Sunday, February 28, 2010

Motivation - it's a very personal thing

How can I motivate my employees to go the extra mile? How can I motivate my kids to do their homework, or clean their rooms? How can I motivate my friend to stop sabotaging her resolution to stop smoking?

Did you know that you cannot motivate people? Motivation has to come from within. You can help create the conditions that may lead to motivation but you can't make someone want to do something unless they decide they want to.

When everything else seems out of whack, having order in my home gives me a sense of control in at least one area of my life.
My teenage daughter knows how much order and cleanliness is important to me and that is exactly why she has chosen to create chaos in her bedroom. There is so much stuff spread out on the floor that you cannot walk in without having to jump over piles of dirty laundry, or clean clothes that never made their way to the closet and drawers; drawings, drawing paper, pencils and erasers; posters that fell off the wall but never got stuck back on, and tons of books (she reads maybe 5 books a week). Her room has been our battle ground for months now. Granted, I need to learn to let go a little and I have made some progress on that front. I only ask her to pick up her room twice a month so that we can vacuum and toss out that the half-eaten food before it makes the whole second floor smell like the bottom of a garbage can. More importantly, to give her the privacy she so ardently desires, I am valiantly resisting the urge to clean her room myself when I can't stand it no more.

For a few days now, I have been trying every tactic in the book to get her to clean up her room. I tried to sweet talk her. I tried to give her ultimatums. I also have, I am ashamed to say, tried bribing her with treats. To no avail...of course.

This morning she gets a call from a brand new friend who wants to come and visit. Within an hour her room was picked up, vacuumed, posters hung up and she even made her bed! She was motivated to make a good impression on her new friend (much more potent motivation than to make her mom happy!)

Daniel Pink, the author of A Whole New Mind, has written a new book called Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. He demonstrates that while the carrot and stick approach, motivating through external rewards like money, has been successful in the twentieth century it will not cut it for today's challenges. The secret to high performance and satisfaction is the deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things and to do better by ourselves and our world.

The three elements of true motivation are autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Pink illustrates that point well through a bit of storytelling. He asks us to transport ourselves back to 1995. You are sitting down with an economist and say to her: "I've got a crystal ball that can see fifteen years into the future. I would like to see if you can forecast what I see."

"I will describe two types of encyclopedias, one that was just launched and another that will be created a few years later. I want you to tell me which one will be most successful in 2010."

"The first encyclopedia is funded by Microsoft. Professional writers and editors are paid to write thousands of articles. Well-paid managers will oversee the project to ensure on-time and on-budget completion."

"The second encyclopedia won't be funded by a company. It will be created by tens of thousands of people who write and edit articles for fun. Participants will work for free. The encyclopedia will exist online and will also be free."

Now you say to the economist "In fifteen years, one encyclopedia will be the largest and the most popular in the world and the other will be defunct. Which is which?"

Of course, you have guessed by now that the most successful encyclopedia is Wikipedia.

The people who contribute to the knowledge base in Wikipedia do it because they want to, nobody tells them that it's their job. Choosing your actions or in other words, exercising
autonomy, is to the first element of true motivation according to Pink. Contributors to Wikipedia find that sharing their knowledge and expertise gives them a purpose, the second element of motivation. And as they research, write and edit their posts, contributors develop their own personal mastery in the subject area, the third element in motivation.

I am off to Montreal tomorrow to facilitate a 1200 people plenary session on employee engagement. The organizers wanted the participants to leave the conference feeling motivated and willing to volunteer their time to support their management community. Was there a workshop that I could teach on engagement? "Engagement comes from within" I replied, "you cannot teach it. What you can do perhaps, is create an experience for participants that will help them connect with their own leadership abilities and revive their desire to make a difference. The rest is up to them..."

I believe that if you work or frequent a motivated individual, their enthusiasm and sense of purpose is contagious. Maybe one of the best way to "motivate" someone is to become the best they can be is to model the way yourself...

What motivates you to try your best? Think about it in terms of autonomy, purpose and mastery.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A split second

I was not happy when I finished the race," said Nesbitt, who became just the second woman in Olympic history to win the 1,000 metres speed skating race on home soil. "I didn't think that time would hold out. I thought, 'the worst I can do is a bronze' [Nesbitt posted the first-place time in the second-last pair]. But then I thought, 'I didn't come here to win bronze.'"

Nesbitt, who lives in London, Ontario, ended up winning by 2/100ths of a second, just edging out a pair of Dutch skaters.

She won by 2/100ths of a second! Think about it. A blink of an eye made the difference between gold and bronze. Is that skill, sheer luck or perhaps destiny?

German skater Monique Angermuller, who was paired with Nesbitt, said she had helped the Canadian win gold by providing a draft.

Nesbitt agreed. “She gave me a really good draft for a bit. But that was probably the two-hundredths of a second. She's right. She probably got me there.”

Douglas has dedicated countless hours of his life to train just for this chance at an Olympic medal. He was considered a strong contender for the skeleton race but three minutes obliterated all the blood, sweat and tears that he invested to attain his goal.

“It has happened to athletes before in the past and they received a fine,” said Douglas. “I went to take the runner guards off. I was late for sure, but the security guard let me in. They had just begun their technical checks on the first sled. They hadn’t even got to mine.

“They say I was three minutes late; I say one minute. They let me take the guards off, they watched me do it, then a half-hour later they DQ’d me.”

Douglas was disqualified. He was not allowed to participate in the race of a lifetime. Three minutes made the difference between a chance at winning and a complete, utter failure.

Time. Some say it is the most precious commodity. When you lose it, you can't win it back.

In light of these Olympic stories, I have been thinking about times when a split second may have made a huge difference in my life. Obviously, I can think of many times as an athlete, especially as a competitive runner, when seconds made a difference.

But there are other times too. For example, I am driving along on the highway, wanting to change lanes, but for some reason I hesitate at the last moment. A car who was in my blind spot speeds by and I breathe a sigh of relief. I almost had an accident. (I bet that happened to you).

A few years back as I am leaving the theatre after watching my daughter's play, I decidedly walk to the Theatre Director and I hear myself asking her when I can sign up for the adult acting classes. I had not planned this. Not even sure how those words got out of my mouth. It is as if something bigger than me made a split second decision and acted before my consciousness could even catch up with what was going on. I am so happy I did though. Acting is one of my great pleasures in life. I had toyed with the idea of acting in community theatre for years but until then I had found all sorts of reasons why I should not act. That day, at that moment, my higher self just took over and did not give my mind a chance to stop me in mid-action. In a split-second, a life-changing decision was made.

My husband and I were discussing this over coffee this morning. He says that if something happens in a split second you are not thinking. There is no time in a split second to gather information, analyze, compare options and choose. You are just reacting. In that split second, it is your whole past, your life experiences, and your instinct, that act for you.

Sometimes, we need to let go of our ego and fears and just trust the moment. We need to get out of our own way so that our inner wisdom can act.

What about you? Were there times in your life when a split second made a difference?

Monday, February 15, 2010

On love...

In honor of St-Valentine's day, I thought I would share with you a poem about love by one of my favorite poets, Khalil Gibran. (I like Gibran so much that at my wedding, we recited the words of his poem "On Marriage" as part of the ceremony)

Khalil Gibran was a Lebanese American artist, poet, and writer, born on January 6, 1883 in the town of Bsharri in modern-day Lebanon. As a young man, he emigrated with his family to the United States where he studied art and began his literary career. He died young, at the age of 47 on April 10, 1931. He is chiefly known for his 1923 book The Prophet, a series of philosophical essays written in English prose.

Kahlil Gibran on Love

When love beckons to you, follow him,
Though his ways are hard and steep.
And when his wings enfold you yield to him,
Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you.
And when he speaks to you believe in him,
Though his voice may shatter your dreams
as the north wind lays waste the garden.

For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you. Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning.
Even as he ascends to your height and caresses your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun,
So shall he descend to your roots and shake them in their clinging to the earth.

Like sheaves of corn he gathers you unto himself.
He threshes you to make you naked.
He sifts you to free you from your husks.
He grinds you to whiteness.
He kneads you until you are pliant;
And then he assigns you to his sacred fire, that you may become sacred bread for God's sacred feast.

All these things shall love do unto you that you may know the secrets of your heart, and in that knowledge become a fragment of Life's heart.

But if in your fear you would seek only love's peace and love's pleasure,
Then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love's threshing-floor,
Into the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears.
Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself.
Love possesses not nor would it be possessed;
For love is sufficient unto love.

When you love you should not say, "God is in my heart," but rather, "I am in the heart of God."
And think not you can direct the course of love, for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course.

Love has no other desire but to fulfill itself.
But if you love and must needs have desires, let these be your desires:
To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night.
To know the pain of too much tenderness.
To be wounded by your own understanding of love;
And to bleed willingly and joyfully.
To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving;
To rest at the noon hour and meditate love's ecstasy;
To return home at eventide with gratitude;
And then to sleep with a prayer for the beloved in your heart and a song of praise upon your lips.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Rhythm of Your Life

My breathing is out of sync. My movements are not smooth. I can feel myself struggling. I need to find my rhythm. I relax into the movement. I bring my awareness back to my body and to the soothing feel of the water. My arm strokes even out and my breath finds its rhythm. When I am in the zone I can swim endlessly it seems.

I broke my toe a few days before Christmas and had to lay off the running for a few weeks. My sister, who is also an avid runner, suggested that I switch to swimming laps to keep my fitness level up until I healed. I used to love swimming. Swimming was my only sport for a while. Don't know why, but I just stopped one day, many years ago. Now I find myself back in the pool with the early morning regulars, swimming lap after lap and it comforts me. It's feels like coming home somehow.

Somewhere between lap 35 and 40, it occurred to me that it is the rhythm that comforts me. Back and forth, lap after lap, same speed, same arm movements, same leg movements, the rhythm accompanies me.

Rhythmic movements envelop us with a sense of calm. Anyone who has rocked a baby to sleep or spent some time in a rocking chair can attest to the soothing power of slow rhythmic movements. But the movements do not necessarily need to be slow to be appeasing.

I like the fast rhythmic pace of running. Hearing the regular thump of my feet hitting the pavement, my arms pumping back and forth, my breathing accelerated but in cadence.

When you think about it, many activities of everyday life have a rhythm.

Our routines have rhythm: get up, shower, get dressed, brush your teeth, grab some breakfast, get to work or school, etc. Most of us do all those actions in the same order every morning. It is a habit that has a rhythm.

Our days have a rhythm: morning, noon and night; breakfast, lunch and supper; work and play; wake up and go to bed.

The stages of our lives have rhythm: the carefree years of childhood, the angst of teenage years, the study and party till you drop years of university or college, the "going to work" years, the "raising a family" years, the empty nest years and the retirement years.

Rhythm is relaxing. Maybe it is because the the first sound we hear as a human being is rhythmic. It is the sound of our mother's heartbeat in the womb.

The sound of the rhythmic breathing of a child sleeping or of our lover's breathing as he or she lays next to us in bed are some of the most soothing sounds in the world. They are sounds that let us know that everything is well in the world.

What are the rhythms of your life? Do they envelop you with a sense of calm? Do they bring you peace of mind?

Sometimes our life rhythms can lull in a sense of false complacency. People put up with things just because they are familiar. As the saying goes "the devil you know if better than the devil you don't know". Even though we are not happy with the current situation, it is sometimes just too scary to try something new. I think the first red flag to watch for is a general sense of restlessness. Something just does not feel right. So we think, "maybe I just need a break from it all" and start looking for a quick escape down to the Caribbean for a week or two as a way to interrupt the boring rhythm of our lives. Vacations may only be a temporary solution. Sometimes a vacation is just what the doctor ordered. When we come back, we are feeling refreshed and ready to take on the world again. Other times, we are disappointed to realize that the same old feelings of discomfort are upon for us the moment we return to the regular routine. Has this ever happened to you?Has this ever happened to you?

Jon Kabat-Zinn is a Professor of Medicine Emeritus and founding director of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He teaches mindfulness meditation as a technique to help people cope with stress, anxiety, pain and illness. He wrote a book entitled Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life (Hyperion, 1994) Think about it, even when you try to escape from what ails you hoping on a plane or drinking that fourth glass of wine, what ails you never leaves your side because it is within you. The answer? Choose to do and be differently.

Sometimes we need to change up the rhythms of our lives so that a new possibility can emerge. Is there anything in your life that you would like to change? First, you need to stop and listen to the rhythm of your life. Then you need to decide if you like it. You can change the tempo of the music or the style of the music. You can learn to appreciate new types of music of your life. You can even make music out of dissonant sounds. It is up to you to choose the beat of your life dance and play your own drums.