What You Don’t Know About Internal Motivation May Harm Your Career

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So you want to build a billion-dollar company, and it’s because you want to make people’s lives better by solving a problem while hitting it big, rich, and famous. Sounds like a winning combo of incentives to drive you to achieve startup success.

It’s not like both motives can’t coexist. Humans, complex beings that we are, walk around with a jumble of intentions, impulses, and aspirations in our heads — instead of one clearcut reason for why we do things.

The thing is, you would think that having multiple motives would result in, well, more motivational power. When you can hit two goals with one activity, don’t you just have more incentive to do the activity? If you want that promotion because you get to expand your skillset and increase your prestige, doesn’t that help drive you even harder to go for it?

There’s one problem. There’s a tricky truth about motivation that might be preventing your best performance.

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95% of Managers Follow an Outdated Theory of Motivation

Ford assembly line in the 1940s

What, by a long shot, is the most important motivator for employees at work? Is it money, pressure, or praise?

Typically managers believe the idea that pressure makes diamonds. The thinking is that if you want exceptional performance, you align employee objectives with end-of-year bonuses for hitting certain milestones and then employees will turn up their work ethic to reach them.

Long-held conventional wisdom on management dies hard. That’s because it’s based on gut instinct and superstition — and managerial understanding of motivation is no different. A massive 95% of managers are wrong about what the most powerful motivator for employees at work.

Not only that, they’re thinking about employee motivation fundamentally wrong.

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The Science of Why It’s OK to Fail at Your New Year’s Resolution

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New Year’s resolutions may be losing popularity. Only about a third of Americans made New Year’s resolutions for 2014, down 10% from just two years ago, according to a CBS News poll.

Maybe people have wised up to the fact that most resolutions don’t succeed or think there’s a better way to embark on habit changes and goals than this annual tradition.

That doesn’t mean New Year’s resolutions are completely useless. Let’s take a step back and look at the science of why New Year’s resolutions still make sense, how to make them stick, and why it’s okay if you fail.

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The Best 20 iDoneThis Blog Posts of 2013

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‘Tis the season of end-of-the-year lists!

We dug into the iDoneThis blog archives to bring you a collection of our most popular and favorite pieces from 2013 to enjoy amidst the hustle of holiday festivities and some much deserved, hot cocoa-fueled relaxation.

There are also handy save-to-read-later options to jumpstart your reading in 2014.

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The Science of Motivation: Your Brain on Dopamine

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I spent an hour on this opening paragraph:

The hour wasn’t time well spent, mind you. Sure, I was working — writing, deleting, fiddling with words here and there — but my paragraph-per-hour pace was more the byproduct of a stubborn lack of motivation than of indecisiveness.

I spent five minutes in email, ten minutes on Twitter, and fifteen minutes doing who-knows-what on Tumblr. Just kidding, I know exactly what I was doing:  looking at dog pictures.

Sound familiar?

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The Work Will Always Be There

When we think about our work and what we have to do, it’s almost always about pushing. Push yourself, push harder, push through the pain. But pushing won’t get you through every door.

When you take a look at the routines and rituals of super-productive people, they often turn out not to be about pushing at all, but pulling and drawing energy back into yourself. These recharging routines are about creating “me-time” — not in some selfish, diva way, but in an effort to care for and re-center yourself, to protect at least some of your time from being dictated by others.

Me-time routines are renewable fuel, a sustainable antidote to burnout and life as a work vampire.

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Dr Seuss’s Surprising Strategy For Success

In 1960, two men made a bet. There was only $50 on the line, but millions of people would feel the impact of this little wager.

The first man, Bennett Cerf, was the founder of the publishing firm, Random House. The second man was named Theo Geisel, but you probably know him as Dr. Seuss. Cerf challenged Dr. Seuss that he wouldn’t be able to write an entertaining children’s book using only 50 different words.

Dr. Seuss took the bet and won. The result was a little book called Green Eggs and Ham. Since its publication, Green Eggs and Ham has sold more than 200 million copies, making it the most popular of Seuss’s works and one of the best-selling children’s books in history.

At first glance, you might think this was a lucky fluke. A talented author plays a fun game with 50 words and ends up producing a hit. But there is actually more to this story — and the lessons in it can help you become more creative and stick to better habits over the long run.

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Do the Painful Things First

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Before I became an entrepreneur, I went to business school. While studying for my MBA, there was one lesson I learned which has proved to be useful over and over again in my life.

I was sitting in a marketing class, and we were discussing ways to design a wonderful customer experience. The goal is not merely to provide decent service but to delight the customer. Behavioral scientists have discovered that one of the most effective ways to create a delightful experience is to stack the painful parts of the experience early in the process.

Psychologically, we prefer experiences that improve over time. That means it’s better for the annoying parts of a purchase to happen early in the experience. Furthermore, we don’t enjoy it when painful experiences are drawn out or repeated.

Here are some examples:

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You’re Not Good Enough to Be Disappointed Yet

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Dan John is a weightlifting coach. He is well-known in the fitness world for keeping things simple (and you should always fear a man with two first names). Recently I heard Dan John say:

I often tell my new athletes: “Sorry, you just are not good enough to be disappointed.”

In other words, in the beginning you need to get comfortable with feeling stupid, uncertain, and unskilled.

You’re not allowed to be disappointed by your performance because you haven’t developed your skills yet. It’s only the professionals that are allowed to be disappointed because they have put in the work to be better.

  • J.K Rowling is allowed to be disappointed if she writes a bad book because she put in 20 years of work to get good.
  • Kobe Bryant is allowed to be disappointed if he plays a bad game because he put in 20 years of work to become amazing.
  • Jack LaLanne was allowed to be disappointed with a bad workout because he trained for 60 years to stay fit.

But you and me? We’re not good enough to be disappointed yet. We’re bad enough to get to work.

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Why You Should Stop Keeping Score at Work

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There’s probably been some time in your life when you’ve been just a touch surprised that you haven’t been hoisted upon shoulders and celebrated with cheers for your great achievement — whether you go as far back as that group English assignment making a diorama about summer reading or yesterday’s big client presentation.

Or maybe you’re more familiar with that fake almost-smile, as Joe Shmoe stood up to cheers and beers and pats on the back, leaving you amidst the ghosts of the hours of sweat and tears you put into the work.

It happens, and it stinks. But then again — we’re actually all credit hogs in our heads.

When you’re on a team, you don’t have an accurate sense of the proportion of your contribution. It’s just not that straightforward, because what happens in your very smart but usually selfish mind is that you underestimate your teammates’ contributions and overestimate yours.

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