Perhaps the most famous motivational speaker in recent times is Tony Robbins. Robbins explains in his writing that successful people share passion. Passion is what keeps motivated people moving through their day with such joy that work becomes fun all of the time. They usually love what they do. As much as I think this is true, I don’t believe it is totally accurate or enough to create motivation. In his blog “Study Hack” Cal Newport, an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Georgetown University specializing in the theory of distributed algorithms, defines his advice by saying that he does not believe in the simplistic advice to follow your passion. He emphasizes in his blog that doing something better than others is what counts. If this turns out to be your passion — great. I love this practical advice that really defines most people’s lives including mine. You can excel if you continue doing that job (which you can do better than others and possibly develop a passion for it later) in order for you to succeed. People should not quit their current jobs. After all, they went to school for at least four years (not mentioning the student loans). Instead, people should develop that passion to do something they are much better at than others, but you also need to be careful of not doing something you hate because this will push you to be mediocre.
Do we need passion to be motivated?
The most passionate person about his work was Steve Jobs. His relentless pursuit of building his company is a textbook case. Jobs had numerous encounters where he was driving people around him to the brink of despair to the extent that one of his engineers in the early days was planning to urinate on Jobs’ desk so he would be fired — the engineer did not do it. Jobs was so amused when he heard about it that he went to ask him if he was still willing to do it. It was not unusual for Jobs to go home at the end of the day without being able to speak because of his exhaustion. In a TV interview Jobs complained in a very firm voice, “You know… Microsoft does not have a taste.” He saw Microsoft as a company which lacked passion, producing mediocre software. We know now this was not true.
Jobs had a very strong belief system which took him from one success to another. Even when he lost Apple, he moved very quickly to build NeXT and Pixar animated studio. How much does our belief system contribute to our motivation? Although our belief system is very important in directing our life, our belief system is dynamic, not static. Our belief system changes according to our life experiences. It is not a mystery that young teenagers are prone to making more mistakes in life than adults. Our life experiences teach us and help us to form or redefine our belief system. It changes and becomes more refined as we read and interact with other people and encounter new life events. In order to navigate through the vicissitudes of life, we need a strategy, a strategy that maps the road for us , a strategy that can navigate the water — especially white water!
Focusing like a laser beam
Focusing on one thing without being distracted is a better strategy for productivity. Our problem now is not getting information, as it is available to anyone with an Internet connection (from a teenager to a CEO of a company); our problem is weeding out the distractions and connecting information to explain things logically. Recently, the difficulty has increased because our ability to distinguish information from advertising (infomercial) is becoming harder. Discriminating between ads and information is becoming a serious problem. We have started seeing doctors and experts recommending products that lack any scientific evidence, leading the average user to be more careful in analyzing facts and guarding their time against distorted information. Cal Newport argues that in order to excel you need to focus on “deep work” which will lead to deep thinking. He defines deep work as a job that requires you to insulate yourself from anything around you. He encourages you to explore difficult things. In fact, if you noticed that things are easy for you, it means that you are not challenging yourself. Deep work also needs clarity and continuity. You need to define the work as specific as possible and spend 3-4 hours without interruption. An average person (whatever the definition is of an average person!) does spend less time in deep work and more time on mundane tasks. Staying guard on your time and increasing the amount of deep work compared to mundane work is a great skill to develop and cultivate.
Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla, is one of these people who has laser-like focus. His knowledge of how to design and build rockets, electric cars, and software companies is entirely self-taught. Musk earned his undergraduate degree in physics and business. He was on his way to start his Ph.D. at Stanford, again, in physics and business, but dropped out to build his software company PayPal with Peter Thiel. Musk’s well-known drive to create led him to move forward with an electric car and SpaceX, not mentioning PayPal, Zip2, and SolarCity. He is reported to work 100 hours a week without taking vacations except when he goes with his four kids.
As we explore and guard our time from distractions, the issue of using Facebook, twitter, and other social networks presents itself. A quick look at productivity experts’ advice tells us that experts discourage productive people from using Facebook (Cal Newport and Leo Babauta – a very famous blogger). Facebook is a social tool that can be misused. However, using Facebook to know what your friends and family members do or like is important, but not that important. Focusing on using social tools to push you to a deep work state or as an instrument to explore things around you is very valuable. We need to protect ourselves from complete isolation and cocooning. Because I am interested in several cultures, Facebook keeps me in connection with many cultures around me. It always amazes me how different cultures analyze the same events in very diverse ways.
Would a defined strategy lead to a defined achievement?
If you use the wrong strategy, you might lose or delay your achievement. Job seekers, for example, are in desperate need of productive strategies. It is really amazing how some people have no difficulty in finding a job and how others take forever to land one. A good strategy built on reading and testing the job market is paramount to finding a job. The strategy should include well-established networks before you need to look for a job. You need to develop contacts with people in your field. You need to be able to talk to them before you are faced with the “wall” of a job search. Otherwise, your request for help will be like cold calling — no results. Ramit Sethi, a well-known blogger and bestselling author, is a vocal advocate for building strategies or systems to achieve goals. He focuses on building systems to master life skills from earning and saving money, finding a dream job, starting your own business, and negotiating. His blog has more than 250k followers, and he is considered a great speaker. In his blog “I will teach you to be rich,” he dives very deeply into discovering the human potential to achieve goals. Sethi somehow defines every strategy he used by building specific systems. He, in fact, goes a step further by developing scripts for E-mails, job interviews, telephone calls, and simple chats at cocktail parties. Sethi, like Newport, disagrees with “find your passion” advice. He compares it to sticking with budget advice to control spending. Sethi’s blog is very insightful. He tackles the role that fear plays in our lives. When we try to look for a job or plan to build a strategy to achieve certain goals, we often encounter questions within our own minds based on fear. He talks about how to tame our “fear brain.”
As much as I believe that a defined strategy to pursue a goal is important, we need to be realistic that sometimes we have no idea from where to start. According to Harvard Business Review, most entrepreneurs start their companies without a business plan. In fact, most of them write the business plan only when they are forced to — to apply for a bank loan, for example. One of the main reasons Steve Palmer was hired by Bill Gates and Steve Allen in the early days of building Microsoft is that he was the only person who had a business degree (MBA). Palmer clashed with Gates in hiring more programmers. Gates was telling everyone at that time that Palmer would destroy Microsoft because Gates could not afford to pay them very soon. I am sure a defined strategy of dealing with growth would had helped in these days, but who could envision that Microsoft would have this kind of success.
Taking actions with confidence
Robbins has a slogan CANEI (Constant Advancement and Never Ending Improvement) which has inspired millions of people who read his books and attend his workshops. His ability as a non-shy extrovert to capture people’s attention is outstanding. In fact, Robbins convinced me to start exercising one Christmas when I was in Blacksburg, VA, visiting my parents-in-law. Before the holidays, I had noticed that I was exhausted climbing the stairs going to my lab. This fatigue made me wonder how I would feel twenty years from then. When I finished reading Robbins’ book Awaken the Giant Within, I dropped the book that day and decided immediately to start exercising. I came from my first run extremely tired. That was my first time in my life to start exercising, and I haven’t stopped since. Robbins inspired me to challenge myself and believe that there are no limitations on how high I can reach. The limitation exists only in our minds. Robbins has several techniques to trigger motivation and snap yourself out of feeling depressed. I found these techniques to be idiosyncratic. What motivates me will not motivate other people and the reverse is true. But, I found certain tools mentioned by Robbins or other motivational speakers that I found to be effective in focusing my attention and keeping my mind from wandering. For example, I found that reading simple questions which I wrote to motivate me on a daily or weekly basis did have an effect on me — in fact, it kept my sanity in check when I was doing research for my Ph.D work. I found these questions to be very helpful in alleviating my emotional state and calming me down.
Finally, focusing, defining a life strategy, and taking action are the center of any motivational steps. If we include these steps in our belief system, I can assure you that you will be a head of a lot of people by miles.