Nine strategies to awaken your motivation Part 2

(Continued from Part 1)


Performance reviews, those annual or biannual rituals of organisational life, are about as enjoyable as a toothache and as productive as a train wreck. Nobody likes them— not the giver, not the receiver. They don’t really help us achieve mastery— since the feedback often comes six months after the work is complete. (Imagine Serena Williams or Twyla Tharp seeing their results or reading reviews only twice a year.) And yet managers keep on hauling employees into their offices for those awkward, painful encounters.

Maybe there’s a better way. Maybe, as Douglas McGregor and others have suggested, we should give ourselves our own performance reviews. Here’s how. Figure out your goals— mostly learning goals, but also a few performance goals— and then every month, call yourself to your office and give yourself an appraisal. How are you faring? Where are you falling short? What tools, information, or support might you need to do better?

Some other hints:

• Set both smaller and larger goals so that when it comes time to evaluate yourself you’ve already accomplished some whole tasks.

• Make sure you understand how every aspect of your work relates to your larger purpose.

• Be brutally honest. This exercise is aimed at helping you improve performance and achieve mastery— so if you rationalise failures or gloss over your mistakes instead of learning from them, you’re wasting your time.

And if doing this solo isn’t your thing, gather a small group of colleagues for regular peer-based do-it-yourself performance reviews. If your comrades really care, they’ll tell you the truth and hold you accountable. One last question for bosses: Why in God’s name are you not encouraging all your employees to do this?


Even the most intrinsically motivated person sometimes gets stuck. So here’s a simple, easy, and fun way to power out of your mental morass. In 1975, producer Brian Eno and artist Peter Schmidt published a set of one hundred cards containing strategies that helped them overcome the pressure-packed moments that always accompany a deadline. Each card contains a single, often inscrutable, question or statement to push you out of a mental rut. (Some examples: What would your closest friend do? Your mistake was a hidden intention. What is the simplest solution? Repetition is a form of change. Don’t avoid what is easy.) If you’re working on a project and find yourself stymied, pull an Oblique card from the deck. These brain bombs are a great way to keep your mind open despite constraints you can’t control. You can buy the deck at or follow one of the Twitter accounts inspired by the strategies, such as:


One key to mastery is what Florida State University psychology professor Anders Ericsson calls “deliberate practice”— a “lifelong period of . . . effort to improve performance in a specific domain.” Deliberate practice isn’t running a few miles each day or banging on the piano for twenty minutes each morning. It’s much more purposeful, focused, and, yes, painful. Follow these steps— over and over again for a decade— and you just might become a master:

Remember that deliberate practice has one objective: to improve performance

“People who play tennis once a week for years don’t get any better if they do the same thing each time,” Ericsson has said. “Deliberate practice is about changing your performance, setting new goals and straining yourself to reach a bit higher each time.”

Repeat, repeat, repeat

Repetition matters. Basketball greats don’t shoot ten free throws at the end of team practice; they shoot five hundred.

Seek constant, critical feedback

If you don’t know how you’re doing, you won’t know what to improve.

Focus ruthlessly on where you need help

While many of us work on what we’re already good at, says Ericsson, “those who get better work on their weaknesses.”

Prepare for the process to be mentally and physically exhausting

That’s why so few people commit to it, but that’s why it works.


In his insightful book Rules of Thumb, Fast Company magazine co-founder Alan Webber offers a smart and simple exercise for assessing whether you’re on the path to autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Get a few blank three-by-five-inch cards. On one of the cards, write your answer to this question: “What gets you up in the morning?” Now, on the other side of the card, write your answer to another question: “What keeps you up at night?” Pare each response to a single sentence. And if you don’t like an answer, toss the card and try again until you’ve crafted something you can live with. Then read what you’ve produced. If both answers give you a sense of meaning and direction, “Congratulations!” says Webber. “Use them as your compass, checking from time to time to see if they’re still true. If you don’t like one or both of your answers, it opens up a new question: What are you going to do about it?”


Office posters that try to “motivate” us have a grim reputation. As one wag put it, “For the last two decades, motivational posters have inflicted unimaginable suffering on the workplaces of the world.” But who knows? Perhaps the first one was a thing of beauty. Maybe those cave drawings in Lascaux, France, were some Paleolithic motivational speaker’s way of saying, “If you know where you’re going, you’ll never take a wrong turn.” Now you’ve got a chance to fight back (or perhaps to reclaim that ancient legacy). Thanks to a number of websites, you can create your own motivational posters— and you no longer have to settle for photos of kittens climbing out of baskets. You can be as serious or silly with this exercise as you like. Motivation is deeply personal and only you know what words or images will resonate with you.

This is Part 2 of a two-part series, reprinted, with permission, from Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H Pink Copyright © Daniel H Pink, 2009 . Out now and published by Canongate .


10th February 2011

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