Monday, March 30, 2015

Motivating Others - No Magic Pill

Wanting something is not enough.  I may 'want' to lose 10 pounds, but without the motivation to take action on that desire I will not lose a pound, let alone the 10.  When you consider how much we struggle with motivating ourselves to take action is it any wonder that one of the biggest challenges that managers face is in motivating their people?

Unfortunately, everyone is looking for a quick fix answer, a single motivating methodology that will work equally well with everyone.  In many respects this is indicative of how leaders sought to motivate their people in the past, typically using either the 'Carrot' or the 'Stick' approach.

The Carrot

In essence, the carrot approach is based on a system of rewards, the provision of some extrinsic element that will serve to raise productivity and drive performance.  This may be seen through the use of formal bonus for performance programs or even with more informal 'gifting' of sports tickets, gift cards, paid time off, prime parking spaces etc.

Interestingly though, studies on the use of money as an incentive have found that it is effective only when reinforcing mechanical skills.  Here higher pay led to better performance.  However, when the task called for cognitive skills financial bonuses actually worked the opposite, with higher pay leading to poorer performance. Eventually, most managers ultimately tend to find that the benefits of carrots are short-lived requiring more frequent and 'bigger' carrots be provided, typically for reducing returns.

The Stick

Others have attempted to motivate more out of fear, using a negative form of reinforcement; fear of failure, fear of losing money, fear of losing their job.  As much as some may feel that 'the stick' creates immediate action and responses, it is rarely seen to deliver top performance and typically induces additional debilitating results (such as stress).

No One-Size-Fits-All Approach

As much as both the carrot and stick have been used frequently in the past, and continue to be used today, research supports the view that Motivation happens one person at a time.  There is no magical approach that works equally well with all, no one-size-fits-all approach.  Instead, you need to uncover the inner motivation of each member.  Understanding the personality style and preferences of individual contributors will tell you a lot about what motivates each.

  • Some want the opportunity to contribute
  • Others want the freedom to choose 'How' to contribute
  • Some want the exposure and recognition that contributing may bring them
  • Others want the respect of others for their contributions
Each perspective is valid and each represents something different that is valued. 

Ability is what you're capable of doing.  Motivation determines what you do.  Attitude determines how well you do it.       Lou Holtz
Finding out what drives the behaviours of others, what their personality preferences are, allows you to tap into their personal motivators.  Those who are more Competitive will tend to like to win, while those who are more Cooperative will be more motivated by an opportunity to affect the 'Greater Good'.  Those who are more Innovative will love the opportunity to work on a new start up project or venture, while those who are more Conventional will be more motivated to work on a project that is in support of strengthening existing processes.
Motivation happens one person at a time
The better you are at creating an environment and working climate that taps into what already motivates people the more satisfied, happier and appreciative will be your team.  Given that we are more productive when we are feeling good, the benefit to the organization is an increase in productivity.  There may not be a Motivational Magic Pill, but you can create some magic none-the-less!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Building a Memory Palace

In working with business presenters, one of the big hurdles many need to overcome is their dependency upon notes. Whether fully typewritten sheets or even cue cards, a speaker's reliance on referencing their notes creates a distance between themselves and their audience that often proves difficult to breach. In an effort to rid themselves of the dreaded paper crutch, many will work to memorize their speech word for word, line by line, which leaves them typically sounding robotic and fully at a loss if they lose their mental place.

Instead, there is value in learning new methods for remembering 'what comes next' in your speech and the Memory Palace is one such method.  In fact it is one of the most widely used mnemonics (memory aids) out there.  The Memory Palace is, quite simply, a way of structuring your thoughts in your mind that you need to remember.

Let's take a look at the how-to's of constructing a Palace of your own...

Create a Blueprint

Although your Palace is technically a place in your mind, you may find it easiest to begin building yours based on a room or building you are already familiar and comfortable with.  You may start with a basic palace that is only one room, to start, making it as detailed as possible.  The more detailed the room (building) the more 'stuff' you can stuff into it!

Plan your Route

Typically we need to remember things in a certain order, such as when we are giving a speech.  If so, then we need to ensure that we follow a predefined route through our palace so that we pass our memory triggers in order.  If your palace is just one room then your route may be as simple as entering, turning left and walking around the room in a circle.  

Identify your Storage Spots

Every item within your castle serves as a storage receptacle of information.  As you walk through your palace you will anchor different ideas and concepts, different parts of your speech, various facts with different objects along your route.  This is why you want to spend time upfront making your palace as detailed as you can.  Each item in your palace effectively becomes a storage bin of information.  

Memorize your Palace

In order for your Palace to be truly effective, you need to ensure that you can recall it perfectly. To help your mind become clear about the contents it is helpful to draw out your palace blueprint, highlighting the storage locations you have chosen.  You can then test your recall by visualizing your palace and checking your mental recall against the map to determine if you have remembered everything and in the order you want.  Again, the more detailed you make each storage item (colour, size, feel, smell...) the easier you will find you will be able to recall it.  

Now Start Storing

Once you feel comfortable with your Palace and the storage spots you have placed in it you are ready to begin storing information into it.  Here you want to place a manageable amount of information into each item without overloading it.  If you have some items that need to be kept separate from others then ensure that you put them into separate places.  If you are delivering a speech and reach a point where you have three key points to make you may want to highlight that by placing each point into a different, but similar item, such as one of three paintings on the wall, one of three candlesticks, etc. 
Know that you don't have to continually keep adding to your palace, your rooms and objects can be 're-used' once you no longer need to recall the previously stored information.  

Get Creative

A speaker friend of mine has a number of key speeches that he delivers numerous times.  He has found it useful to create a Picture Gallery within his palace.  In essence, each painting in his gallery represents a different speech he delivers.  He paints a visual painting for each speech which contains all of the preset triggers he needs to remember each speech.  To help him with this he uses other mnemonic devices to help him, including the use of symbols and images, that evoke larger concepts. Many of these images will prove unique to you and are often based on your past experiences.  He has become so proficient at anchoring his speeches that he can stroll up to any painting and, by simply mentally looking at the painting, he can deliver a full hour without any refresher!

Explore your Palace

When you have created your palace you need to visit it periodically, even when it is not formally in use.  The more you explore your palace the more comfortable you will become with its structure and contents, thus making it easier to recall them.  My speaker friend above takes regular walks through his Picture Gallery which serves to refresh his memory of his various speeches and talks.  He ensures he is familiar with the landscape of each of the paintings he has created and is therefore ready to deliver any of them at a moment's notice.

Take a Virtual Tour

Okay, I know this is somewhat crazy sounding, asking you to take a Virtual tour of a Virtual reality, but I'm likening this to when you are house-hunting and viewing a walking video of the prospective home online.  Research shows us that we remember things better when we mentally take note of the need to remember something, prior to its occurring.  It serves to have our minds turn on mental videotape and enhances our recall.  Use this when touring through your palace, consciously walking through with your virtual camcorder in hand.  

Speeches and presentations are obvious uses for your Memory Palace but so too are the details of your latest project, facts and figures you need to recall, information that is important for you to access quickly.  If you find it impossible to second-guess what information the boss may ask for at the next meeting you may want to begin building your palace and storing all relevant information into it - ensuring that you always have access to whatever they may ask for just one virtual step away.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Are You Flourishing?

Typically, the goal of Psychology has been to relieve human suffering.  However, the work of Dr. Martin Seligman has been changing the face of psychology by focusing on Prevention; on how people can learn the skill sets that prevent psychological suffering in the first place. Therefore, rather than trying to help you feel better after you feel bad, the goal is to develop the skills needed to feel good most, if not all, of the time.

The Shift:   from Relieving suffering.... to.... Preventing suffering

In his latest book 'Flourish', Seligman - the undisputed father of Positive Psychology - builds upon his earlier work on Authentic Happiness to teach us not only how to be happy, but how to truly Flourish and Thrive.

Positive Psychology is the study of Well-being, the systematic practice of kindness, gratitude, of counting your blessings, exploring your strengths, etc.  It teaches resilience and optimism, two key skills that are supposed to be better predictors of your achievement than is IQ.  According to Seligman, well-being can be learned and is a skill critical for us to go beyond 'okay' with our lives and learn to 'thrive'.

Well-being is comprised of 5 elements, following the Acronym PERMA...

P - Positive Emotions
E - Engagement
R - Relationships
M - Meaning (Purpose)
A - Achievement

We know from research that those who experience a stronger overall sense of well-being on a consistent basis also experience increases in; productivity, satisfaction, physical health, confidence, motivation, achievement, creativity...  Who wouldn't want more of this?  In order to help you to increase your level of well-being, your overall feelings of happiness, consider implementing some of the following suggestions...

Positive Emotions

Let's face it, we've all got problems.  We all face challenges, and we sometimes don't seem to have much going on to smile about.  However, Positive Emotions can serve to help us move up and out of the morass of negativity faster and easier.  If we focus on the past with feelings of pain and regret, or look upon the future with fear and trepidation then we are fostering negative emotions.  Instead, we need to shift our mental focus. When thinking of the past seek out memories that were positive for you, that make you smile even while thinking of them.  Learn to be thankful the negative times of the past are, in fact, past. The more that we strengthen our positivity 'muscles', the easier it is to feel the emotions naturally, more strongly and for longer periods of time.


When we are disengaged we are listless, bored and distracted.  Engagement is 'secret sauce' to motivation, enabling us to focus, produce and achieve.  When we are engaged in an activity we enter a state of 'flow', what athletes refer to as being 'in the zone'.  We are absorbed in the activity, time seems to fly by and we experience a sense of accomplishment and achievement in the end.  Typically the more we are engage in work and activities that utilize our unique personal strengths and talents, the more engaged we will be.  Identify yours and seek out ways to utilize them more fully in your work and your life.


We are, by nature, social creatures, wanting a sense of connection to others.  Establishing strong relationships with others helps us to develop our sense of well-being.  Knowing that we have others around us that we can depend upon, to help us to maintain balance in our lives.  Positive relationships involve a positive and equal exchange, whether it be of emotion, energy, support or time.  Any relationship though that is one-sided or that creates a negative energy or emotion diminishes our sense of well-being.  Seek out the relationships in your life and work that build you up, not tear you down.  Create a list of people that are in your life, whether personally or professionally, and determine whether their influence on you is predominantly positive or negative in nature and impact. The next step?  Spend more time with those whose influence is positive and less with those that are negative.


We all want, and need, to feel part of something larger than just ourselves.  Feeling like we make a 'difference', even in some small way provides us with a sense of purpose to our actions and our lives.  Being part of something beyond ourselves provides us with a sense of community, giving us a feeling of belonging.  It is far easier to be engaged in our work if we believe that it is benefiting someone, somewhere, somehow, that our work counts in some small way toward that bigger picture. Often we get so caught up in just 'doing' that we lose sight of the larger impact of the work we do, the value it has to others around us.  Spend time reflecting on just how your role and actions, personally and professionally, contribute to the bigger picture or greater good.  Making these connections for yourself can go a long way to recognising the value and worth of the contributions you make each day.


Working toward and achieving goals helps us to feel that we are moving forward with our lives. Establishing a sense of accomplishment builds our confidence in our ability to handle more in the future, which further strengthens our coping mechanisms.  If we fail to recognise just how much we have achieved and overcome in the past then we likely will fail to fully take advantage of all we are capable of achieving in the future.  Most of us get so caught up in the 'doing' of things though that we often fail to even give ourselves credit for everything we have done.  To help with this, it makes sense to maintain an ongoing log of your accomplishments and achievements.  Start out by listing everything you have achieved thus far in your life, but continue adding to it as you remember more and achieve more.  This listing will also serve as a motivator for you whenever you are feeling a little down or are lacking a little confidence.  This file with all of your achievements, awards, kudos and successes should serve to highlight for you not just how amazing you have been, but how many more amazing things you have yet to achieve.

Want to check out Dr. Seligman's book for yourself?  Use the following link to get going...

Monday, March 9, 2015

It's Not Easy Being Green: Dealing with Professional Jealousy

We have likely all found ourselves, at some point in our careers, using others' success as a way and
means of gauging our own.  Comparing ourselves to others can be a positive motivator, inspiring us and opening us up to new realms of possibilities.  In this scenario then, others' success highlights for us what we too may choose to strive for.

However, we may find ourselves, in making these comparisons with our peers and co-workers, experiencing a professional form of jealousy.  We may feel resentment or anger over their achievements and frustration with our apparent lack.  Envy and jealousy can create stress and pressure that may hinder our success.  In this situation our comparisons to others become disruptive and debilitating, leading to negative emotions and behaviours.

Ultimately, any time  that we spend worrying about what others are doing is time away from doing what we could and should be doing which definitely prevents us from achieving all that we might. When you find yourself feeling a little 'green-eyed- with jealousy, use any of the following tips to help you gain control and keep you on track to adding to your own list of successes.

Take a Big Picture Approach

When we only see the final (often bragged about) accomplishment, we fail to understand the 'how' it came about; the struggles, the sacrifices.  We often wouldn't be so envious of something someone had achieved if we knew everything that they had to do to get it.  If we would never be interested or willing to make a similar investment, then it is far easier to let the jealousy over the achievement go.

Refocus Your Energy

Instead of directing your energy into the 'Woulda', 'Shoulda', 'Coulda's', put your focus into what you can and will do to achieve the same great levels as your colleague.  What can you be doing - Now - that puts you in a better position to receive that promotion, that award, that funding, next time around... and start doing it!

Create Your Brag Bag

Build your confidence and self-esteem  by maintaining, and reviewing, your own personal success journal.  Often, when we view the success of others we feel bad about ourselves because we don't have ready access to our list of achievements.  Maintaining a success journal, in which you document all of your successes and achievements, can serve to remind you of everything that you have achieved, helping you to put your co-worker's accomplishment in perspective.  Rather than allowing their achievement to highlight what you're not, your success journal can direct you instead to focus on everything you are and have done.

Stop Looking

If you are looking too much on what other people are doing and accomplishing... stop looking. Unfriend them.  Unfollow them.  While it's good to keep up with the overall happenings in your industry there is a 'Healthy' level of insight and an 'Unhealthy' level.  If the attention you are paying to someone else is not serving you in a positive way, then STOP and fill your time with activities that will be more productive.

And... if you have found that your successes have left you with jealous onlookers, begin distancing yourself from them.  You don't need their toxic energy preventing you from achieving even greater heights.

Monday, March 2, 2015

6 Steps for Overcoming Laziness

We all feel lazy sometimes and we all have days where we want (and perhaps need) nothing better
than to kick back and do virtually nothing that day.  This is not the 'laziness' that I am addressing in this blog though.

The laziness I'm referring to is that overwhelming feeling of inertia that prevents us from moving forward on tasks that we know are laying in wait for us, the type of laziness that keeps us glued to the couch even when thoughts of what we should be doing, could be doing and perhaps even need to be doing dance through our heads.

So when those 'lazy days' are too frequent, or they occur in the face of pressing obligations, we just might need a little help to get up and get moving.  The following tips will help you to overcome your laziness and get on with getting things done.

1.  Focus on the end result, not the process.

Seeing the desired end result feels good, while the process we need to follow to get there may not. Since our 'pain' is centered in the process, it is likely what we're looking to avoid.  Focusing on the end result therefore can give us the motivation we need to manage the process related pain better.

2.  Start Small.

Sometimes our laziness is due to a sense of overwhelm.  The project in front of us is just too big to get our heads around or the list of to-do's waiting for us is too long to believe we'll ever get through it.  It's the sheer size of the task that is daunting.  Instead of focusing on the 'whole', break your project or your tasks down into smaller steps and just do one thing.  Promise yourself you will just work for 5 minutes, or accomplish one small task. It won't feel nearly as overwhelming.  Creating a little forward movement is often all that is needed to motivate ourselves into taking another small step, and then another...

3.   Work the Cost of Laziness.

Create a list of the disadvantages of being lazy today, and putting everything off, versus the advantages of doing it Now.  Often our laziness is an avoidance behaviour; we are putting off doing something that seems undesirable.  Creating greater clarity over why being lazy right now is actually undesirable, and why taking action now is more desirable, can help you break out of your laziness rut.

4.  Rest.

Let's face it, sometimes our laziness is born out of sheer exhaustion.  If you have been burning the candle at both ends then your desire to sit back and do nothing may not only be well-deserved but may be necessary.  Get the rest you need to rejuvenate your focus and your drive.

5.  Schedule your Laziness.

You schedule your work, building to-do lists and project plans.  Maybe you need to consider building in time to just sit back and do nothing... without guilt.  Often we decide we are deserving some do-nothing time only to be racked by constant thoughts of what we 'should' and 'ought-to' be doing.  Our lazy day then doesn't serve to relax or recharge us the way it could if we entered into it knowing that it was okay to do nothing today - that it was all part of the plan.  Give yourself permission by planning for your lazy moments.  You'll be surprised by how powerfully effective this can be.