Work more, Earn more, Buy more, Show more… Sound familiar?
Why is society stuck in a cycle of more, more, more? Does keeping up with the Jones’ actually lead to fulfillment? Does ruthlessly driving to achieve each tick box every day actually make us feel more content? If we know the answer is no, then why do we continue to behave this way?
Why do so many of us continue to work until we are ill or spend money we don’t have to keep up with the status quo, when it doesn’t seem to make us happy.
The majority of us are stuck reacting to our stressors and ‘doing what needs to be done’ to pay the bills. Indeed surviving, rather than thriving, has become normalised whilst we continuously miss out on feeling fulfilled and performing to our best. Yet with a simple paradigm shift we can change these habits.
Well, if we want to break this cycle all it takes is a little introspection to understand our motivation…
Take Charge of Your Habits
Taking charge of our habits is critical to a happy and meaningful life. Managing our states, or ‘HOW’ we act, determines not only what we do and how well we do it, but how we feel whilst doing it. So often we look to external things or people to feel better; we will even change our job, friends, or where we live in the hope of feeling better. We take our attention externally, when the answer lies on internally managing our motivational habits.
Before learning about managing our motivational habits, it helps to first explore the psychology of motivation. It can help to explain why we think the way we think and why we do what we do. Let’s start at the beginning.
Motivational Psychology 101
Early understandings of motivation were dominated by mechanistic theories, such as psychoanalysis and behaviourism (i.e. Pinder, 1984). Freud (1915/1927) believed that humans are driven to engage in behaviours from our basic instincts and the interaction of these instincts with the environmental constraints. For example, humans are driven to reproduce, and therefore may communicate with certain people over others because it is perceived as being their best chance of reproducing.
Behavioural approaches went on to emphasise the associations between stimuli, responses, and reinforcements (Skinner, 1953, 1971). Essentially behaviour was explained by our desire to seek out pleasant outcomes or/and avoid punishing and unpleasant consequences. It was thought that without extrinsic drivers’ humans would become quiescent. This approach explained a lot but largely excluded our internal processes as reasons for driving behaviour.
Later animal studies contributed towards an incline of research surrounding internal drivers for motivation. For example, White (1959) looked at how certain animals had a desire to explore and effectively interact with the environment. In line with this thinking Woodworth (1918, 1958), in his ‘behaviour-primacy theory’, and then Allport (1937) with his notion of ‘functional autonomy’ posited that humans can engage in certain activities for intrinsic reasons only. This train of thought led to Maslow (1954) distinguishing between an individual’s hierarchy of needs. From the basic motivational drivers of sex, food, and safety, to the higher-order drivers such as competency and self-actualisation, an individual was deemed to have a multitude of drivers that were both extrinsic and intrinsic. Fast forward fifty years and the most widely accepted theory of motivation, ‘Self-Determination Theory’, still focuses on an individuals’ intrinsic and extrinsic motives that are engineered to facilitate our basic needs of (a) competence (i.e., to control one’s environment and experience mastery); (b) relatedness (i.e., to interact and connect with others); and (c) autonomy (i.e., to be self-determining and the causal agent of one’s life).
Still with me?
Intrinsic motivation is defined as engagement in the activity for inherent satisfaction (Ryan & Deci, 2000), whereas extrinsic motivation is apparent when motives or goals outside the activity exist. Like many deCharms (1968) proposed that engagement in extrinsic rewards or motives diminish one’s intrinsic motivation because it shifts the locus of causality away from the individual to the extrinsic reward. In short, although certain kinds of external regulation, such as affirmation or feedback can help to facilitate intrinsic motivation if fulfilling deeper needs of perceived competence or a sense of autonomy, both performance and well-being increase when intrinsic motives are high.
Practically speaking, motivational psychology 101 helps us to understand that if we can proactively assess why we are doing what we are doing and find an intrinsic motive for engaging in the activity, then we can amplify our performance and enrich our experience.
So how does Flow fit into all of this?
Flow and Intrinsic Motivation
Well Flow is often seen as the pinnacle of intrinsic motivation. Classified as an autotelic experience (derived from the Greek words auto (meaning ‘self ’) and telos (meaning ‘goal’)), one of the main outcomes of Flow is that the experience is intrinsically rewarding and people return to the activity for the sheer pleasure of participation. The painter paints, not to have multiple paintings, but because painting is immersive and fun. The climber climbs the mountain, not to get to the top, but because of the climbing. Thus, Flow research became a phenomenon in academia in regard to understanding intrinsic motivation. And it is why finding Flow in our lives is so important. Flow is central to our performances and finding a sense of well-being in our lives.
So how can we build a strong sense of intrinsic motivation in our lives? How can we become so inspired that we don’t even have to think about our motivations?
Learning to be inspired may be the key to gaining control over your motivational habits, yet for many, being inspired is not a habit we proactively foster. Being inspired brings out the best in someone. At the polar opposite of being depressed, inspiration lifts us out of our day-to-day habits. It lightens our mood and invites us to engage without the inner critic playing havoc. For those precious inspired moments, we let go of the normal stress that grips our lives and have the opportunity to act with focus and commitment – and find Flow.
Although there is no magic pill we can pop to sustain our inspiration, we can create positive habits that give us the best chance of finding our true inspirations. So that you don’t go away empty handed we have created a list of practices for you to integrate into your life. Practice these positive habits and allow yourself to become inspired.
- Meet new people
- Always be learning
- Follow what you believe
- Find solitude and silence
- Integrate the self -belief that ‘Anything is possible’
- Assume the position that ‘There is no failure only feedback’
- Slow down
- Manage your state before starting an activity – Always
- Use images over words to explain your goals and dreams
- Follow your curiosity
The next time you find yourself questioning what you are doing. Check-in. Are you being driven by extrinsic rewards or reasons? If so, find some inherently satisfying aspects to the task and focus your attention on it.
Written by Jess Stout and Cameron Norsworthy
“Just because you can’t plan everything, doesn’t mean you can’t be ready for something.” – Charles Hunt (TEDx)
Life challenges us everyday. From minor setbacks like spilling coffee on our shirt before a meeting, to the more tragic and traumatic events that stop us in our tracks, adversity demands change. And as we well know, lacks the courtesy of showing up in predictable, well-measured doses.
Individually, and as a society, we struggle with the curve balls of life, and perhaps now more than ever. The Australian Bureau of Statistics has revealed anxiety as the most prevalent mental health condition affecting, on average, 1 in 4 Australians and depression affecting, on average, 1 in 7 Australians.
These statistics indicate we may not be coping as well as we’d like when it comes to managing our increasingly complex, and demanding lives. And yet, there are always people who astound us with their ability to overcome extreme trials and tribulations, and ultimately, better their lives. Having fallen down a hole, these people have learnt how to get themselves out quickly and efficiently. They have cultivated resilience.
1 – Challenge your Thoughts
Dr Franz Alexander, “The fact that the mind rules the body is…the most fundamental fact which we know about the process of life.”
You may be familiar with the saying that nothing is ever as bad as you think it is. Therefore, it is worth examining your thoughts before blindly accepting them as truth. Where do they come from? Who put them there? Our beliefs about our ability to cope with the struggles of life are influenced (more than we know) by our environment; not only by the thoughts/opinions of our family, friends and loved ones, but by the values and expectations imposed on us by society (Olsson et al, 2003). Leading media and advertisement author Jean Kilbourne reveals that we are subjected to over 3,000 ads per day. In essence, these ads always highlight the same thing: your life is missing something. You don’t have it all together, and how could you? You don’t have the perfect job, right education, fulfilling relationship, bikini body, winning smile or trendy wardrobe. When you believe the false messages that you are incomplete, you are encouraged to search outside of yourself for the answer. You reach to pills, the doctor, anyone or anything that can help you cope when adversity comes your way. Knowing that you already have everything you need to get you through any situation, is the first step towards resilience. In flow, we refer to this as control of your inner life, and it is integral to a happy, harmonious existence.
So for this month of March, make a commitment to yourself that when adversity strikes you will not get swept up by a whirlwind of toxic thoughts and dumped far out at sea.
Instead, give yourself a moment to stop, breathe, and critically ask, “By me feeling miserable about myself, who stands to gain?
Are the thoughts I am having going to help me grow, or help me stay the victim?”
Take control and guard your inner world.
2 – Flip it Around
Sometimes it just feels like we’re a target. One thing happens after the next in a string of ‘bad luck’ incidents and we find ourselves exclaiming, “Why me?!”
The important thing here is to learn not to perceive such incidents as personal threats. Don’t ‘own’ the problem. Things happen irrespective of whether they are convenient for you or not, and may in fact, be entirely unrelated to you and your actions.
If we take negative events personally, we often respond in fear. And fear is a paralysing, demoralising place to be because it strips us of feeling in control of our lives and our actions. It prevents us from coping in a transformational way.
On the other hand, taking a healthy, objective stance to a problem helps us stay connected with the ‘big picture’. Stepping away from our ego, allows us to consider that perhaps there was a greater purpose behind our setback in the larger scheme of things. Not only can this help to alleviate our burden and pain, but it enables us to remain in flow with life. Keeping perspective and staying present (not internally obsessed) means a solution will more readily appear.
Founder of flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, urges, “Almost every situation we encounter in life presents possibilities for growth.” See adversity as a challenge, not an attack.
3 – Stay Connected
The most important protective factor to stress and disadvantage that emerged from the current research was ‘connectedness’. In ‘The Gifts of Imperfection’ Brené Brown described this as a ‘spirituality’ separate from religion or theology. Rather, a belief of shared connection with a greater, more powerful source and with other beings, rooted in love and compassion.
In recent studies exploring preventative measures for adolescent anxiety and depression, it was found that level of ‘school connectedness’ was the strongest independent predictor of future depressive symptoms (Ian Shochet et al, 2006). Here, school connectedness was defined as the extent to which students believed they were a valued part of their school and classroom.
Ultimately, the need to feel connected to others and to a higher purpose is not unique. And experiencing this ‘connectedness’ is more than just having a positive outlook. It is a deeply-held trust, respect and faith within ourselves and for others, that aligns us with the greater purpose of our lives.
Elisabeth Kuebler-Ross: “People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their beauty is revealed only when there is a light within.”
Practice resilience and stay lit from within!
Written by Rachel Gobel
I want to lose weight. I want to be more physically fit. I want to find the perfect job. I want to spend more time with my family. I want to quit smoking/chocolate/alcohol….the list goes on.
Yes, it is that time of year. Time for our New Year’s Resolutions. Time to set an ambitious goal and then weeks later, wonder why we even bothered. It is the time of year that gym memberships are on the rise, online courses are inundated, and possibly the only time that we hope to cure our hangovers by an inspiring march towards a new and improved version of ourselves.
BUT why does so much optimism and drive end up getting tossed to the curb?
We have all done it. We have all made a New Years Resolution and then felt like crap after realising that we are never going to realise it. We reflect: “were they unrealistic? not well thought out? or are we simply useless?”
Possibly, but as Cameron Norsworthy explains in this radio interview with FIVEaa below, it is not so much our enthusiasm that is misplaced but HOW we go about making and achieving these goals.
Don’t get fixated on the outcome – in fact don’t have an outcome
Often when we make goals we focus on a specific outcome. The prologue of goal-setting techniques such as S.M.A.R.T. fill our heads and we think we need to specify our outcome in order to make it happen. Well, research is now showing that focusing on an outcome is more likely to fail than succeed. Not only that but we are more likely to cheat, take shortcuts, beat ourselves up, and be in a state of anxiety as we are constantly being reminded of how far away we are from where we want to be. Not only is the experience, more often than not, ‘hard work’, it can make us miserable. It turns out that focusing on an outcome makes us more likely to give up than succeed.
A outcome focus goal encourages productivity over presence. Instead of being open to adapting to the status quo we are blinded by the parameters of our goal. As a result, we miss opportunities, develop a hamster wheel mentality, and all in all, we don’t have fun. Why sustain something that isn’t fun, right?!
Or worse, perhaps we find a way to grind it out and hit our target. Outcome achieved. Hurray! We celebrate for all of 10 seconds, and then go, “what next?” In this hamster wheel mentality, we don’t enjoy the process, the achievement yields only a fleeting spike in happiness, and then we are left with the same dissatisfaction that we started with looking for the next preoccupation to hook ourselves on to.
Furthermore, at the time of setting, we think the goal is going to change us, fulfil us, or give us what we want – it is why we make it. However, as time rolls on, we become different. We become a different person with different motives and adapt different levels of happiness. For example, perhaps a previous goal of saving $20,000 for a house deposit no longer becomes necessary. A month after making the goal, we suddenly realise that we are actually happy with only saving $15,000, as we realise that spending $5000 on our health is a bigger priority; something that will make us happier in the long run. Alternatively, we can fall short of reaching our full potential. If our goal is to reach a weight of 82Kg in 6 months and by month 5 we are already at 83kg, we may take our foot off the pedal and start indulging in bad habits that become hard to shake. In short, outcome goals can quickly become outdated, irrelevant, or limit what we are capable of.
So what do we do instead? How do we capitalise on our positive ambitions?
Well, for starters we can spend 80% of our time on understanding why we are setting these goals or resolutions in the first place. Is it because we need direction, a structure to aid discipline, or because we want to impress others? By taking a real good look in the mirror, we can quickly understand our genuine underlying motives and disregard any goals or changes that we do not have a a deep inherent desire to do. If we are trying to smoke or drink less because we think we ‘should’ do, then any attempt to do so will not last and just leave us deflated and depressed when we fall back on the wagon. Any targets that are based on what other people want, or for extrinsic reasons, can also be dismissed as these will only yield short term compliance and add stress to our life.
Instead, we can find something that we are really passionate towards, and then focus on building a vision around it.
Creating a loose vision is so much more powerful than a business plan on how to achieve our resolution. Why? Visions use imagery, which neurobiologically uses our innate implicit system. Meaning that imagery uses the same primal part of our brain that we were born with, as opposed to the cerebral conscious part of our brain that we develop as we grow older. In fact, our primitive cognitive system is 100,000+ times more powerful and efficient than our recently (evolutionary speaking) developed prefrontal cortex, which devised and wrote the S.M.A.R.T goal. Let me explain. When creating a vision we automatically build an experience around the benefits of it. It becomes a multi-sensory experience as we spend time visualising our success and knowingly or not, examine how it looks, feels, and even what it might sound or taste like. Once imagined the mind and body creates a psychophysiological blueprint of what and how to achieve it. When a vision is locked into our implicit system, our brain automatically starts to manifest it in our reality. It starts making daily decisions towards this aim without us having to do anything. All the subtle choices we face everyday that we are not aware of… i.e. whether to open our emails, BBC app, or research something about our vision when taking the phone out of our pocket… start to help us towards building this vision in our life. If we give our primitive brain a vision to follow, it will do this far more effectively than we can ever plan for!
Then as we stroll through life, we can simply pick the option that is most aligned with our vision. Having a true north such as this enables us to mould an intention towards our experiences. It gives a backbone to our decision-making, taking away the stress of analysing what might or might not be the best thing to do. Then if we find ourselves losing focus, we can play the game of mental contrasting. Meaning that we can contrast a negative vision of what life looks like without our vision coming true, against the positive experience of our vision blossoming. When we do this the mind and body is quickly reminded of what we want, what really matters, and thus what to think, feel, and do next.
Once our psychophysiology is primed with this vision, we are free to operate with freedom and a level of flexibility to meet this vision. As there is no fixed outcome, just a positive vision, there may be many ways to achieve it, most of them we don’t even know of yet.
Best of all, these positive visions make us feel good and they lure our engagement. We no longer have to be intimidated by a looming fixed benchmark. Instead we can become excited about the unknown journey ahead.
So to recap:
- Meet your new year’s resolutions with PURPOSE and then focus on the PROCESS.
- Decided on something that inspires you – something that you genuinely want to do.
- Build a positive vision of what your intended goal will give you.
- Build a multi-sensory experience of the benefits. What does it look, feel, sound, and taste like?
- Realise that every subsequent thought and action we engage with is a choice; either taking us towards this vision or away from it.
Over to you!
Author: Cameron Norsworthy
As we enter into the festive season our relationships tend to become focused at the forefront of our minds. December is a busy social month – catching up with friends and relatives, attending end of year work functions and Christmas parties, being invited to unexpected events by family and friends, all the while negotiating a busy home-life!
If you’re starting to feel a little worn out by the interactions with those around you, it’s time to put down the tinsel and pick up the photo on the mantelpiece – we’re going to take a look at your relationships…
Our Need to Feel Connected
Research gathered by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, founder of Flow, suggests that one of the two most important factors in determining the quality of our life is the quality of our relationships (see: Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, 1990). Biologically, we are wired to seek connection with other human beings. Grounded in an instinctual tactic for survival, humans are no less dependent on each other now than what we were hundreds of years ago. Although this dependence may be less grounded in extrinsic needs like food and shelter, the need to feel included, accepted and appreciated have remained integral for our emotional, psychological and spiritual wellbeing.
In fact, findings from the longest observational study (75 years!) on adult development conducted by Harvard University, concluded that the quality of our relationships is a powerful predictor of how well we age in terms of our physical and mental health. That is, participants who reported being content in their relationships at age 50 had consistently better health outcomes at 80 years of age than those who reported being unhappy in their relationships (see: Harvard Study of Adult Development and the Grant Study).
However, the problem remains that relationships don’t always work the way we want them to, and have certainly become far more complex than we have ever experienced. Romantic partnerships, parent-child relationships and familial relationships in general, are no longer structured around clearly defined rules set in tradition, religion, societal expectation and hierarchy. Gender roles are malleable and can be negotiated and challenged. As a result, competing ideas and values have become the norm resulting in disagreement and at worst, resentment; blocking us off from the experience of flow.
So how do we set ourselves up for optimal experience in our relationships?
Internationally renowned relationship therapist Esther Perel refers to communication as the “heart” of a relationship (see: Modern Love and Relationships, SXSW 2018). The distribution of roles, responsibilities and tasks unique to your relationship cannot be assumed; they must be discussed and agreed upon together. Csikszentmihalyi adds the importance of developing shared goals (as a partnership or family) that are motivated from within, in order to channel each person’s psychic energy meaningfully and productively. But when things don’t go to plan, you also need a constructive way to talk about it…
In her book ‘Braving the Wilderness’ Dr Brene Brown addresses the concept of generosity when it comes to our relationships. That is, recognising that in any situation there are multiple ‘realities’ and that our go-to interpretation may not necessarily be the correct one. So when something happens that leaves you feeling hurt or disappointed, instead of reaching for blame and accusation as ammunition, try asking, “[Insert name] help me understand what happened here, I thought we had a plan?” By assuming positive intent, you create an opening for conversation and connection with that person, that is grounded in a state of flow and mutual respect.
From there, difficult conversations can be tackled with grace through the introductory words, “The story I am making up about this is…” (see: The Gifts of Imperfection, 2010). By acknowledging that your truth is not the absolute truth, your thoughts and feelings will be better received by the other person as they no longer feel the need to defend themselves in fight/flight mode. The situation is diffused and you can productively work things out together.
Give it a try this Christmas – show your loved ones how much you care by gifting them the benefit of the doubt when things don’t go to plan. You may find yourself pleasantly merrier.
If you were to make a pie-chart (or Christmas pudding) of the time you allocate for people in your life, would you have an equal slice? Or even a slice at all? Or do you find yourself scrambling for crumbs – a few minutes here and there but nothing consistent?
Research has shown time and time again that change starts with no-one but yourself. Self-care is the practice you must cultivate if you truly want to make yourself, and the people around you, happier from being in your presence. If you can’t commit to huge chunks of time, why not make a little routine for yourself that makes you feel good daily? This could be as soon as you wake up in the morning or before you go to bed. As Dr Wayne Dyer wisely stated, “You can’t give away something you don’t have.” If you don’t have love and compassion for yourself, how can you possibly give that to others?
Ultimately, your relationship with yourself is the most important relationship you could ever honour and invest in, because it determines every other relationship in your life. And if you are looking for acceptance and belonging from anywhere but yourself, you are unfortunately, wasting your time. A decade of research investigating people who feel loved and accepted versus people who don’t, revealed to Dr Brene Brown a single factor: worthiness (see: The Gifts of Imperfection). People who feel loved and accepted by others know that they deserve to feel that way because they experience love and acceptance for themselves – right now, exactly as they are, and regardless of circumstance.
There are no prerequisites for feeling worthy, but you must have the courage to love yourself in all your imperfection. Only then, can you extend the same grace to others.
Like what you have read? Head over to Masterminds and join others to share your journey with.
Author: Rachel Gobel
Brown, B. (2017). Braving the wilderness: The quest for true belonging and the courage to stand alone. Random House.
Brown, B. (2010). The gifts of imperfection: Let go of who you think you are supposed to be and embrace who you are. Center City, MN: Hazelden.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York: Harper Perennial.
Perel, E. (2018). Modern love and relationships. SXSW.
Waldinger, R. (2015). What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness. TEDx.