What Lights Your Fire?

The thing about motivation is that it’s not exactly like learning another skill. It’s not at all like learning to cook or ride a bike or learning to drive — those things stick with you and even when you haven’t done them for a while, they tend to come back to you pretty quickly.

Motivation is not something that we can really gain mastery of — just when we think we’ve got it, it’s gone. It’s fleeting and it changes from one time and place to another. In completing one ambition, we may find our motivation to be consistently strong throughout. Yet in the case of another goal or resolution, we struggle to find the motivation to even begin.

Why is that?

Different circumstances, different expectations, different time and place. Maybe our level of interest is varied or we’re simply lacking passion (you can read more about passion in my post on Grit). Whatever the case, rest assured that you’re not alone. Pretty much everyone struggles to find motivation at least some of the time (myself included) and there are lots of strategies to help you discover and keep your motivation burning which I’m going to outline today.

As always, you shouldn’t feel obligated to do everything included in this post (in fact, I wouldn’t even advise that). What I hope you’ll find here instead are a few practical ideas that resonate with you and help provide the spark you need to set your motivation ablaze. Remember, our entire life journey is a work in progress of sorts, so we shouldn’t expect to attain perfection anytime soon!

My own mantra this week is, “Nothing can stop me today — I can only stop myself.” I share this because I think it fits well with the topic of motivation, particularly because I tend to find (and maybe you do as well) that the thing getting in my way most of the time is me! No one is making me take on the commitments in my life that I’ve made — I chose to make them. When I find that my plate is overwhelmingly full, I can only look to myself because I’m the one that filled it in that manner.

I’m not saying this to beat myself up or to suggest that you should in any way do the same. Conversely, it’s important that we take ownership and find empowerment in knowing that we shape our own goals and experiences. While we can’t control everything that happens in a day, we can own the way that we choose to spend our time and how we react to the occurrences throughout each day.

Not sure where to start? Here’s some ideas to help you discover and keep your motivation – that internal fire inside us all – burning strong:

Share your knowledge with others. In most cases, it’s not that you don’t know what to do or how to reach your goal, but channeling the motivation to actually make progress can be difficult. Many people find themselves stuck in a rut, unable to take meaningful action, even though they know exactly what they need to do. There’s a good chance you know someone who’s been wanting to lose weight for years, but hasn’t been able to actually commit to a particular diet (maybe that someone is even you). Yet, that person probably has more knowledge about nutrition and calorie intake vs. outtake than almost anyone else in your life.

In this case, the key to forward momentum is building self-confidence by telling others how to do it. Yes, literally go tell other people the step-by-step process for how to accomplish the goal that you want to accomplish yourself. (I know this sounds a bit odd, but stay with me.)  A very compelling study by Eskreis-Winkler and Fishbach (see Fessler, 2018) demonstrated how simply giving advice to others (on the same issues she/he was struggling to do) could help build one’s self-confidence enough to propel individuals into action. It reminds me of that saying, ‘those who can’t do teach,’ except that in this case it’s like ‘those who teach are more likely to do,’ which aligns perfectly with my next point…

“Do something. Do anything.” According to Mark Manson (bestselling author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck) action can precipitate action simply by helping us build confidence in our ability to do so. It doesn’t have to be something big, but making any sort of action towards reaching our goals often creates the inspiration and motivation we need to continue along a path of progress. If you’re paralyzed by your fear of going to the gym, maybe start with a walk outside or find a YouTube video to follow along with at home. If you want to mend a relationship with someone and you don’t know where to start, try picking up the phone and calling them or writing them a letter (you don’t even have to send it if you don’t want to).

When I’m struggling to start writing (which is basically everyday), I will often say to myself, “Okay, I’ll just create an outline,” or “I can at least write down the thoughts that are in my head,”  or “Fine, I’ll write ONE paragraph.” Oftentimes I’ll find that as a result, moving onto other parts becomes much easier because I’ll have ideas for how to do so (and maybe even a bit of excitement).

Maybe I’ll have an idea for a second paragraph or the introduction or a totally different point I want to make later in the chapter (or blog post…). In any case, once you’ve actually started, it’s so much easier to keep going and I almost always find myself thinking something along the lines of, “That wasn’t so difficult (but I’m definitely not going to admit that I may have even enjoyed myself a bit), I don’t know why I put this off — I’ll just do a bit more.”

When I’m really stumped (or just because), one of my favorite things to do is to create a timeline. It doesn’t have to be very detailed when you begin, it can literally just be an estimated start and end date. Bench marks (tasks that need to be completed along the way) will begin to form in your mind and then you can break down how long each item will take you to complete. After you’ve completed your working or tentative timeline (because it’s always subject to change), you can look to the first task and start working on it immediately.

Be realistic in your expectations. Sometimes we come to a phase in life where we feel compelled to overhaul our entire state of being. If you’re trying to lose weight for instance, you may want to drastically change your diet, workout routine, and sleep habits all at once. While these behaviors likely work together and could potentially reinforce each other, making several drastic life changes at once is almost always a guaranteed recipe for failure.

It’s not at all because we don’t possess the ability to do so, but rather that we’re asking ourselves to do something that is virtually impossible and unsustainable. Meaningful and lasting changes tend to occur through small incremental changes over time. In the example I gave above, you could start with changing just one aspect of your life (like diet) and integrate the others later once you’ve accomplished your initial goal. Another option might be to set two attainable goals to begin (like eating out one day less each week and getting up 10 minutes earlier) which you make more challenging over time (like eating out only once a week and getting up an hour earlier).

As with the above points discussed, this approach tends to work because small, attainable goals help us experience a sense of achievement which in turn, builds self-confidence. Why should you care about self-confidence? Because self-confidence is really about learning to trust ourselves. Imagine if you had someone in your life who you continually told you they would meet you at a certain time tomorrow and then for weeks, they never showed up, day after day. After a few days (or maybe even just the first day), you would stop waiting for them because you wouldn’t trust them.

Every time we break a commitment to ourselves, we break our own trust. We trust ourselves less and less until we come to believe that we won’t follow through with anything and are incapable of accomplishing any goals. We diminish our self-confidence until there is nothing left (just writing this makes me feel so sad!!). Why do we treat ourselves with so little regard? We are important and so worthy of self-love and of keeping our commitments to ourselves (which fits so well with my next point)!

Before we move on, let me just say once more — YOU are important and YOU are worthy of love.

More compassion, less criticism. There’s a lot of research which shows that self-criticism actually works to demotivate us. (Which is probably not so surprising after reading the last few paragraphs.) When we fail, as we inevitably will, it’s important to have some self-compassion. Be gracious with yourself in recognizing that at any moment we can start again and try our best to do better.

More compassion may mean that you go off your diet for a night because it’s important to enjoy a special occasion with your family and not worry about monitoring your food choices. It may mean that you while you didn’t stick to your diet for breakfast (because maybe someone brought donuts to the office this morning), you’re committed to making good food choices for lunch (or dinner if you call it that) and supper instead of throwing the whole day out the window. It may mean that while you missed your deadline for a project or goal, you recognize that you’ve still made a lot of progress and you’re committed to seeing it through, even if it’s a little bit later than you had hoped.

I want to note that there’s a healthy balance between being self-compassionate and not falling into overly-compromising on a commitment to yourself (which can harbor distrust). That balance will be different depending on the individual and the circumstances. I genuinely believe however, you know the difference— you know when you’re showing a little bit of grace, flexibility, and self-compassion (which is sometimes needed) and you know when you’re breaking a commitment or promise to yourself. Be mindful of the difference and do what’s best for you.

Stay in the present moment. When that moment of conflict arises and you find yourself with the desire to compromise your goal, whatever it may be, know that this is only natural. This is an inevitable occurrence within the process of change. Instead of seeking a distraction, stay present in the moment. Try facing these moments with a sense of curiosity (instead of chastising yourself). Consider what it mean to cheat on your goal today or in this moment. Likely, it would mean breaking a promise you’ve made to yourself.

Remind yourself of your goal’s importance and worth (and perhaps also of your importance and worth as well). Why did you commit to this goal in the first place? Why was (is) it important to you? Stay with these feelings and allow them to pass (because they definitely will!). You may be surprised at the emotions connected to these experiences — you may feel anger or sadness or remorse (or something else altogether). Just know that it’s okay to feel; we’re human and that’s what we do.

Recruit an ally. Accountability can be a powerful tool especially if you’re someone who struggles to keep resolutions for yourself. *raises hand slowly* This doesn’t have to come in the form of a person (though it certainly may!), it could be in the form of keeping a reflection journal or logging your progress in an app. There are a lot of great apps out there for tracking fitness goals through logging your food and workout habits, for example. (I use Fitbit and know a lot of people who use MyFitnessPal, but there are many other good apps out there beyond these.)

The most important thing here, is finding whatever works to help hold you accountable and provide some support toward reaching your goals. I recently installed an aerial yoga hammock in my house (it was actually a gift from my parents – thank you!!) which I had been wanting to do for some time. I was initially drawn to it because it looked like fun, – which it totally is – but since practicing with it, I’ve realized it has immense value in its ability to act as a support in learning to do things like inversions or for working on balance in poses like Warrior 3. I’m telling you this because I happened to mention my observation to my doctoral Advisor and she, in her infinite wisdom, remarked how perfectly this demonstrated that with the right supports in place, virtually anything is attainable (it literally gives me goosebumps even now).

Isn’t that the truth? Things that sometimes feel out of reach or even impossible to us, suddenly become realities when we just have the right tools or the right people around us. So spend a bit of time thinking about what might be most helpful to you and recognize that it may take some trial and error to figure it out. Once it’s there, the sky is the limit – literally, anything is possible.

Channel your inner rebel. If you’re the type of person who resists being told what to do and when to do it (as many of us are), you may not love the idea of setting boundaries for yourself. However, the same characteristics that compel us to resist constraints also drive us to fight and fight hard; we love to defy expectations, prove others wrong, and most of all, we LOVE to win!

I have a good friend who’s taking his sibling rivalry to a whole new level by competing with his sister to make his fitness goals. That desire to beat her (or maybe just to not let her win?) is a big part of what’s driving him to make it to the gym every morning before work. Healthy competition can be highly motivational for individuals like this (myself included). It may not be possible (or ideal) in every case, but for something like losing weight, it could be really fun to challenge a friend or family member.

I will add a word of caution on this point, however. Yes, spite can be a powerful motivator, but I’m not sure it’s always a healthy one – especially if it’s the ONLY thing that’s driving you to accomplish a goal. It’s important that our goals be things that we have chosen to pursue because they are meaningful and important to us in some way. If the desire to prove someone wrong or to be better than someone else is the only thing that is driving you to pursue a goal, I urge you to consider whether it’s truly something worth the effort. Is it something that will bring joy or peace to your life in some way? If not, it may be time to drop it.

Do some investigative work. It can be really helpful to do a little research about your goal and to find out what others have done to achieve the same goal. If it’s a particularly broad topic area (like weight loss ), you may find the amount of information online to be overwhelming at first because there are literally thousands of articles available. Consider starting with friends, family members, or colleagues who may have had similar experiences and ask what’s worked well for them. Most people are happy to share their success stories and will probably give you more information than you asked for!  Once you have a good starting point (like maybe the name of a particular diet to research), you can narrow your search online for additional information if needed.

This approach can be particularly helpful if you’re someone who likes to make a clear plan ahead of time or if you have a tendency to want to know the “best” or “right” way to do something. Just be sure to keep in mind that what’s best for you may be different from what’s best or has worked for someone else and that’s completely okay (really, it’s to be expected). You may even need to try some things out to find the best fit before making a decision. Remember, what’s most important is to actually take the first steps toward achieving your goal (back to that point about “Do something. Do Anything.”) – even if it’s not quite right when you first start. Don’t get stuck in the research and planning phase at the cost of delaying your goal any longer.

Make your commitment a big deal. It may be tempting to say you’ll start your diet (or virtually any other goal) on Monday, but it’s really important to set an official start date. Lots of people get stuck in the planning and preparation phase; they continually procrastinate actually acting on their resolution. Look at your calendar and mark the start date. Look at the events you have coming up in the near future – will you be traveling or do you have a big celebration to attend? You may want to plan around these things to help ensure you will be successful (just don’t put it off for too long).

Once you have a start date, commit to working on your goal for a set length of time. It may be 30 days, or 3 months, or 6 months depending on your goal and the amount of time you think you will realistically need to accomplish it. Something you may also want to consider are conditions for breaking your commitment. For instance, what will happen if you break your commitment one day or you don’t reach your goal for a week? Will you start over at Day 1?

It may sound harsh, but having some conditions or even consequences in place can actually help us stay committed on those days when we just want to give up. We’ll think to ourselves, “I don’t want to cheat because I don’t want to start over!” I didn’t invent this idea, it’s been used by many people and it’s one of the principles of the Whole30 diet which I’ve mentioned in previous posts. When you get to day 25 and you just want to eat some bread, you’re much less likely to do so because you only have five days left and you don’t want to start the 30 days all the way from the beginning again!!

Okay, enough of that – here’s the fun part: Find a way to commemorate your first day by doing something special. Celebrate in some way or get something that brings meaning to the day for you. It doesn’t have to cost anything – it could be as simply as writing your goal in a place that you will see it every day. It might be finding a mantra that you will remind yourself of as you work on your goal such as, “I trust in myself and the decisions I make,” or simply, “I am enough.”  Consider also telling friends and family members about your plan as they may want to know and could help cheer you along the way (and celebrate in your success!).

Trust the transformational process. Recognize that change occurs over time and when we are ready to change. If you have the intention to change and put forth the effort, you will absolutely change — but it’s probably not going to happen overnight. Trust that you will reach your goal in your own time — every day is a day of progress along that journey.

Celebrate your small successes along the way to help remind yourself of your progress. Additionally, you may consider journaling so that you can frequently reflect on how far you’ve come. Even if you did everything on this list and mapped your goal out perfectly, life has a tendency to get in the way on occasion. Remember that we can’t control everything. In unexpected moments, have some self-compassion and then trust that we will all be okay. You will be okay.

Final Thoughts

There are a lot of ideas mentioned in the paragraphs above to help you channel your own motivational fire. However, there are a few common threads that seem to be focused around:

  • Taking action – even if it’s not quite the right action, just trying something out can be helpful in creating the momentum to move forward
  • Growing our self-confidence (which involves building trust with ourselves) often provides the empowerment required to commit to and achieve our goals
  • Knowing there isn’t a one-size fits all approach; what works best for you will depend on your individual needs and circumstances (so don’t be afraid to try out some different things)
  • Recognizing that meaningful and sustainable change take time to create (so have patience with the process)

I hope you enjoyed today’s post and I encourage you to share any questions or comments below. I would love to hear about your own goals, plans, challenges, successes, etc.!

All my best to you,

Tiff

References

Fessler, L. (2018). Psychologists have surprising advice people who feel unmotivated. Quartz at Work. Retrieved January 6, 2019, from https://qz.com/work/1363911/two-psychologists-have-a-surprising-theory-on-how-to-get-motivated/

Manson, M. (2011). The “do something” principle. MM.net. Retrieved from January 6, 2019, from https://markmanson.net/do-something

Vozza, S. (2018). How these 4 different personality types find motivation. Fast Company. Retrieved January 6, 2019, from https://www.fastcompany.com/40560193/how-these-4-different-personality-types-find-motivation

Wilson, A. (2016). Playing with fire: The power of Tapas to help us fulfill our intentions. Kripalu: Center for Yoga & Health. Retrieved February 6, 2019, from https://kripalu.org/resources/playing-fire-power-tapas-help-us-fulfill-our-intentions

Photo Credits (in order of appearance)

  1. Fire, Photo by Joshua Newton on Unsplash
  2. Books on bookshelf, Photo by Janko Ferlič on Unsplash
  3. Calendar, Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash
  4. Crossed hands, Photo by Giulia Bertelli on Unsplash
  5. Ladder to sky, Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash
  6. Monarch butterflies, Photo by Suzanne D. Williams on Unsplash

How to be a Better Communicator (a.k.a. Listener)

So often, we actually stop listening before the speaker has even finished sharing their thoughts. We’re always a few steps ahead; predicting, planning our next steps, preparing a response, or allowing our minds to wander to other (perhaps more pressing) thoughts.

Learning to be a good listener is fundamental to becoming a good communicator. Research suggests that people who are good at listening tend to be more successful in their careers and experience better relationships. Yet most people are not very good at listening. Why is that?

Well for one thing, we don’t really practice listening and we definitely don’t emphasize it in education (have you ever seen a class on listening?). While listening is the very first communication skill we learn as children, parents and teachers tend to prioritize the development of speaking, reading, and writing skills over listening.

This may have something to do with culture as our society tends to value the ability to articulate our individual thoughts and ideas more than openness toward or acceptance of ideas that are different from our own.

Listening it something I’ve been studying for years. In fact, my undergraduate degree is in Organizational Communication and I’ve taught an interpersonal skills course several times. So in preparation for today’s post, I even dusted off a couple of my old textbooks to brush up a bit. 🙂

Based on my own experiences and the opinions of a few experts, here are some of the best practices for becoming better listeners:

Listen beyond just hearing. Hearing is the physical process of sound entering our ears and being processed by the brain. We hear many things throughout the day, but we only choose to listen to some of those messages. Listening, on the other hand, is a voluntary process that requires our attention and energy.

Think back to your college classes – did you tend to retain information better when you were actively paying attention and taking notes, or when you were distracted – perhaps talking with a neighbor or doodling in your notebook? We all know the answer to this question – listening takes intention and it requires our full attention (so put your phone down!).

Actually pay attention to what’s being said. The most common issue we face in effective listening is our failure to block out distractions. It tends to be harder than we might think given all of the stimuli that surrounds us. Of course our phones are a major distraction, but things like background noise or even personal stress can act to deter us from giving our full attention as well. We all know what it feels like when someone is distracted from listening to us and it’s not fun, so let’s commit to minimizing barriers when possible.

Barriers may be environmental (like background noise or televisions on the wall or people walking by or phone notifications popping up), physiological (like when our minds start to wander or when we have a cold which impacts our ability to hear well), or psychological (like when we have a poor attitude about what’s being said or we disagree with the message).

Again, it takes intention to block out distractions so be thoughtful about where you meet people or even the time of day. For instance, trying to have a conversation when we’re hungry or tired could impact our ability to focus. When possible, meet in a quiet space. Try to minimize distractions by, perhaps, closing the door or playing soft background music without words.

You know when you are most alert and productive during your day, so consider scheduling meetings for times of the day when you feel the best. For me, this tends to be mid-morning and mid-afternoon (which is when I schedule almost all of my meetings).

Don’t anticipate what’s next. A lot of us have this bad habit of anticipating what someone is going to say next, so we stop listening. Or worse, we start strategizing what we’re going to say in response, before they’re even done talking. Stop anticipating what’s next and actually listen with an open mind to what is being said.

Sometimes, people will surprise us. Sometimes, we will be wrong. And sometimes, we may actually learn something new or change the way we think as a result of what we hear. There is no shame in taking a second to process what we’ve heard and to gather our thoughts in order to prepare a response – so there’s no need to rush. And sometime, silence is a good thing because every now and then, the speaker will open up without any prompting at all.

Slow down and really listen.

Be aware of the whole message. Between 75% and 90% of the information we gather from others is attained through nonverbal communication. This means that while the actual words are incredibly important, understanding the meaning beyond those words is also necessary.

Be observant of things like body language, inflection, and tone which provide clues to the real meaning of the message.  Is the speaker being sarcastic? Are they communicating frustration? Are they attempting to deflect blame or guilt by minimizing a request?

If you’re not sure, ask! Simply asking can provide us with the additional information that tells us the true meaning of the message. Beyond this, it shows that we are really listening and engaging in the conversation at hand. Try something like, “Are you sure you’re okay? I hear you saying that you are, but your body language and tone seem to say that you’re not actually okay.” Sometimes a caring and empathetic voice is all a person needs to open up a little.

Evaluate what you hear with open-mindedness.  Part of listening is not simply accepting the words we hear, but considering how they resonate with what we know from our own life experiences. Recognize that we all have different experiences which have shaped our individual perceptions of the world.

While you may not agree with someone’s message (which is completely okay!), keep in mind that your goal should be to connect with the speaker’s underlying emotion or attitude about the content. Even if you don’t agree with the speaker’s point, you can likely understand their emotion. Something as simple as, “I can see why that would be frustrating,” can provide a sense of support and understanding.

Keep in mind also that the speaker may not want or expect you to respond to what they’re saying with a solution. Sometimes, people just need to feel like they’re being heard, like they have a voice. A good way to check this is to simply ask, “How can I help or support you?” or “Do you want to strategize possible solutions?”

Provide feedback with acceptance and positivity. In responding, it is best to avoid challenging an individual’s intelligence or honesty. Such approaches are personal attacks and will almost certainly be met defensively. Instead, good feedback should be immediate, honest, and supportive.

We can show that we are engaged and responsive by making eye contact, showing the appropriate facial expressions (like smiling or frowning), gesturing with our head movements (like nodding), providing touch when appropriate (like touching one’s arm to provide comfort), or giving verbal affirmations (like simply encouraging the speaker to continue or checking to ensure we understand their meaning). Paraphrasing can also demonstrate empathetic listening.

Being empathetic or supportive doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t disagree with the speaker’s message if we don’t agree – quite the contrary. In working with students, there were a few instances in which I disagreed with their line of thinking (e.g., what’s fair or not fair). However, we have the ability to articulate our perspective without attacking the speaker.

One good approach might be looking at facts or evidence. In my experiences, this generally involved looking at things like how many days a student had missed and/or how many assignments they hadn’t submitted. This could involve providing specific personal examples or citing current (reliable) news articles. Whatever the case, focus on the content of the message itself, not the speaker.

Final Thoughts

Being intentional in listening starts with thoughtful planning to minimize distractions and to actually be prepared to listen.

It takes work to listen and understand the real meaning of the message. If you’re not sure that you’re really getting it – just ask! It’s much more authentic than pretending to understand or just tuning out altogether.

Empathy is an important component to listening. Focus on connecting with the emotion of the speaker and look for opportunities to be supportive when appropriate.

References

Arntson, A. (2017). Most of us are bad listeners – Here are some small ways to fix that. Verily. Retrieved December 4, 2018, from https://verilymag.com/2017/12/listening-skills-relationship-communication-active-constructive-responding

Fritz, S., Brown, F. W., Lunde, J. P., & Banset, E. A. (2005). Interpersonal skills for leadership (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

Henderson, N. (2018). How to be a better listener: Fixing 5 common bad habits. Welltuned. Retrieved December 4, 2018, from http://bcbstwelltuned.com/2018/07/26/how-to-be-a-better-listener-fixing-5-common-bad-habits/

Trenholm, S. (2008). Thinking through communication: An introduction to the study of human communication (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.

Wong, K. (2017). How to be an excellent (or at least pretty good) listener. The Cut. Retrieved December 4, 2018, from https://www.thecut.com/2017/12/how-to-be-a-better-listener.html

Photo Credits (in order of appearance)

  1. Boy screaming, Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash
  2. Fashion’s untold stories, Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash
  3. Coffee talks, Photo by Joshua Ness on Unsplash
  4. Leaning on each other, Photo by Shamim Nakhaei on Unsplash

Get Your Grit On

Over the past 2 years, I’ve been working toward achieving a fitness goal of reducing my body fat to 17%. When I started this journey in November of 2016, my body fat was at 29.7%. Last week, I finally achieved my goal and I’ve been thinking a lot about all of the hard work and time I’ve invested in making this goal.

It wasn’t easy. In fact, I had a nasty shoulder injury that prevented me from doing much of any lifting last winter. (Plus, I developed a pretty lousy attitude for a while and gained some weight back as a result.) Today, I’m still learning to cope with my SLAP tear and I continue to make time to get to the gym on a regular basis.

I wanted to dedicate today’s topic to grit because I think it’s a really important ingredient in helping us achieve our goals. While grit isn’t the only factor that determines success, I fully believe it’s a necessary one.

According to Angela Duckworth, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, grit is even more important than intelligence and skills in predicting individual success. It’s the combination of passion and persistence over time that really sets people apart — those who reach their goals and those who don’t.

Want to find out how gritty you are? You can take the grit scale for your individual score. If your score isn’t what you had hoped today, there’s great news because Duckworth believes (and I agree with her) that everyone has the potential to improve their grittiness if they have the desire to do so.

Why should you care? Because gritty people tend to be more successful and happier with the circumstances of their lives. And couldn’t we all benefit from those things?

Here’s how to grow your grit:

Set a goal and stick to it. Simply setting a goal isn’t enough to work on developing your grit and it won’t work for just any old goal. This goal needs to be something in which you have a genuine interest and it needs to be personally meaningful to you. These components are important because they are what define passion and grit has everything to do with passion that drives us forward over time.

anete-lusina-382329-unsplash

It could be a goal related to your health (like mine) or it may be a goal for your career or education or any other meaningful goal. It should be something that will take some time (probably several months or even years) and will give you a sense of purpose. Chances are, you already have a goal that you’re working towards, but it’s important to actually articulate that goal and to start thinking about the actions you will need to take in order to reach it.

Avoid getting sidetracked. It can be easy to get deterred by new interests or goals. While we will always have things to balance in our lives (like time with our families, work assignments, hobbies, etc.), it’s important to set our focus on what’s most important and commit to staying on course towards our overarching goal. Some things that can help us do this include:

Setting benchmarks along the way. If your long term goal is Z, then think through the required steps A, B, C, and so on to get you to goal Z. These are short term goals or bench marks that will help keep you on track along the way. Once you have a list of short term goals, you can create a timeline.

For instance, if your goal is to buy a house in 5 years, you need to figure out how much money you will need to save for a down payment. Let’s say you want to put $20,000 down. That means you need to save $4,000 per year and approximately $333 each month. If you get paid biweekly, you will need to designate $167 from each paycheck in order to reach your goal in 5 years.

It’s relatively easy to do this with numbers, but you can actually break down any big goal into smaller measurable goals (if you’re really stumped, feel free to write me a note in the comments section below and I will do my best to offer some suggestions).

Checking your progress regularly. If you’ve created a detailed timeline with bench marks, it will be easy to check your progress. It’s best to make this a regular habit so that it’s at the forefront of our minds. I would recommend checking in on a weekly basis (if possible) to see if you’re making the progress you had hoped.

If not, consider if this is something you can change. For instance, okay- I didn’t do all that well this week, but I will definitely do better next week because I’m going to commit to doing (whatever you need to do to make next week’s goal). Or, it may be that you’ve made your short term goals a bit too difficult and you may need to adjust (extend) your timeline to make these goals more achievable.

Seeing your goal through to the end. Don’t’ despair if you need to make adjustments or changes to your goals along the way. This is a normal part of the process and it does not indicate your success or failure. Sometimes, we will find that our long-term goal has evolved or that it is simply not possible because of new circumstance. In these cases, we can revise our long-term goal as needed. Then, repeat the process of creating benchmarks and a timeline.

Remember, grit is indicated by passion and persistence over time which means your commitment is what really counts – not how quickly you achieve your goal or how few times you adjust your goal or that you envision exactly the same outcome throughout the process. In fact, your goal will almost certainly be impacted by unforeseen circumstances because that’s how real life is – unpredictable.

Don’t be discouraged by setbacks. Resilience is perhaps the most important characteristic of grittiness. Acknowledging that setbacks and challenges are likely to occur can help us be more adaptable and readily able to navigate them when they occur. Instead of viewing setbacks as failures, we can recognize them as learning opportunities. In fact, they are normal and necessary to our personal growth and development – it’s literally how we learn. (e.g., “Well that didn’t work, so now I’m going to try this approach instead.”).

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When we face setbacks, it’s best to take a step back and look at the big picture. Think about what needs to change in order for progress to occur. And sometimes, we may need to actually give up a goal. For instance, if continuing to pursue it would be detrimental as in continuing to pour money into a failed business venture. Or if we’ve decided that this is no longer a goal worth pursuing. This could occur when choosing to make a major career change, for example.

Even in such cases, we can immediately begin recreating a revised long term goal. Just because we abandon one goal, doesn’t mean we’re not still working towards something.

Be diligent and hardworking. Maybe these seem obvious, but actually being dedicated to our goals and putting in the quality of work required to achieve them are just as important as the rest of the process. It isn’t enough to simply set goals and then hope we make them.

We have to set ourselves up for success by committing to do the work. This may mean carving out time to work on our goals each day or each week (like actually putting it on your calendar). It may mean that we need to go talk to others who have already achieved similar goals to find out how they did it. Whatever the case, taking action is absolutely required – and it’s often the hardest step.

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Take some time to consider how you can help ensure you will actually do what you need to do. Having accountability in some way can be particularly meaningful. I did this by working out two times a week with a trainer. Not only did this help me meet my goals, it ensured that at least twice each week I would physically be at the gym to workout.

Find a gritty mentor. Finding a mentor can be extremely worthwhile. According to Duckworth, mentors should provide both challenge and support. Without both of these components, we are likely to become discouraged or complacent. For example, if my trainer always told me I could do better and never praised my progress, I would quickly become frustrated. In the same way, if my trainer never challenged me to try harder and always just told me how awesome I am, I would quickly lose motivation to work harder.

Your mentor can be pretty much anyone – a colleague, a friend, a family member. He or she should be a gritty person as well which is indicated by their passion and persistence to a long-term goal. Generally, highly successful people are gritty, so try to find someone you view as successful and who will provide both challenge and support for you.

Final Thoughts

Grit is something that tends to change over time based on the circumstances of our lives and our focused effort at a given time. Recognize that it’s okay to be a work-in-progress – really, we all are. 🙂 It’s about practicing in order to grow your personal grittiness.

You can read a lot more about grit from leading expert, Angela Duckworth, in her book: Grit

I would love to hear about your own meaningful long-term goals and welcome you to share them (or any other questions or comments) in the comments section below.

References

Belli, G. (2018). How to develop grit. PayScale. Retrieved November 16, 2018, from https://www.payscale.com/career-news/2018/03/how-to-develop-grit

Duckworth, A. (2018). Q&A. Angela Duckworth. https://angeladuckworth.com/qa/

Koehn, N. (2018). Resilience won’t just be there when you need it. You have to train it. Big Think. Retrieved November 16, 2018, from https://bigthink.com/videos/nancy-koehn-resilience-wont-just-be-there-when-you-need-it-you-have-to-train-it

Lebowitz, S. (2016). A UPenn psychologist says ‘grit’ is key to success in life – here’s how to become a grittier person. Business Insider. Retrieved November 16, 2018, from
https://www.businessinsider.com/angela-duckworth-how-to-become-a-grittier-person-2016-5

Photo Credits (in order of appearance)

  1. Top of the Morning, Photo by Francisco Gonzalez on Unsplash
  2. Planner and coffee, Photo by Anete Lūsiņa on Unsplash
  3. Woman, Photo by Soragrit Wongsa on Unsplash
  4. Climbing, Photo by Tommy Lisbin on Unsplash

Networking Strategies

I just returned from the International Leadership Association’s (ILA) Annual Global Conference in West Palm Beach, Florida (which I would highly recommend visiting if you ever have the chance) and I thought this would be a great time to talk about strategies for networking. Even if you don’t attend professional conferences, I think you are likely to find some value and applicability within virtually any industry. In fact, I find it difficult to think of anyone, in any profession, who couldn’t benefit (at least a little) from expanding their network.

Let me start by saying that I’ve talked to a few friends and colleagues who have this perception about networking that makes it seem like it’s this undesirable thing to do — as if it’s something to be ashamed of or something that others may find annoying. So, I’m just going to clearly state that you should absolutely take pride in your networking abilities and in no way feel ashamed.

Because really, networking is all about making connections that can be mutually beneficial. People actually want you to network with them. Plus, you can take some comfort in knowing that when people attend conferences, everyone is essentially there for the same reason — to geek out with other nerds about the awesome stuff we get to study (what else?!)!!

If you do a quick search of the word ‘networking’ online, you’ll quickly find that there are a lot of articles with a lot of different advice (sometimes even conflicting) – which can make it difficult to know which approaches are best. Today, I’m going to talk about what’s worked well for me and I’m even going to discuss some things to avoid. I’ll also highlight a few notes from other experts and some approaches I’m planning to try out in the future.

Be engaged. I know you have a million other things going on in your life and you’re taking time away from work to attend this conference — and wouldn’t this be an awesome opportunity to get caught up on a few things while you’re away from the office?? But please, resist the urge and commit to being present while you’re at the conference. It’s important – possibly the most important thing on this list.

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There’s so much to be gained from listening to and learning about what others are doing in your field. I always come back from conferences feeling excited and re-energized because talking to (and learning from) others in my field helps remind me why I love what I do. It also provides opportunities to talk through challenges with my own research and to discover the new and innovative areas of research that are being explored by fellow leadership nerds.

I realize you may not feel as passionately about your own field of study or industry of work (though I hope you do!), but even if you just hang out in the common area for the majority of the conference – choose to be in the present moment, rather than somewhere else. I’ll talk more about some strategies for doing this in the following paragraphs.

Be extroverted (even if you’re not really an extrovert). This may come as a surprise to some of you, but I am a total introvert *gasp*. I just happen to be really good at pretending to be an extrovert when it’s necessary (or just because I want to). And, here’s the thing – anyone can act like an extrovert. It’s all about setting yourself up for success by ensuring that the way you connect with others is a comfortable experience (or at least as comfortable as possible). The main thing is, if you don’t make an effort to network, it probably isn’t going to just happen on its own. So, you need to be a little bit intentional in your approach. (The next three points will offer some ideas on how to do this.)

Prepare ahead of time. It’s a really good idea to look at the conference agenda ahead of time (which is provided online beforehand in most cases) and see who’s going to be there and what sessions you might like to attend. Skim the directory for your ‘celebrity crushes’ (I know they aren’t real celebrities, but in our tiny worlds of research they sometimes feel that way) and find out when they’re speaking. Then, look at topic areas of interest and make some decisions about the sessions you definitely want (or need) to attend.

A really easy way to approach a potential contact is to simply introduce yourself after they’ve presented (but wait to do so until the entire session is complete so you don’t interrupt or distract from other speakers). When I introduce myself, I usually start by sharing some things I find interesting about their research, possibly mention my own area of research (especially if it’s something similar), and exchange business cards. That’s it – it’s super short and to the point. Lately, I’ve also been asking if they’re on LinkedIn and then I let them know that they can expect to receive a connection request from me.

If there are people who you know you definitely want to meet while at the conference, consider contacting them ahead of time to arrange a set meeting time (maybe for an early breakfast). This is not something that I have typically done in the past, but I can certainly see its benefits (and plan to try it out in the future). One-on-one face time can be hard to get while at a conference because there is always so much happening and generally lots of other people who want to meet the same individuals. Keep in mind that if you’re trying to connect with someone who is a sort of celeb (because they’ve published a lot, or wrote a book (or ten), or because they are the father/mother of a particular theory), they will likely have lots of other ‘fans’ with whom you will be competing for their attention.

Create opportunities to interact.  I generally prefer to talk with one person at a time rather than trying to meet people in a large gathering. This means creating opportunities for interaction is sort of crucial for me. There are a few ways to do this. If there’s a common area (like a designated area to work or an area where there is coffee for conference goers), I will generally look for a table where one person is already working and ask if I can join them. I’ll pull out my Surface Pro and work on checking emails or pull out my program guide and browse the upcoming sessions for a bit (all things which I generally need to do anyway). If I’m getting myself coffee or a snack, I generally ask if my new table mate would like anything while I’m up.

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At some point, it’s almost inevitable that the other person at the table will initiate a conversation (which I prefer because it generally signals to me that they’re at a place where they can pause what they’re doing and talk for a few minutes). They may ask how my day is going or how I’ve enjoyed the conference so far or ask what has brought me to the conference (a great opportunity to talk about your own research). In any case, this approach feels more informal and less forced to me. It seems relatively easy to carry on a cordial conversation and it’s pretty easy to check-out of the conversation (whenever you’re ready) by returning to your work or noting that you need to get to the next session.

An article by Ben Waber discussed a similar strategy that’s worked well for him. While visiting a multi-day conference, he decided he would continuously ride in a small shuttle (only holding 2-3 people) which transported individuals to sessions at the various conference locations. He did this to create opportunities to meet and interact with other conference goers in a more informal setting and limited time frame (I found it to be both clever and hilarious). He actually claims that these networking opportunities are likely more impactful and meaningful than attending the actual conference sessions – so, you shouldn’t feel badly about missing a session or two if it allows you to develop new connections with people. Though I would caution against skipping out on most of the conference (isn’t that the reason you came?).

Express interest in others. Generally speaking, people love to be admired. So, ask questions about others’ research, listen with intent (genuinely), and praise their work. I think this is where some people may miss the point of networking and start to think of it negatively. The purpose should not be to connect with others so you can get something from them. It should be to connect with others because you have something to give — remember, the idea is to create a mutually beneficial relationship.

Before you arrive at the conference, spend some time thinking about what you may have to offer. Are you interested in collaborating on a project? Have you done some relevant research or written a literature review which could be helpful? Are you interested in helping plan an event or workshop? Have you developed resources (such as surveys or lesson plans) that you would be willing to share with others? Would you consider visiting someone’s campus and/or giving a guest lecture? There are likely many things you have to offer — it may just take some creative thinking on your part to discover what those things are.

Have your elevator pitch in your back pocket. Even if you’re not actively applying for jobs, the closer you are to graduation, the more likely you are to be asked questions such as, “What’s your research about?” or “So, what’s the next step?” or “What types of jobs will you be looking for (and where)?” It’s a good idea to have some talking points in mind to avoid drawing a total blank when these questions arise. It doesn’t have to be long either, a 30-second rundown of your research can provide a lot of information.

It’s also okay to say you don’t know the answer to a question. People tend to appreciate honesty and sometimes they will offer insights that you would not otherwise have access to. I’m honestly not sure what type of job I’m going to be looking for after graduation. So at this most recent conference, I simply told people that I’m approaching the job market with an open mind and looking at potential non-academic opportunities. To my surprise, a lot of the people I met have worked outside of academia as consultants and were able share knowledge based on their experiences, both past and present. I was even presented with a couple of potential employment opportunities.

The main take-away: It pays to be honest.

Dress to impress. Every conference is a bit different in terms of how formal or casual the dress code is and the location of the venue often has an impact as well. For instance, when I was in Florida for this latest conference, I saw lots of people wearing sleeveless tops and open toe shoes, which was completely appropriate given the beach context. If you haven’t attended a particular conference in the past, you may want to ask a trusted colleague or mentor what to expect – I imagine this will vary depending on things like your specific field, the size of the conference, its location, etc.

While there are many different opinions on appropriate dress, I tend to error on the side of over-dressed rather than under-dressed. If you’re giving a formal presentation, I think you should dress professionally. This doesn’t mean you have to wear a full suit, but you should probably avoid wearing something like jeans or shorts with flip flops. On the other hand, if you’re presenting a poster during an after-hours reception, it’s likely to be a much more informal and relaxed setting, so jeans may be completely appropriate.

The most common issues I see with conference attire don’t have as much to do with the level of formality, as with the overall functionality and practicality (for lack of better terms). I’m not about to tell you that your neck line needs to be “this high” or your skirt should be “at least this long” or that you need to wear a belt with your trousers. Your clothing choices are an expression of who you are and you should wear what makes you feel the most comfortable. All I’m going to say is that you can expect to be sitting down and standing up a lot throughout any conference – you will likely go up and down stairs (multiple times) and/or use an elevator (which may or may not be made of glass so that the whole world can see in). You will probably do a ton of walking as well (so consider bringing comfortable shoes).

Additionally, if you’re presenting, there’s a very good chance that you could be asked to help move chairs, tables, the projector, or to pull down a screen (all things which have actually happened to me). I’m only telling you this (especially for women, but men can also benefit from this), so that you’re prepared and you can wear clothing that moves with you and covers what needs to be covered so that you feel 100% comfortable and confident. Literally, all I’m suggesting you do is take a few minutes while you’re packing for your trip to try on your clothes and make sure when you bend over, sit down, or raise your arms, your clothing is covering what you want it to be covering. Okay, now I’m done. 🙂

Assume you’re always being watched. I’m not saying this to be creepy or to make you feel paranoid, but I always start seeing other conference goers as soon as I make it to my connecting flight (and it’s possible you may even have colleagues on your initial flight as well). Yes, you should totally be allowed to have some fun while you’re at your conference, but keep in mind that this is not a vacation. This is a professional development opportunity and you are primarily attending for the purpose of work.

Remember to be on your best behavior. Avoid things like over-consumption of alcohol or gossiping about colleagues (or even students) when in public areas. Venting about your advisor or other conference goers is something you should save for private conversations. Honestly, I think you should even avoid it in the elevator because there’s a very good chance you could be overheard by someone who knows the person you are talking about (this actually happened to one of my colleagues).

If you really need to have a good vent session (because sometimes this happens when we’re in close proximity to the same people over an extended period of time), I would advise you to go to the privacy of your own room and call a friend or significant other who can allow you to get some things of your chest. That way, you don’t risk being overheard or saying something in the moment that you could potentially regret.

Follow up with contacts after the conference. Exchanging your business card with other professionals is a great first step to connecting with them, but there’s more you can do once you’re home to ensure you stay connected. I mentioned earlier that I typically ask individuals if they’re on LinkedIn and make a point of letting them know that I will send a request to connect. I typically wait a few days after the conference before sending connection requests and follow up emails because I realize people tend to be pretty busy when they first get back to work (although I have had people add or email me while still at the conference or even on the way home and that’s okay too).

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I typically send a quick, individualized email letting contacts know that it was nice to meet them. I always think it’s a good idea to remind them of where we met (so they are more likely to recall who I am), so I might say something like, “I really enjoyed your presentation on __________ and loved chatting with you about ___________. I’m hoping we can stay in touch and possibly collaborate on a project in the future as we discussed” (or whatever you may have discussed as a potential outcome of this relationship). I often add that I’ve already sent them an add request on LinkedIn and look forward to seeing them at next year’s conference (if not before).

On occasion, I will have someone ask me to share resources with them such as teaching materials like a case study or survey (which I always find to be pretty flattering because it means other people think you have cool resources). While you are certainly never required to share resources, I often think it’s a good practice to share things (as long as it’s not something you may potentially publish) because it’s a great way to develop connections. And when you share resources, people tend to be more willing to share with you. If someone asked you to share a resource while at the conference, be sure to actually send it to them once you’re home. Additionally, if someone shares a resource with you, be sure to thank them for not only taking time out of their very busy schedule to do so, but also for their willingness to share with you.

Final Thoughts

Networking is an art that takes practice – the more you do it, the more comfortable and skilled you will become at networking.

Remember that it’s better to make a few meaningful connections than to make lots of connections with people whom you won’t actually remember (and probably won’t remember you).

Be strategic in choosing who to connect with and don’t sell yourself short or feel shame about networking — you have a lot to offer!!

If you have other networking strategies or stories to share, I would love to read about them in the comments section below!

All my best to you,

Tiff

 

References

Balkhi, S. (2018). How to network like a pro at conferences. Business.com. Retrieved October 29, 2018, from https://www.business.com/articles/conference-networking-tips/

Boyce, E. (2018). How to maximize networking at your next conference. Piqued Public Relations. Retrieved October 29, 2018, from https://www.piquedpr.com/how-to-maximize-networking-at-your-next-conference/

Lindau, A. G. (2018). Networking at conferences, or how to win-win at Lindau. Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings. Retrieved October 29, 2018, from https://www.lindau-nobel.org/networking-at-conferences-or-how-to-win-win-at-lindau/

Waber, B. (2017). This strategy for networking at conferences will work even if you’re not a natural. Quartz at Work. Retrieved October 29, 2018, from https://qz.com/work/1139912/how-to-network-at-conferences-even-if-youre-not-a-natural/

Photo Credits (in order of appearance)

  1. Shaking hand, Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash
  2. People at office, Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash
  3. Coffee shop, Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash
  4. Computer keyboard, Photo by Kaitlyn Baker on Unsplash

Productive Procrastination: I’m Doing It Right Now

Recently in a meeting with my advisor, I found myself defending my lack of progress on my dissertation (note that I had made progress, just not on the things we had previously discussed). I admitted that, at times, I am a procrastinator. I quickly added however that despite this, I’m always able to get my work done in the end.

To my surprise (and relief), my advisor made a rather astute observation, “You and I are like closet procrastinators. People tend to think we have everything together, but don’t you dare look in that filing cabinet over there!” I laughed because she was absolutely right!

I always meet deadlines, always complete my work in a way that is the best representation of my abilities (I’m even a bit of a perfectionist), but I frequently procrastinate until the last possible minute. It’s not that I’m not working when I procrastinate. It’s not at all like I’m home binge watching Netflix all week (though the thought of it sounds pretty appealing).

It’s just that I tend to find other things that are more pressing and demand my attention in the moment (or maybe just things that I prefer to do at the time). In fact, when I’m under pressure or feeling stressed, I often feel compelled to start organizing things like a stack of mail, or the filing cabinet, or my closet, or the entire guest room! At this moment, I’m pretty sure there are some people who just read this and thought, “I’ve never felt compelled to organize anything!” and there’s some people who thought, “OMG, I thought I was the only one!” Either way, you are not alone! — Everyone experiences stress in their own way. (And, if you’re feeling particularly stressed and/or exhausted right now, I encourage you to read my previous post on burnout.)

I know that at some subconscious level, my compulsions to organize are probably a way that I can feel a sense of control over the things in my life (and I’m okay with that) – like, even if I don’t feel that I’m making any ‘real’ progress on my dissertation or have much power over when I will actually graduate because there are so many unknown variables, at least I can have a sense of power over this very small corner of my life and find some order within it. I personally find it so rewarding to have something tangible – something that I can actually look at with my own eyes and see the progress I’ve made after putting in a hard day’s work.

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When I start organizing things, I also know it’s at least partly because my brain needs a break from the other work I’m doing. And to be honest, I think the truth is that I also just process things differently. I like to think about things (a lot) conceptually before I actually go about completing a task. I like to visualize the big picture – think about what the end product will be, and then I try to create a plan (essentially work backwards from the end) by filling in the steps that will get me where I want to be. In my research of today’s topic, I discovered that this is a real thing, sometimes called “mind wandering” and it’s a process that some people use to let information percolate before they actually sit down to complete a task. In many cases, it’s beneficial to let information sort of “soak in” and allow us time to form a strategy within our minds before we actually set out to do something.

Back in that same meeting with my advisor, she made this exact point – noting that while I hadn’t completed the work I had hoped to complete (she also frequently reminds me that my deadlines are mostly self-imposed, so I should stop apologizing when I don’t meet them), she knows I’ve been thinking about my work and that when I sit down to actually do it, I will be fully prepared to do so. It’s true, I really do think about my research ALL OF THE TIME – I literally dream about it some nights. It turns out, I’ve totally been embracing some “mind wandering” of my own and I didn’t even know it. (Side note: I think the reason my advisor knows all of this is that we are eerily similar in personality type, but that’s a discussion for a different day.)

Good news, people! Procrastinating can actually be a good thing and I’m going to tell you how to start making the most of your bad good awesome habit today:

Include a variety of tasks. When you create your to-do list each day, avoid putting down one large goal (like writing 20 pages) and instead give yourself multiple tasks that will require different lengths of time to complete. I find this particularly helpful when, for instance, writing is on my list (let’s be honest, it always is) and I just don’t wake up feeling like writing (because sometimes I just don’t). Instead, I might choose to work on doing the laundry, or responding to emails, or working on a presentation, or running to the store, or working out (yep, I totally put that on my to-do list).

Literally, anything you want to accomplish during your day can go on your list (there’s no judgement here, you’re the only one who has to see it!). Some of the articles I read even recommended adding things like “eat breakfast” or “have coffee” or “make my bed” to your to-do list so that by the time you actually sit down to your desk (or whatever your work space looks like), you already have a sense of accomplishment that will help keep your motivation up and your completion rate high. Not a bad idea, but I’ll let you be the one to determine the extent to which you’re going to detail the tasks of your day.

An article in The New York Times, endearingly titled “This Was Supposed to Be My Column for New Year’s Day” (and posted on Jan. 14th – so only a few days late, really), referenced the work of Dr. Steel on the art of procrastinating. My favorite line from this article is a quote from Dr. Steel which was begging to be shared with all of you, “We are willing to pursue any vile task as long as it allows us to avoid something worse.” I’m not sure if I actually agree with Dr. Steel on this because I prefer for my to-list to be compiled of things that are actually attainable (I LOVE checking off tasks), but it seems like it may be worth putting something sort of repulsive on the list to see if it motivates us to (more willingly) do everything else.

Celebrate small victories. One thing I find extremely helpful is to break large goals into smaller, more achievable ones. So, if you need to write 20 pages by the end of the week, or sign up 50 new clients, or grade 100 papers, don’t expect to complete it all in one day (be reasonable!). Instead, make your goal to write 4 pages per day, sign up 10 new customers, or grade 20 papers (I just divided the total by 5 which assumes you’re trying to complete the task in a single [work] week, but you can easily do the same for a month or a year or a decade – why the heck not?!).

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Then when you achieve your goal for the day, freaking celebrate!!! Take a break and reward yourself in whatever way you choose (e.g., take a walk, have a dance party (maybe in your office), hang out with a friend, get ice cream, watch some football, make it rain confetti – I can go all day…). It’s important to remind ourselves of our successes and to celebrate them accordingly. I’ll talk a bit more about this later when I discuss why we need to stop beating ourselves up for procrastinating. Bottom line: Allow yourself to relish the moment when you accomplish a goal, you absolutely deserve it. 🙂

Be intentional. Recognize that while [productive] procrastination can be a good thing, we should consider the reason that we are choosing to procrastinate. If it’s because we actually do need more time to think about a task before we start it or just that we don’t feel like doing that particular task at the moment, those can be good reasons to work on something else for a while. However, if you’re delaying a task because you don’t believe in it (maybe it conflicts with a personal value, for instance) or because you fear it (like, maybe you think you will fail), procrastinating could actually be quite detrimental.

If the reason you’re avoiding a task is because you actually don’t think it’s a good idea or if it’s a project you don’t believe in (and perhaps, don’t want to be associated with), consider handing the task off to someone else, if at all possible. On the other hand, if you fear that you may fail to complete the task in some way and just can’t seem to get started – remember that everyone fails and it’s a normal part of life. In fact, it’s how we learn! Don’t let this fear paralyze you and prevent you from reaching your goals!

There may even be things you can do to help set yourself up for success (and that will actually allow you to get started on the project) like speaking with others in your field to get advice, adding colleagues to the project to help assist with its completion, and/or breaking the project up into more manageable parts over time.

Avoid waiting too long. While I do tend to procrastinate, I always allow myself enough time to actually complete a project by the deadline. Keep in mind that this doesn’t mean I’m throwing together shoddy work at the last minute to ensure I have something (or anything) to submit. I’m committed to completing high quality work in whatever I do, so part of the time I designate to complete a project also includes enough time to do things like preliminary research and/or proofreading after my initial draft.

However, I recognize that things sometimes happen which are completely out of our control. The people I work with know that (for me) these are the exception and not the norm. So when a family emergency occurs or I get sick and have to ask for a deadline extension, it’s almost never a problem.

If you’re not already in the practice of doing so, I encourage you to work towards budgeting enough time to fully complete a project with the quality of work it deserves, even when you procrastinate. If this is a struggle, I encourage you to go back to the previous point and consider the root of the reason for your procrastination – it may be that you aren’t committed to the goal or that you don’t actually want to do the task – in which case, you may consider what other options are available to you.

Stop beating yourself up. We often berate ourselves when we procrastinate, but as you now know, [productive] procrastination can actually be a good thing. So why do we beat ourselves up for doing it? We may feel obligated to be in front of the computer screen because that’s what we think we should be doing, even if it means staring at a blank screen or wasting time on Facebook or other sites. Instead, when you know you’re not going to be productive (you know yourself and I’m certain you often know if you’re going to be productive before you even sit down to work), consider doing something that will actually give your mind the break it needs.

Remember, how I mentioned “mind wandering” earlier? There’s kind of an art to it in that when we allow ourselves to gain some objectivity and space from a project, we often find our minds more able to openly and creatively explore ideas. Sometimes, the very best thing we can do is walk away from the computer (or other workspace) and literally get outside. Take a break and allow your mind to rest.

My advisor told me about a former graduate student who actually woke up from a dream and could suddenly understand how her data set fit together. Of course, this doesn’t happen for everyone and you shouldn’t necessarily expect to have some great epiphone, but it’s a great example of how some space to just let things ‘percolate’ can be extremely meaningful and much more productive than staring hopelessly (and frustrated) at a blank computer screen.

Find some accountability. Pretty much all of us are more likely to meet our goals when we have someone to help hold us accountable. While a significant other or friend can be a good option, sometimes people we care about aren’t the best people to hold us accountable. We should be cautious because they may be inclined ‘to let us off the hook’ when we don’t meet our goals which can quickly become a bad habit. It’s also possible that they might be really good at holding us to our goals, but we may begin to feel resentful or frustrated which would likely harm our relationships with them.

andrea-tummons-448834-unsplash

Alternatively, look for a colleague who could also benefit from having someone hold them accountable. In this case, the experience is mutually beneficial. It doesn’t even have to be someone within your office. Another graduate student who I had met during a class agreed to be an accountability partner with me even though we didn’t live in the same town. We sent our daily and weekly goals to each other via email and did weekly video chats to check-in which worked really well for us.

If a colleague isn’t a viable option for you (for whatever reason), a mentor or counselor could also be a great person to help hold you accountable. Just remember that ultimately, you are responsible for your own success — you have the ability to set your own goals and you’re the only person who can choose to achieve them.

Final Thoughts:

As with my previous posts, the common theme here is that it’s all about you. Make productive procrastination work for you in the way that you want it to. And, if you don’t want to procrastinate (because maybe you don’t find it personally beneficial) – don’t!

I encourage you to try some of the above tips out and see what’s most ideal for you.

Let me know what’s helping you be a productive procrastinator in the comments section below – I would love to hear from you!

All my best,

Tiff

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References

Onderko, P. (2015). 6 tips to be a productive procrastinator. Success. Retrieved October 17, 2018, from https://www.success.com/6-tips-to-be-a-productive-procrastinator/

Tierney, J. (2013). This was supposed to be my column for New Year’s day. The New York Times. Retrieved October 17, 2018 from https://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/15/science/positive-procrastination-not-an-oxymoron.html

Zhang, M. (2014). How procrastinating can make you more productive. Business Insider. Retrieved October 17, 2018, from https://www.businessinsider.com/use-procrastination-to-get-things-done-2014-6

Photo Credits (in order of appearance)

  1. Girl, Photo by Alexandra Gorn on Unsplash
  2. The shelf, Photo by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash
  3. Sparklers, Photo by Jayson Hinrichsen on Unsplash
  4. Sisters are forever, Photo by Andrea Tummons on Unsplash