You often need to endure heart wrenching failure before you achieve success. Entrepreneurs have always understood this. Risk and failure are inherent to the process of innovation and success. The learning organization is not only the one that learns from its successes, but the one that is most willing to speak openly about its failures. But organizational egos get in the way. I noticed this first hand in my own work in philanthropy. Funders go out of their way to demonstrate that a project they have invested in is working. They never produce reports that demonstrate why a project failed – and they never admit their own role in the failure. Instead, they abandon grantees and move on to new projects rather than address the challenges within the existing ones. Of course, we should not throw additional resources at a losing proposition. But without a post mortem of our failures, we bury our heads in the proverbial sand and limit our chances for learning and innovation. We lose the opportunity to strengthen our knowledge base.

Failure builds knowledge

We fear failure. We fear jeopardizing our jobs and our careers if something fails on our watch. The reality is that in organizational life, failure, if managed well, can be enormously beneficial. Companies need to learn how to manage failure and mine the wisdom contained within it. Of course, blindly stumbling from one failure to another is fool-hearted. But a culture of continuous innovation requires organizational leaders to build psychologically safe environments so that the lessons of failure can be reaped without shame or blame. Leaders should provide the organizational structures that allow people to fail and to capitalize on the lessons learned and opportunities gained for improvement. Leaders need to create organizational environments where thoughtful experimentation, or what Duke University professor of management Sim Sitkin calls intelligent failures, are considered the norm and are used to advance knowledge and develop organizational resilience.

Failure builds resilience

“Through failure we learn how to cope,” says child psychologist David Elkind, professor at Tufts University. Experimentation is the true mother of innovation (and success). It also naturally spawns failure. But today’s parents go to great lengths to remove failure from the equation in a misguided effort to sanitize childhood. In our education system, we give primacy to testing over learning. As Elkind puts it, “Parents and schools are no longer geared toward child development, they’re geared to academic achievement.” What we learn in childhood about failure is the lesson of shame and blame. Even without meaning to, we carry the guilt, shame, disappointment, and pain we associate with failure from our childhood into our adulthood and into our professional lives. This hyper-vigilance and over-protectiveness in childhood has the net effect of making us more fragile and less resilient in adulthood. It means that we never develop the fortitude and strength of character to bounce back from difficult experiences – to get up after a fall and go at it again. We never learn, for example, to master stress effectively. One of the most significant findings in psychology in the last twenty years is that resilient people choose the way they think. Resilience is born out of repeated experience, that may in many instances, be perceived as negative. Resilient organizations need resilient people.

Failure builds experience

It never ceases to amaze me how closed minded some people can be. I recently spoke to an entrepreneur who was trying to get back into the workforce after she had been away for nearly 5 years. She had rolled her sleeves up to her elbows and had dug knee deep in her own startup venture. Like many first time entrepreneurs, she had experienced initial success but had ultimately been crushed by the competition. Trying to get back into the workforce, she described to me her experience of reluctant hiring managers who were denying her re-entry as if she had neglected to get her hand stamped when she had walked out of that club. Personally, I would favor hiring an entrepreneur who had risked but failed than a “lifer” who has never stepped outside of their comfort zone. Her experience, fortitude and persistence would be a major asset to any organization. Indeed, many venture capitalists won’t invest in a new enterprise if the founder has never undergone failure. Such experience not only builds character but it also feeds our emotional intelligence.

Failure builds intuition

A 2004 Nobel Prize winning discovery of how we recognize the smell of an orange suggests that intuition is a form of highly developed pattern recognition. In other words, it is an algorithm used by the nervous system to extract information and experience from the vast database of the mind. That database requires data entry. If you have never faced a negative outcome you have a critical gap in the body of experience that intuition is based on. Unfortunately, the demand for creating an organizational culture that can effectively capitalize on failure is in short supply in most companies. Fear, embarrassment, intolerance, lack of commitment to learning and a culture where experimentation and learning from failure is not supported, exacerbates the problem. Organizational hierarchies stifle the conversation about failure and with it, our potential for flexing our intuitive muscles. The main alternative to the intuition-based approach is rational thinking. Yet, we have all faced business situations where the rational decision making process becomes impractical. Throughout my own personal and professional life, intuition has been an invaluable tool when decision making and rapid response have been required. Howard Raiffa, professor of managerial economics and a pioneer in the field of decision analysis says that formal techniques and procedures used in today’s business environment actually inhibit our intuitive capacity from operating effectively. To use only logic and quantitative analysis in business, is to deny our own emotional intelligence – one of the most important traits of leadership.

Rather than surfacing the lessons that come from our failures, we drive our potential for innovation underground. It cannot be disputed that within our personal and professional failures is a gold mine of wisdom waiting to be tapped. But to access that wisdom, we have to work towards a collective consciousness that is free of blame and free of the stigma associated with failure. We must also learn to fail with intelligence and know when to declare defeat. Obviously, not all failures are useful, and even some that we could learn from we should avoid. We must recognize that the failures that harm us the most are only the ones we repeat. We must be-friend failure and stop fetishizing success. We must fail often but we must fail forward in order to build resilience in the face of failure. As one of my favorite Japanese proverbs says: we must fall seven times but stand up eight.

Good luck.

©2014 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.

The One Trait You Must Demonstrate In Any Job Interview

December 12, 2014 • 12 minute read • by Saeed


“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

– William Shakespeare –

Blink, and you might miss her. At 5-foot-11 and 130 pounds, Wilma Rudolph was a sight to behold. At the 1960 Rome Olympics, Rudolph became “the fastest woman in the world” and the first American woman to win three gold medals in one Olympics.

You might think that she was born with innate athleticism. You would be wrong. Perhaps even more incredible than her achievement as an athlete is her resilience as a human being.

Wilma Rudolph was born prematurely weighing only 4 1/2 pounds and the bulk of her childhood was spent in bed. She suffered from double pneumonia, scarlet fever and later she contracted polio. After losing the use of her left leg, she was fitted with metal leg braces. She was only six years of age. As number 20th out of 22 children (yes you read that correctly), her family was poor and could not afford good medical care. The doctors had predicted that she would not walk again. But Wilma was determined to lead a “normal” life. Despite whooping cough, measles and chicken pox, she was out of her leg braces by age nine. Three years later, her mother came home to find her playing basketball by herself bare-footed. Later, she was encouraged by a track coach who recognized her talent on the court. The rest, as they say, is history.

It is clear that Wilma Rudolph faced great adversity, both internal and external. Despite that adversity, she became a great athlete and an inspiration to many. But perhaps even more impressive than her physical accomplishments, is her sheer will, determination, and resiliency. It is her mental fitness, more than her physical feats, and her dogged belief in her Self that ultimately drove her success.

From my coaching experience, I find that many people who fail to achieve their objectives, do not fail because of a lack of knowledge, skill or ability. These, after all, can always be acquired. With thoughtful planning and execution any objective is achievable. However, some, even when they have the ability to achieve an objective, still fall short of meeting their goals. Some, even when they know they can do the job, still fail to impress at the interview.

Why?

Research shows that, on average, interviewers reach final decisions about applicants in only four minutes after meeting them. According to Malcolm Gladwell, in Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, the decisions may occur even faster – instantaneously or in under two seconds. What he calls ‘thin-slicing’ has serious implications for job interview applicants. It means decisions are being made before the actual exchange of content.

That may seem unfair. Everyone, after all, deserves the same treatment and the same attention to factors such as experience, credentials and skills. And as with any job interview, a series of questions will be asked to assess the type of candidate you are. In truth, however, interviewers are less concerned with your technical abilities and more concerned with your personality type. They want to know if they can work with you. Hence the rise of personality testing in job interviews.

But beyond your personality type, the impression you leave behind of your Self has far more to do with your job interview success.

Agency and esteem are central to the construction of a concept of Self. A study of more than 500 students, academics and workers, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, showed that those who appeared more confident achieved a higher social status than their peers. The conclusions drawn from this study have significant implications for professionals. The key to career success, in other words, is confidence, not talent. Despite your credentials, experience and expertise, a lack of self-belief will reduce your chances of success. Henry Ford once said, ‘Whether you think that you can or you think you can’t – you’re right’.

Self belief is that powerful. To succeed, you must first cultivate the mental posture and mindset for success.

In her 2006 book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Stanford Psychology Professor Carol Dweck argues that individuals can be placed on a continuum according to their implicit views of where ability comes from. Those that believe their success is based on innate ability are said to have a “fixed” mindset. Others, who believe their success is based on hard work and continuous learning, are said to have a “growth” mindset. The distinction is crucial and can mean the difference between a life unfulfilled and one, like Wilma Rudolph, of extraordinary achievement.

That is because individuals with a “growth” mindset have higher intrinsic motivation to achieve. They are more likely to set higher goals and to persevere despite setbacks. Their underlying belief system tells them that if they really want to achieve something, they will find a way to make it happen. On the other hand, people with a fixed mindset give up more readily when faced with problems. They are uncertain and doubtful about their ability and they more quickly lose interest and motivation.

Unfortunately, many people wait for their self belief to increase before they take action. That, however, is not how it works. You can’t sit around waiting for a sense of self belief to kick in when all your stars are aligned. You have to start developing your own self belief. The world will largely accept you at your own estimation. It is yourself that you have to convince of your self-worth, before you can convince anyone else. But once you are absolutely sure that you have what it takes to master any situation, you will act in such a way that your beliefs will become your reality. Mastery is made up of intention, concentration, and attention. To develop it, you must be willing to take risks and to face the inevitable rejections that come with putting yourself out there. You must practice, fail, learn and repeat until you succeed.

And if the interview doesn’t go your way, remember the words of Wilma Rudolph:“Winning is great, sure, but if you are really going to do something in life, the secret is learning how to lose. Nobody goes undefeated all the time. If you can pick up after a crushing defeat, and go on to win again, you are going to be a champion someday.”

Good luck.

©2014 – All Images and Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.