The Anti-Motivation Strategy (Part 7): If You Tap This, You Don’t Need Motivation

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I conduct workshops on working from the inside out. The first exercise is “What do you already do?” The course materials explain it this way:

“You find important clues about your Passion just by looking at how you arrange your life already. There are some things you do that go beyond the categories of work vs. leisure, personal vs. family or business, etc. You do them just because you want to, because you like doing them or you’re good at them (probably both).

“Think about how you already spend yourself. What do you like to think about, read about, talk about, learn about? What headlines do you click on? What do your activities and projects at work or away from it gravitate toward? What role do you usually play at work, with family, in social settings? What are your hobbies and favorite pastimes? What shows do you watch, what magazines and articles do you read? What do you like to talk about? You get the idea. Write about it.”

People wrestle with the notion of finding their “Passion” with a capital P. A lot of  people don’t seem to have just one Passion, and can’t find it anyway. The exercise uses that term on purpose, then invites the workshop participants to move past the intimidation and stuckness it brings up.

What we’re after is something simpler, more accessible, and ultimately more powerful. We’re looking for what you do and probably have done all your life — not just the activities and interests you keep going back to, but how you go about doing them. Chances are, there are patterns that keep showing up, that display your signature way of thinking and acting and being in the world.

And here’s the key:
You don’t have to get motivated to do these things or act this way.
You do it because… well, that’s just who you are.

If you can tap into that, you don’t need motivation.  You’re onto something far more compelling, something that will last — something I’ve come to call “personal ethos.” I define it this way:

Ethos is our characteristic spirit, as manifested in our beliefs and aspirations.

Our beliefs and aspirations come from inside, from the core of our being. They’re what make each of us uniquely who we are, so that we can recognize each other even if we haven’t seen each other for a long time. We’re after what lies underneath them, their source. That’s what I mean by personal ethos. Ethos is the unique fingerprint of our soul — something so primal, so embedded in us, that we don’t even know it’s on the agenda. But…

When it comes to how we’re going to go about achieving our goals
and getting what we want out of life,
ethos isn’t ON the agenda, it IS the agenda.

Motivation practiced the usual carrot and stick way, the stressful way, the cortisol-laced way, the brain damaging way… doesn’t trust what we’re good at and love doing. Instead, it rewards and punishes us into doing something else. If instead we can get in touch with our ethos, we don’t need to buy that approach anymore. Tap personal ethos, and we don’t have to get motivated to do things that matter to us, we just do them, from deep inside. Ethos fuels us from deep down at our roots.

Ethos is the sustained motivational wellspring we’ve been looking for.

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More about personal ethos next time.

If you’re interested in exploring personal ethos for yourself, I wrote two books about it. Both are available as FREE downloads. For more, click the book covers.

 Running for my Life 2 33%

One reader said this:  “Running For My Life is a unique and thought provoking read. On the surface it is a story about a man with primary progressive MS reshaping his life through a+ strict diet and extreme exercise regimen. However, if you take the time to explore the pages, you will find that it is really a story about Kevin and about yourself. This book invites you to take a look inwards at your own limitations, and then holds your hand as you figure out how to push past them together.”

Ethos (4)

 

 

Ethos is a stand-alone version of Book Three of Running For My Life. It is a Personal Ethos Credo — the things I believe about it, and how I practice it.

The Anti-Motivation Strategy (Part 6): John Pepper Explained

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Last time, we met John Pepper, the conscious walker with Parkinson’s Disease. How does he do it, when Parkinson’s has literally taken the motivation out of his brain?

The answer is about dope — dopamine, that is.

The Straight Dope on Motivation

Dopamine is the brain chemical behind the pursuit of happiness. When we think about getting moving on something, it runs a cost-benefit analysis, and if the perceived reward outweighs the cost, it gets behind the idea. We feel motivated. We get going. But if the ledger comes up short, dopamine settles back on the couch and asks for more Cheetos.

The Brain's Way of Healing Book CoverNorman Doidge explains John Pepper’s relationship with motivation this way:

“The conventional view is that dopamine is essential for movement, and because people with [Parkinson’s Disease] have too little…, they can’t move. But it turns out that dopamine is also essential to ‘feel’ that it is worth making a movement– that is, people need dopamine to feel motivated to move in the first place.

“Thus dopamine has at least three characteristics relevant to [Parkinson’s Disease]:  first, it enhances motivation to move; then it facilitates and quickens that movement; and finally it neuroplastically strengthens the circuits involved in the movement, so that movement will be easier next time. But if there is no motivation, no movement will occur.

“A recent study shows that the ‘motivation to move’ goes awry in [Parkinson’s Disease].

“The importance [of this study] for understanding Parkinson’s cannot be underestimated:  it is not simply that [Parkinson’s Disease patients] have an inherent inability to move normally and at a normal speed; the motivational component of their motor system is also fundamentally compromised.

“Parkinson’s Disease appears in its symptoms as a physical movement disorder, but it has roots that are ‘cognitive’ or ‘mental,’ and is thus as much a mental as a physical disorder.

“Which is precisely why it is problematic to teach Parkinson’s patients that the loss of dopamine prevents them from moving! This instruction will only reinforce passive resignation, at the very moment when that attitude needs to be undermined.

“This motivational lack is not a product of laziness or apathy or weakness of will. Rather, the brain’s dopamine-based motivation circuit often cannot energize particular movements, even when desired, and this appears as weariness or lassitude.

“That John Pepper was able to motivate himself to move, despite limited dopamine, attests to the vital force of his mind and will. But to translate that motivation still required a ‘neurological’ discovery on his part. He still couldn’t do normal, everyday walking, which is automatic and habitual… until his conscious walking technique got around this circuit and allowed him to use other circuits.”

In other words, John Pepper’s dogged walking practice — not his brain’s motivation mechanism — has recruited other parts of his brain to help him stay with it.

Why is John Pepper important to you and your pursuit of motivation?

Because we all have those moments when we just can’t seem to get ourselves going.  Dopamine just isn’t behind the idea. When that happens, we need to find some other way to get moving even when we’re not motivated to do so.

We’ll dig deeper into that idea next time.

The Anti-Motivation Strategy (Part 5): Meet John Pepper, the unmotivated miracle walker

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We’ve seen earlier in this series that motivation lasts maybe 2 or 3 days, that we have to stay motivated to be motivated, and that the way we usually practice motivation is to trigger the fight or flight wiring in our brains, which keeps the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol flowing. We can get short term results that way, but in the long run chronic stress hurts:  eventually we exhaust ourselves trying to stay pumped up, lose effectiveness, deplete reserves, and impair our long-term health.

In other words, motivation practiced that way is like a well we have to keep filling in order to order to get any water out.

dry-well thebrainwads.com

Hmmm… that’s not much of a well.

there's got to be a better way

There is a better way. We can tap a spring instead, where the water comes up from way down deep, pure and refreshing. Do that, and we don’t need motivation anymore. Let’s go looking for that spring. Here’s our first stop:

The Brain's Way of Healing Book CoverNorman Doidge, M.D. introduces John Pepper this way, in his book The Brain’s Way of Healing:

“My walking companion, John Pepper, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a movement disorder, over two decades ago. He first started getting symptoms nearly fifty years ago. But unless you are a perceptive and well-trained observer, you would never know it. Pepper moves too quickly for a Parkinson’s patient. He doesn’t appear to have the classic symptoms:  no shuffling gait, no visible tremor when he pauses or when he moves; he does not appear especially rigid, and seems able to initiate new movements fairly quickly; he has a good sense of balance. He even swings his arms when he walks. He shows none of the slowed movements that are the hallmark of Parkinson’s. He hasn’t been on anti-Parkinson’s medication for nine years, since he was sixty-eight years old, yet appears to walk perfectly normally.

“In fact, when he gets going at his normal speed, I can’t keep up with him. He’s now going on seventy-seven and has had this illness, which is defined as an incurable, chronic, progressive neurodegenerative disorder, since his thirties. But instead of degenerating, John Pepper has been able to reverse the major symptoms, the ones that Parkinson’s patients dread most, those that lead to immobility. He’s done so with an exercise program he devised and with a special kind of concentration.”

Most people’s walking movements are unconscious. That’s why you can talk on your cell phone and walk the dog at the same time. For all his years of practice, John Pepper hasn’t gotten to that level. Instead, he walks and controls his tremors consciously. His mind has to stay on the job; if he gets distracted or takes a day or even a moment off, his Parkinson’s symptoms come back.

He must be a really motivated guy!

No he’s not. In fact, if John Pepper had to rely on  motivation, he wouldn’t be walking at all. Motivation won’t help John Pepper, because it’s just not there. Parkinson’s Disease has taken it away.

Then how does he do it?

We’ll find out next time.

The Anti-Motivation Strategy (Part 4):  Why You Should Never Hire a Motivated Lawyer

aw schools and law firms kill brain cells, impairing the highly-motivated high achievers who populate them from doing what they’re required to do, which is to think clearly and make sound judgments, and in the meantime banishing law students and lawyers to unhappiness and maybe an early grave.

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Why not? Because there’s a good chance that motivated lawyer is cognitively impaired.

In a series in Fall 2014, I looked in depth at the research of University of Denver law professor Debra S. Austin, J.D., Ph.D., and her seminal law review article Killing Them Softly:  Neuroscience Reveals How Brain Cells Die From Law School Stress And How Neural Self-Hacking Can Optimize Cognitive Performance. Prof. Austin’s research findings line up with the Mayo Clinic’s analysis we looked at last time:

“Neuroscience shows that the aggregate educative effects of training to become a lawyer under chronically stressful conditions may undermine the efforts of legal educators by weakening the learning capacities of law students. Stress in legal education may also set the stage for abnormally high rates of anxiety and depression among lawyers.

“The stresses facing law students and lawyers result in a significant decline in their well-being, including anxiety, panic attacks, depression, substance abuse, and suicide. Neuroscience now shows that this level of stress also diminishes cognitive capacity. The intricate workings of the brain, the ways in which memories become part of a lawyer’s body of knowledge, and the impact of emotion on this process indicate that stress can weaken or kill brain cells needed for cognition.

“When stress persists for a few hours or days, a law student may experience a bad mood. Longer-term stress can cause stress-related disorders such as panic attacks, anxiety, or depression; the physical effects include increased blood pressure, heart palpitations, breathlessness, dizziness, irritability, chest pain, abdominal discomfort, sweating, chills, or increased muscle tension.

“Long-term elevated levels of glucocorticoids resulting from chronic stress have been associated with the following physical conditions:

  • Impaired immune response;
  • Increased appetite and food cravings;
  • Increased body fat;
  • Increased symptoms of PMS and menopause;
  • Decreased muscle mass;
  • Decreased bone density; and
  • Decreased libido.

“Chronic stress also produces the following emotional conditions:

  • Increased mood swings, irritability, and anger;
  • Increased anxiety; and
  • Increased depression.

“The impact of stress on law student cognition includes deterioration in memory, concentration, problem-solving, math performance, and language processing. Curiosity is dampened, and creativity is diminished.”

In other words, law schools and law firms kill brain cells, impairing the highly-motivated high achievers who populate them from doing what they’re required to do, which is to think clearly and make sound judgments, and in the meantime banishing law students and lawyers to unhappiness and maybe an early grave.

Law schools and law firms don’t have to disclose all that.
Maybe they should.

ivy league admissions tours

Time For an Anti-Motivation Strategy

By now the flaw in the typical motivation strategy is evident:  motivation becomes its own loop, circles back on itself, becomes its own focus, its own end game. We’re no longer practicing motivation with a performance goal in mind, we’re practicing it for its own sake. Motivation becomes a short-term, stressful preoccupation that hampers sustainable long-term performance. In the meantime, we become tentative, uncertain, indecisive, and unfocused, which means our performance becomes tenuous, weak, and unreliable.

There’s got to be a better way. There is, and we’ll look at it, starting next time.

The Anti-Motivation Strategy (Part 3): The Dark Side of Motivation

All those motivational articles and advice want you to keep pouring on the motivation: more speeches, more posters, more rah-rah, more carrot and stick. And that means putting the human brain and body under chronic stress, pouring on the cortisol, keeping the fight or flight response on red alert.

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We’ve been trying to find a sustainable approach to getting motivated and staying motivated. No luck thus far. To go further in our search, it’s time to face…

The Dark Side Of Motivation

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Let’s sample some more scientific research:

Motivation, Stress, Anxiety, And Cortisol Responses In Elite Paragliders The title pretty much tells you what you need to know:  it uses motivation, stress, and anxiety together. Hold that thought.

Salivary Cortisol Changes In Humans After Winning Or Losing A Dominance Contest Depend On Implicit Power Motivation I think that means rah-rah works for some people, but shuts others down.

What do these articles have in common besides their long scholarly titles? They both talk about cortisol, known as “the stress hormone.” Back to WikiUniversity for a primer:

“Stress is a physiological and psychological stimulus and response that presents itself in many different ways throughout the body. Stress or a stressor can be thought of as any stimulus that upsets the bodies [sic] natural balance or hoemeostasis [sic].

“Stress is defined as any situation that upsets homeostasis within the body and threatens ones [sic] emotional or physical wellbeing.

“The dominant modern perspective is that emotions recruit biological and psychological supporters to enable adaptive behaviours i.e. fighting, running or empathetic situations. The two hormones of Adrenaline (Epinepherine) and cortisol support the ‘fight-or-flight’ stress reactive system.”

Obviously this Wiki contributor was having a bad spellcheck and grammar day, but we get the point:  stress knocks us out of whack, from the inside out. We’re not just skipping down the happy motivation road anymore, we’re on the way to….

Cortisol, adrenaline, hormones, anxiety, fight or flight… oh my!

Lions and tigers and bears

Here’s the problem:  you need motivation to stay motivated.

That’s the bottom line of the Feed The Beast motivation strategy we looked at last time. All those motivational articles and advice want you to keep pouring on the motivation:  more speeches, more posters, more rah-rah, more carrot and stick. And that means putting the human brain and body under chronic stress, pouring on the cortisol, keeping the fight or flight response on red alert.

Not only is that lousy leadership and management, it’s lousy self-care, too. We’re not meant to live that way, and it certainly won’t empower us to perform at our best. The fight or flight response is supposed to be a quick fix — over and out when the threat has past. Chronic stress keeps the threat ever-present, which messes with mind and body, puts health at risk. Which is why…

All This Motivation Is Killing You

We’ll let the Mayo Clinic weigh in on this issue:

“Your body is hard-wired to react to stress in ways meant to protect you against threats from predators and other aggressors. Such threats are rare today, but that doesn’t mean that life is free of stress.

“On the contrary, you undoubtedly face multiple demands each day, such as shouldering a huge workload, making ends meet and taking care of your family. Your body treats these so-called minor hassles as threats. As a result you may feel as if you’re constantly under assault. But you can fight back. You don’t have to let stress control your life.

“When you encounter a perceived threat — a large dog barks at you during your morning walk, for instance — your hypothalamus, a tiny region at the base of your brain, sets off an alarm system in your body. Through a combination of nerve and hormonal signals, this system prompts your adrenal glands, located atop your kidneys, to release a surge of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol.

“Adrenaline increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure and boosts energy supplies. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream, enhances your brain’s use of glucose and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues.

“Cortisol also curbs functions that would be nonessential or detrimental in a fight-or-flight situation. It alters immune system responses and suppresses the digestive system, the reproductive system and growth processes. This complex natural alarm system also communicates with regions of your brain that control mood, motivation and fear.

“The body’s stress-response system is usually self-limiting. Once a perceived threat has passed, hormone levels return to normal. As adrenaline and cortisol levels drop, your heart rate and blood pressure return to baseline levels, and other systems resume their regular activities.

“But when stressors are always present and you constantly feel under attack, that fight-or-flight reaction stays turned on.

“The long-term activation of the stress-response system — and the subsequent overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones — can disrupt almost all your body’s processes. This puts you at increased risk of numerous health problems, including:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Digestive problems
  • Heart disease
  • Sleep problems
  • Weight gain
  • Memory and concentration impairment.”

Comparable medical research abounds. If you want more, here’s a short article on how chronic stress hurts us. And here’s another.

More next time

The Anti-Motivation Strategy (Part 2):  Feeding the Beast

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We ended last week’s post by asking, Can’t we just get positive? Won’t that keep us motivated?

Sure, it will help. Check out this  Time article on How to Motivate Yourself: 3 Steps Backed By Science. Step One is “Get Positive.”

Most of us can match Norman Vincent Peale and his self-help classic The Power of Positive Thinking from two columns, although most of us haven’t read the book, and nobody we know practices it. For a more recent take on the subject, we might try Positive Psychology evangelist Shawn Achor and his book The Happiness Advantage. (Google it — it’s all over the place. Here’s his TEDx talk, which is well worth a look.)

The Happiness Advantage is full of good news and great advice, not to mention lots of quotes you can add to the conference room wall or to a PowerPoint. Here’s a sample:

“If you observe people around you, you’ll find most individuals follow a formula that has been subtly or not so subtly taught to them by their schools, their company, their parents, or society. That is:  If you work hard, you will become successful, and once you become successful, then you’ll be happy. This pattern of belief explains what most often motivates us in life.

“The only problem is that this formula is broken.

“[N]ew research in psychology and neuroscience shows that it works the other way around. We become more successful when we are happier.

“It turns out that our brains are literally hardwired to perform at their best not when they are negative or even neutral, but when they are positive.

“The Happiness Advantage… is about learning how to cultivate the mindset and behaviors that have been empirically proven to fuel greater success and fulfillment. It is a work ethic.

“Happiness is not the belief that we don’t need to change. It is the realization that we can.

“When we are happy – when our  mindset and mood are positive – we are smarter, more motivated, and thus more successful.

“Data abounds showing that happy workers have higher levels of productivity, produce higher sales, perform better in leadership positions, and receive higher performance ratings and higher pay. They also enjoy more job security and are less likely to take sick days, to quit, or to become burned out. Happy CEOs are more likely to lead teams of employees who are both happy and healthy, and who find their work climate conducive to high performance. The list of benefits of happiness in the workplace goes on and on.”

Yes, Positive Psychology’s insights about happiness will make a difference, and they’re good science to boot. (For more on the science of positive thinking, check out this Huffington Post article.) And yet… we can practice all that positive psychology and still our motivation eventually wears out, and we find ourselves reaching for articles like this one that asks “ How do I recharge my depleted motivation?”

The problem is that, positive or not, we keep playing the motivation game the same way we always have, which is basically:

Motivation means get pumped up and stay pumped up.

And to do that, you have to keep feeding the beast.

Lion feasting

That’s our formula for how we practice all that science and scholarship:  feed the beast; feed it to awaken it; keep feeding it to keep it awake. It works, as far as it goes. Trouble is, it doesn’t go very far. Here’s a totally random sample of one, two, three, four articles telling us that motivation will last two, maybe three days at best.

That’s it?! All this trouble and we’re only motivated for two or three days?!

We can do better. How? All this time while we’ve been searching for the psychological and neurological Holy Grail of motivation, we’ve been avoiding another hugely important aspect of motivation science.

We’ll look at it next time.

The Anti-Motivation Strategy (Part 1): Why All This Motivation is Killing You

It’s the end of January and the resolutions are long gone. Not for lack of motivation, but because of it.

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It’s the end of January and the resolutions are long gone. Not for lack of motivation, but because of it.

Google “motivation.” What comes up? Lots of hits about leadership, management, team building, best hiring practices, sales training. Everything you need to get other people to do what you want — your team, employees, salesmen, managers, students, children….

And lots more hits on how to get yourself to do what you want, be a success at work and life.

ziglar quote resizedPlus enough posters and sayings and quotes to paper a conference room. The one at the left has name recognition appeal, and shows up a lot. All these will help us, right?

Nope. Not going to work. Instead, it’s going to hurt you in the long run, not to mention sabotaging your success.

Yes, you read that right. You might get short-term results, but the reality is that…

A lot of what passes for motivation is not just self-defeating,
it’s harmful to your health.

The reason why is ironically evident in in that famous Zig Ziglar quote.

The Science Of Motivation

We Googled motivation, and now we’re… um, motivated… to dig deeper. We tap Wikipedia first, to get a quick look at the lay of the land. We’re greeted with this:

“Motivation is a theoretical construct used to explain behavior. It represents the reasons for people’s actions, desires, and needs. Motivation can also be defined as one’s direction to behavior, or what causes a person to want to repeat a behavior and vice versa. A motive is what prompts the person to act in a certain way, or at least develop an inclination for specific behavior. For example, when someone eats food to satisfy their hunger, or when a student does his/her work in school because he/she wants a good grade. Both show a similar connection between what we do and why we do it. ”

Almost lost us at “theoretical construct,” but food and good grades? Now we’re tracking — at least until we get to the laundry list of Incentive Theories: Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation, Operant Conditioning, Push and Pull, Self-control, Drives, Incentive Theory, Drive-Reduction Theory, Cognitive Dissonance Theory, Content Theories, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs… Maslow! Finally some familiar ground! We had that in Psych 101!

While we’re greeting Maslow like an old friend, the list goes on, at a low rumble. There’s a lot to Motivation Science, apparently — mostly psychology. How about we try Behavioral Neuroscience instead:

“Concepts of motivation are vital to progress in behavioral neuroscience. Motivational concepts help us to understand what limbic brain systems are chiefly evolved to do, i.e., to mediate psychological processes that guide real behavior. This article evaluates some major motivation concepts that have historic importance or have influenced the interpretation of behavioral neuroscience research. These concepts include homeostasis, setpoints and settling points, intervening variables, hydraulic drives, drive reduction, appetitive and consummatory behavior, opponent processes, hedonic reactions, incentive motivation, drive centers, dedicated drive neurons (and drive neuropeptides and receptors), neural hierarchies, and new concepts from affective neuroscience such as allostasis, cognitive incentives, and reward ‘liking’ versus ‘wanting’.”

Okay then. We had homeostasis in Biology 101, and everybody knows about “setpoints,” but settling points, intervening variables, hydraulic drives (Huh?! In our brains?!), drive neuropeptides… Maybe not so much.

All this psych and neuroscience feels pretty thick. Let’s try something visual… hey, here’s a PowerPoint! Hmmm, a lot of the same stuff. All good science, no doubt, but what about us real folks?

Can’t We Just Get Positive?

Doesn’t having a positive attitude keep us motivated? Can’t we just do that?

We’ll explore that idea next time.