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To Be Motivated and Successful, First Forget How You Feel

To Be Motivated and Successful, First Forget How You Feel

You can’t make yourself feel happy or sad, nor can you send away whatever feelings do have, however hard you try. So waiting to do something until you feel “in the mood,” or basing your choice of actions on how you feel at the time, is to hand over control of your life to the varying state of your stomach, the effect of the weather, or the dizzying gyrations of your love life. Forget about your emotions. They’re no sensible basis for living well or pursuing a successful career.

Emotions are like the weather
In much writing on life, careers and personal growth, there’s an unspoken assumption that how you feel is what matters most. There are books and coaching approaches devoted to persuading people to focus on what’s going on inside their heads. Our society and media are obsessed with sentiments and emotions, giving them far too much importance. Maybe it’s because they seem more “democratic” and egalitarian. After all, anyone can feel, rich or poor: no amount of wealth increases your ability to register emotion. And emotions are pretty much evenly spread amongst people, unlike intelligence, which typically favors a small number—especially if they also have the motivation (and resources) to get a good education.

It’s not unusual for people to admit that they aren’t as bright as others (though they probably hope, secretly, that you will contradict them). But no one admits to being insensitive, unfeeling, or unemotional these days. We used to admire those who kept their cool in the face of tragedy or triumph. Now celebrities, politicians, and business moguls line up to bare their emotions for the camera and sob on some chat-show host’s shoulder. Are they really so sensitive? Or is it all publicity—manufactured evidence of a “human touch” to offset the general perception of them as grasping, egotistic, and devious?

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Here’s my viewpoint: Too much emphasis on emotion leaves you more or less helpless to influence your life.

You have little or no control over your emotions. You feel how you feel, whether it’s appropriate or not at the time. No one can stop emotions arising in the mind; nor can they produce them on demand. Like thoughts, emotions just happen. (Try it. Will yourself to feel happy or sad. It won’t work. You can pretend all you wish, but no genuine emotion will come as a result.) There’s no point congratulating yourself on some positive feeling; nor is there any benefit to be gained by suffering guilt for feelings that seem inappropriate or negative. In either case, you might as well pat yourself on the back when the sun shines and beat yourself up when it rains.

The only important facet of our emotions is whether we choose to act on them.
I may love the work I do or hate it, feel excited at the start of every day or sick at the sight of the office desk, but as long as these feelings stay in my head, they’re are irrelevant to anyone else. Whether I feel pessimistic or optimistic, the world has no interest—until I act on my emotions. It’s the action that matters. And if I try to excuse my actions or justify them because of my emotional state—as so many attorneys do when defending their clients—that is also irrelevant. So I felt angry when I split my neighbor’s head with an ax. So what? The only thing that matters is that I committed murder. Probably thousands, even millions, of people feel like splitting someone’s head with an ax every day. So long as they restrain themselves, that’s just fine.

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A great deal of ink is spilled on the topic of motivation—most of it to little purpose. That’s because no distinction is made between the two meanings of the word: having a reason for acting in a particular way, and feeling some desire to do it. Incentive schemes, for example, provide employees with a reason for working hard. But they are powerless to cause people the desire to get the cash. That part of motivation—the feeling part—is entirely subjective: someone who is short of funds will be far more interested that someone who feels quite flush, though the factual incentive is the same. As people become more prosperous, it takes greater and greater monetary incentives to have any effect at all. It’s too easy to look at the cash on offer and decide that having more time with the family, an easier life, or just an extra hour in bed is worth rather more.

In motivation, as in everything else, what matters is what you do. Since we are none of us compelled to act on our feelings, how we feel—positive or negative, ambitious or easy-going, avaricious or content—isn’t too important in itself. It doesn’t justify a bad action or lessen a good one, since we aren’t responsible for how we feel. Yet we are, all of us, totally responsible for our actions in this life, whether we like it or not. We can’t blame our parents for what we do, only for what they did in either setting us off on a good track or handing us a lousy background and crummy values. Even then, we don’t have to emulate them. It’s always down to us.

Spend time on what works
Don’t waste time and effort on navel-gazing and trying to control what is uncontrollable. It’s mostly a worthless substitute for sensible action. So long as people feel they’re doing something useful while they catalogue their emotions, they’ll remain stuck in introspection and blocked from the only useful thing to do: to take action to try to solve their problems in the real world. Don’t worry about how you feel. Work out what you need to do next and do it.

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There are plenty of excellent reasons for getting on with life as best we can. By amassing sufficient reasons for proceeding in a particular way, you can give yourself both a path to follow and the motivation (in the sense of “a reason for acting in a particular way”) to follow it. And since reasons are based on thought, analysis, judgment, and reflection, time spent on all of those activities is time well spent. Your emotions have almost no part in this. It’s very nice if you also feel attracted to the way forward that you have chosen, but it should never be necessary for taking action. No one who has ever succeeded in this world did what they did only when they felt like it.

Right living is seeing what needs to be done and then doing it, regardless of how you feel about it at the time. Forget how you feel. Concentrate purely on what needs to be done. Unless you do, nothing else will change—not even how you feel about your life and career.

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Adrian Savage is a writer, an Englishman, and a retired business executive, in that order. He lives in Tucson, Arizona. His new book, Slow Leadership: Civilizing The Organization

    , is now available at all good bookstores. You can read his other articles at Slow Leadership, the site for everyone who wants to build a civilized place to work and bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership and life.

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    Last Updated on March 25, 2020

    How to Take Notes: 3 Effective Note-Taking Techniques

    How to Take Notes: 3 Effective Note-Taking Techniques

    Note-taking is one of those skills that rarely gets taught. Almost everyone assumes either that taking good notes comes naturally or, that someone else must have already taught about how to take notes. Then, we sit around and complain that our colleagues don’t know how to take notes effectively.

    I figure it’s about time to do something about that. Whether you’re a student or a mid-level professional, the ability to take effective, meaningful notes is a crucial skill. Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas we may have forgotten, the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better in the first place.

    One of the reasons people have trouble taking effective notes is that they’re not really sure what notes are for. I think a lot of people, students and professionals alike, attempt to capture a complete record of a lecture, book, or meeting in their notes — to create, in effect, minutes. This is a recipe for failure.

    Trying to get every last fact and figure down like that leaves no room for thinking about what you’re writing and how it fits together. If you have a personal assistant, by all means, ask him or her to write minutes; if you’re on your own, though, your notes have a different purpose to fulfill.

    The purpose of note-taking is simple: to help you work better and more quickly. This means your notes don’t have to contain everything, they have to contain the most important things.

    And if you’re focused on capturing everything, you won’t have the spare mental “cycles” to recognize what’s truly important. Which means that later, when you’re studying for a big test or preparing a term paper, you’ll have to wade through all that extra garbage to uncover the few nuggets of important information?

    What to Write Down

    Your focus while taking notes should be two-fold. First, what’s new to you? There’s no point in writing down facts you already know. If you already know the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776, there’s no reason to write that down. Anything you know you know, you can leave out of your notes.

    Second, what’s relevant? What information is most likely to be of use later, whether on a test, in an essay, or in completing a project? Focus on points that directly relate to or illustrate your reading (which means you’ll have to have actually done the reading…). The kinds of information to pay special attention to are:

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    1. Dates of Events

    Dates allow you to create a chronology, putting things in order according to when they happened, and understand the context of an event.

    For instance, knowing Isaac Newton was born in 1643 allows you to situate his work in relation to that of other physicists who came before and after him, as well as in relation to other trends of the 17th century.

    2. Names of People

    Being able to associate names with key ideas also helps remember ideas better and, when names come up again, to recognize ties between different ideas whether proposed by the same individuals or by people related in some way.

    3. Theories or Frameworks

    Any statement of a theory or frameworks should be recorded — they are the main points most of the time.

    4. Definitions

    Like theories, these are the main points and, unless you are positive you already know the definition of a term, should be written down.

    Keep in mind that many fields use everyday words in ways that are unfamiliar to us.

    5. Arguments and Debates

    Any list of pros and cons, any critique of a key idea, both sides of any debate or your reading should be recorded.

    This is the stuff that advancement in every discipline emerges from, and will help you understand both how ideas have changed (and why) but also the process of thought and development of the matter of subject.

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    6. Images

    Whenever an image is used to illustrate a point, a few words are in order to record the experience.

    Obviously it’s overkill to describe every tiny detail, but a short description of a painting or a short statement about what the class, session or meeting did should be enough to remind you and help reconstruct the experience.

    7. Other Stuff

    Just about anything a professor writes on a board should probably be written down, unless it’s either self-evident or something you already know. Titles of books, movies, TV series, and other media are usually useful, though they may be irrelevant to the topic at hand.

    I usually put this sort of stuff in the margin to look up later (it’s often useful for research papers, for example). Pay attention to other’s comments, too — try to capture at least the gist of comments that add to your understanding.

    8. Your Own Questions

    Make sure to record your own questions about the material as they occur to you. This will help you remember to ask the professor or look something up later, as well as prompt you to think through the gaps in your understanding.

    3 Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    You don’t have to be super-fancy in your note-taking to be effective, but there are a few techniques that seem to work best for most people.

    1. Outlining

    Whether you use Roman numerals or bullet points, outlining is an effective way to capture the hierarchical relationships between ideas and data. For example, in a history class, you might write the name of an important leader, and under it the key events that he or she was involved in. Under each of them, a short description. And so on.

    Outlining is a great way to take notes from books, because the author has usually organized the material in a fairly effective way, and you can go from start to end of a chapter and simply reproduce that structure in your notes.

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    For lectures, however, outlining has limitations. The relationship between ideas isn’t always hierarchical, and the instructor might jump around a lot. A point later in the lecture might relate better to information earlier in the lecture, leaving you to either flip back and forth to find where the information goes best (and hope there’s still room to write it in), or risk losing the relationship between what the professor just said and what she said before.

    2. Mind-Mapping

    For lectures, a mind-map might be a more appropriate way of keeping track of the relationships between ideas. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of mind-mapping, but it might just fit the bill.

    Here’s the idea:

    In the center of a blank sheet of paper, you write the lecture’s main topic. As new sub-topics are introduced (the kind of thing you’d create a new heading for in an outline), you draw a branch outward from the center and write the sub-topic along the branch. Then each point under that heading gets its own, smaller branch off the main one. When another new sub-topic is mentioned, you draw a new main branch from the center. And so on.

    The thing is, if a point should go under the first heading but you’re on the fourth heading, you can easily just draw it in on the first branch. Likewise, if a point connects to two different ideas, you can connect it to two different branches.

    If you want to neaten things up later, you can re-draw the map or type it up using a program like FreeMind, a free mind-mapping program (some wikis even have plug-ins for FreeMind mind-maps, in case you’re using a wiki to keep track of your notes).

    You can learn more about mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

    3. The Cornell System

    The Cornell System is a simple but powerful system for increasing your recall and the usefulness of your notes.

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    About a quarter of the way from the bottom of a sheet of paper, draw a line across the width of the page. Draw another line from that line to the top, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the right-hand edge of the sheet.

    You’ve divided your page into three sections. In the largest section, you take notes normally — you can outline or mind-map or whatever. After the lecture, write a series of “cues” into the skinny column on the right, questions about the material you’ve just taken notes on. This will help you process the information from the lecture or reading, as well as providing a handy study tool when exams come along: simply cover the main section and try to answer the questions.

    In the bottom section, you write a short, 2-3 line summary in your own words of the material you’ve covered. Again, this helps you process the information by forcing you to use it in a new way; it also provides a useful reference when you’re trying to find something in your notes later.

    You can download instructions and templates from American Digest, though the beauty of the system is you can dash off a template “on the fly”.

    The Bottom Line

    I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of the variety of techniques and strategies people have come up with to take good notes. Some people use highlighters or colored pens; others a baroque system of post-it notes.

    I’ve tried to keep it simple and general, but the bottom line is that your system has to reflect the way you think. The problem is, most haven’t given much thought to the way they think, leaving them scattered and at loose ends — and their notes reflect this.

    More Note-Taking Tips

    Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

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