I had an experience the other day that kind of shook me up. I shared a couple of opinions on someone’s Facebook post and got blasted by a bunch of people I don’t know. Normally I don’t particularly care about other people’s opinions, but for whatever reason it was different this time. Actually, I don’t think it’s because I cared about their opinions, but rather because I couldn’t handle their closed-mindedness and the hate they were giving off.
My wife has always advocated the “be the change you want to see in the world, but don’t shake things up” attitude. My son is the opposite: believing very strongly that if you have something to say you say it – and pay no attention to the haters. In principle I agree with him; in reality I think I’m starting to adopt the attitude of my wife. Maybe my skin is getting thinner with age.
At any rate, I’ve heard a lot about the persecution people suffer when they stand up for what they believe is right. I understood it in theory, but I finally got a very little taste of it the other day. This little taste stayed with me in a big way for couple days now, and I can’t imagine being someone on the front line of it every day.
For these people I have the greatest respect, and I wish I had their strength of character. And maybe I’ll build up to that. But in the meantime I think I’ll try to be the change I wish to see in the world without shaking it up too much with others. My son would call that cowardly; my wife would call it wise. I guess I’ll have to find my own way
I’m going to stick with the theme of motivation for another article; simply because it’s been on my mind lately as I continue to spend the time developing new products and services. This isn’t easy for me to do; I struggle with motivation at times just like the rest of us.
To make things as easy on myself as possible I’ve been going back through the materials I’ve collected over the years; to refresh my memory about what motivation is, and how to grab onto it, if only for a short while. Here’s a piece of research I came across that serves as a good reminder about the importance of clarifying why we’re doing what we’re doing, and what we want to get out of life:
Years ago Edward Deci conducted an experiment in his search for discovering why people do what they do. He asked each of the participants in his study to complete a puzzle: half were given a dollar for working on the puzzle, and the other half were offered nothing. At the end of the time allotted, Deci left the room and instructed the participants that they could continue working on the puzzle if they wished (or read a magazine, or do nothing). The participants who received no reward continue do work, while the ones given money ceased to work on the puzzle.
The point of this outcome is that our interest in a task fades when we’re being governed by external forces; even if it’s something we’d enjoy doing otherwise.
I often talk about building in reward structures if you need that extra boost to finish a task (i.e., work for two hours then treat yourself to a latte). This is still a good strategy, but just make sure the latte isn’t the primary reward: the research results above show us that external rewards don’t maintain behavior.
Let the latte be the driver of your behavior if that’s what it takes; but when you’ve reached the goal always go back to the reasons you engaged in the task in the first place. Focus not the immediate reasons: “because I’ll miss the deadline if it doesn’t get done”, etc., but on the big reasons: “because this task leads to this, which leads to this, which leads to the realization of my ultimate goals and purpose”.
So enjoy the latte that helped drive you to the goal. But do so with the conscious acknowledgment that you wholly deserve it. Acknowledge your ability to set and achieve goals, and how hard you’re working to realize your dreams and become more of who you want to be!
I was following up on a warm business lead the other day, to which I experienced an unexpected emotional and physical reaction. The woman on the other end thanked me for contacting her, but then concluded with, “We already have what we need, so please remove us from your distribution list.”
When I heard this message I immediately got a bit of a knot in my stomach. For a brief moment I felt a little fearful, uncertain, and angry – both with her and with myself. Granted, all these thoughts and feelings were fleeting and not very intense; but they were there. In short, I felt discouraged.
Discouragement is the result of all those little thoughts, fears, and assumptions that add up to a real sense of emotional and physical discomfort. For some it’s debilitating: stopping them in their own tracks out of habit; while others keep moving on immediately as if it never happened. In both cases they fail to actively identify and challenge the maladaptive thoughts and fears that feed it.
As I analyzed the thoughts that fuelled my own reactions to that comment, I experienced many things that popped up in quick succession: I felt embarrassed for contacting her and I doubted my ability to be successful. I felt that she was being intentionally short-sited and spiteful. I assumed that I might never get the volume of work I want; which led to a worry of driving my family to the poor-house.
But once I identified all this I was able to see how inaccurate and exaggerated it was. I was then able to re-calibrate, let it go, and get on with my day.
We’re told all the time to not get discouraged. What that means, obviously, is to not give up when we feel defeated. And we shouldn’t give up – but we should also remember that feeling defeated, and scared, and insecure are all natural human reactions. If we deny the experience of discouragement, either by letting it stop us in our tracks or by ignoring its existence, we rob ourselves of the opportunity to self-reflect and self-correct. We either don’t move at all, or we risk moving forward in a maladaptive way.
All feelings serve a purpose. Our physical or emotional reactions are rich with data that we can use to adapt, adjust, and evolve. We can identify the thoughts and assumptions that feed the experience of discouragement, and hold them up to examination. We can then replace the faulty ones with more realistic and/or energizing ones; and then resolve to act more purposefully.
Picking ourselves up and moving forward after acknowledging our discouragement also teaches us just how far our resiliency can be stretched. So we shouldn’t discourage discouragement: we should embrace it and use it as the powerful tool it is.
I heard a great quote recently that got me to thinking about what it means to be optimistic: “If life doesn’t give you at least a little sugar as well, your lemonade’s gonna suck”. In other words, a positive attitude isn’t always sufficient in and of itself.
I come from a strength-based, solution-focused approach to coaching and life. I’m a firm believer in the adage, “whatever we focus on expands”; and so it’s my preference to focus on strengths and possibilities. I’m a champion of unlimited human potential and inner wisdom, and I’ve always believed that there is more good to be found than evil. I’ve always believed that somehow, on some level, the things that need to be worked out eventually will. Needless to say, I’ve always considered myself an optimist.
But I’ve recently come to understand something important and eye-opening about the nature of my optimism. I’ve come to see it, in many regards, as a façade that effectively served to mask my naivety and ignorance – and to protect me from the harsh realities of life.
Through my quest over the past year to understand more about the world and our impact in it – how we interact with the earth and with one another – I found myself becoming increasingly cynical about human nature. As my knowledge and understanding accumulated, my disenchantment was feeding a growing sense of pessimism.
It was a spontaneous discussion about caring one day, though, initiated by my six-year-old son, which made me realize that I had actually let the pendulum swing too far: I realized that being a pessimist wasn’t going to do any of us any good. I also realized that the pessimism I found at the other end of the pendulum was just as much a façade as my optimism: it was really a strategy to protect me from feeling the pains ones can feel from truly acknowledging life’s harsh realities. It was easier to feel angry and cynical than sad and despondent.
So it took an intense year-long journey to open my eyes; and a conversation with a child to refocus them. And I hope now that I’m closer to that middle ground: that healthy dose of optimism.
So what’s the difference between a healthy and unhealthy optimism? The former, in my opinion, embodies a more realistic perspective on things with a sense of hope and possibility attached to it. The latter, I’ve come to see, is simply a ‘happy-face’ mask designed to hide ignorance, fear, and denial.
A healthy optimism entails the willingness to see the ugly things as they really are – to feel discouraged and angry when appropriate – but also remembering to engage fully with the beauty that does exist. Focusing on what is right and good in the world, without turning a blind eye to the rest, can give us the encouragement and strength we need to make right the things that need to be made right.
Are you typically an optimist or a pessimist? Or maybe you consider yourself more of a realist. Or maybe it depends on the situation. It really doesn’t matter: the point is that it helps to take stock of the assumptions we tend to make, and the ways in which we typically choose to approach the world. We need to maintain a hopeful but balanced perspective in order to lead change effectively.
Thomas Edison once said, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up”.
Think about the meaning of that statement for a moment. Really.
Imagine pouring hours upon hours of effort and hope into something important to you – then giving it all up when you hit that certain level of discouragement.
Imagine what sort of stories of denial and rationalization you might create in order to explain the whole effort away to yourself and others: to minimize its weight in order to save you from embarrassment. Or of the dreadful feelings of precious time wasted. Or of the realization that you were wrong – that you were not as competent as you had hoped. Or of the feelings of frustration, depression, and loss…
Or maybe you’ve already done this. The truth is that people do it all the time.
But what if we were destined to reach our goal the very next day after we decided to quit? It’s impossible to ever know, of course, but it is a very real possibility.
We all know the story of Thomas Edison’s failures, perseverance, and ultimate successes – but, unfortunately, stories like these often tend to inspire us for the moment but have no real lasting impact (or worse yet, we become desensitized to them so that they carry no real impact for us at all anymore).
So, again, think seriously about this quote for a moment. What could it mean for your life and your journey? What do you really want? When have you quit and (falsely) rationalized the whole effort away? Where do sometimes feel like just throwing in the towel? Or where do you keep justifying your decision to not get started on that one special thing?
The good news is that we can avoid the pain of failure by never ceasing to try.
And even if we were to die trying, then at least we’d have died on a path to success. And isn’t that better than looking back at the end of it all and saying, “what if”?