If you can remember why it is that you’re doing something that you feel is important, you’ll be in a much better place, psychologically, to be able to keep doing it when it starts to get tough. It sounds simple, doesn’t it? That’s probably because it’s far more simple than you realize.
For example, if you can remember why you’ve decided to give up alcohol and chocolate (to lose weight), you’ll be better placed to be able to turn them down when they’re offered.
If you can remember that you’re not solely trying to learn 4000+ random facts for an exam but that you’re trying to learn 4000+ facts about drugs you’re going to use when you’re a doctor—helping people live happy and healthy lives—you’ll be more likely to to keep working at 11 PM when your friends are out at a bar having a good time. Trust me on this, I’m speaking from personal experience.
As simple as this is, how often do we actually use this obvious truth to help us be more productive?
My situation and observations
I’m doing a lot of traveling at the moment, giving talks to groups and organisations who need a little help with keeping their people in the game—perhaps because of a death in service or having to lay off staff, or any other reason that teams start to feel down. Now, I can’t pretend this is a representative, scientific survey, but based upon the number of people who don’t raise their hands when I ask about it from the podium, I’d say that this one simple truth is heavily under-used.
This could be because it’s just not “cool” to be seen to be enthused, enthusiastic and motivated by anything more significant than the money—I don’t know. What I do know is that if you can put your hand on your heart about why you do things, you’re in a better place to cope when shit hits the fan.
So, how can we make use of this motivation idea? These are just a few ideas that seem to work for me, my team and my clients: I can’t promise that they’ll all work for you, but all it needs is for one of them to fit with you.
Ask Yourself “Why?”
If you didn’t go in to work today (or for a week, or whatever) who would suffer? I don’t just mean your boss—who’d have to arrange cover for you, or the co-workers who’d have to actually do the work you weren’t doing—I mean the people who use your product or service. The answer is easy if you’re a nurse or a teacher, but what abut if you drive a truck?
If you don’t do your job, someone doesn’t get their stuff, and their world isn’t as nice. Birthdays kind of depend on you doing your thing.
- If you’re a mechanic, someone might not be able to drive to visit their niece or their aged uncle.
- If you’re a road-sweeper? People will end up disliking their neighbourhood, and statistically, unhappiness and crime both go up when this occurs.
Write it Down
When you realize why you’re doing something, jot it down: try to capture it in one or two sentences. If you can phrase them to be something like “I do X, Y, Z because it makes the world a little better because…” then so much the better.
Keep this note somewhere that you are going to see it regularly such as the inside of your appointments diary. Writing it on a Post-It note that’s stuck to the side of your computer might also work well if you spend a lot of time at your desk. You could also tuck it in somewhere silly like inside your desk drawer so you see it over the course of a day each time you need to get a pen out.
We all take things for granted after a while, so maintain a policy of moving your note every now and again. Even just a little way will do—like from the right-hand side of your computer to the left—or from the computer to your diary.
Every six months or so, my diary bleeps at me with a “take stock” reminder. There are a whole bunch of things to take stock of and exercises to do, but one of the biggies is to simply ask myself this question: if someone didn’t know why I do what I do, would they be able to guess it from watching me for the last half year?
Inevitably the answer is, at best: “Not easily”. So, there’s a follow-up question: “Why not?” And the one that follows that one is: “How can I change things over the next six months so that the answer is ‘Yes”?”
Smartphones and electronic diaries are great for this kind of thing; not just for phoning people and talking to Facebook/Twitter/wherever! They help you keep track of things and remind you of them as needed.
This technique isn’t magic; it’s just a tool, and though it isn’t a silver bullet that can kill all the bad guys at once, it does help. Try it!