This One Form of Motivation Might be Sabotaging Your Goals

Want to hear the oldest joke in Hollywood? Of course you do:

On the first day of shooting, a young American actor is unable to get into character. Frantically turning the pages of the script, he moans to the director, “It’s no use! I just don’t know how to approach this scene, it’s just too problematic! In this scene, my character leaves and goes to the bathroom. But what’s my character’s thought process for going to the bathroom at that moment?

The Director, baffled, responds: To use it, I should think.

Actor: Yes, but what’s my motivation as an actor?

Director: Your paycheck.

The joke’s punchline—on the multiple levels of “motivation”—ran through my mind the other day. But does money really motivate us? What is the single most powerful way to get motivated? Let’s find out.

Recently, I was reading a fascinating article on “The Secret of Effective Motivation”, which tracked the success of various West Point military graduates to see how their reasons for joining influenced their success.

As the joke above shows, there are two kinds of motivation. External motivation (sometimes called extrinsic) is any outside force that drives you to do something. Think fame, recognition or, as our British director put it, the paycheck.

Then there’s internal motivation (sometimes called intrinsic), which compels us to work at something because the inner value of the activity is personally fulfilling and meaningful. We might exercise to be more able to be there for our kids or paint because it brings us a sense of meaning, for example.

The West Point researchers found that people who had internal motives performed best of all, which is expected. They signed up to better themselves, to become leaders, etc. But here’s the unexpected result: the graduates who had both intrinsic and extrinsic motives—the soldiers who went to West Point to serve their country and were externally motivated (for instance, by a paycheck) —did worse in every measure over their careers. In other words, having two kinds of motivation actually makes you less successful than just having one.

So ask yourself why you perform certain tasks. Is the motivation intrinsic or extrinsic? Are you doing it for the meaning and impact of your work, or the financial rewards? From there, find ways to fuel your intrinsic motivation.

Here’s one Fader-tested solution: write the reason for wanting to achieve your goal (in five words or less) on a small paper and tape it to the back of your phone. Better yet, make it your actual wallpaper on your home screen. That way, whenever you check your texts or your Twitter—for me, every three minutes or so—you’ll be reminded why you’re doing what you’re doing, which will continually rekindle your intrinsic drive to excel.

And as the oldest joke in Hollywood reminds us, that’s something a paycheck just can’t do.

How Music Can Help You Get Ahead, The Right Way

“Eye of the tiger”

“Ain’t no mountain high enough”

“We are the champions”

Whether you like these songs or not, they all share a central trait – motivation. Music has been shown to be a motivator not only for exercise and athletic performance, but also for work productivity and efficiency.

An expert in the psychology of exercise, Costas Karageorghis, PhD, refers to music as a “type of legal performance-enhancing drug” for its potent abilities to increase productivity as well as power and strength.

But how can we maximize the motivational effects of music? For both work and exercise, studies have shown that specific music choices can enhance performance more than others. And more importantly, in some cases music can be distracting or even counterproductive in completing the task at hand. Here are a few guidelines on how to maximize the benefits of music for both work and sports:

Music at work

Music has been shown to increase work productivity as well as performance for a range of professions, from surgeons to technology specialists. One way music facilitates these improvements is through its regulation of mood. Not only does music elevate positive feelings and suppress negative emotions like depression and anger, it can also calm or heighten anxious feelings – creating the optimal work mindset.

Best for: Moderately skilled workers were shown to benefit the most from music by research that explored the effects of music on technology specialists. They completed assignments more quickly and generated better ideas. Whereas, experts were not affected t all by the music and some novices even found the music distracting.

Worst for: Music was shown to be distracting for tasks that required more cognitive attention and was counterproductive to absorbing and remembering new information.

Music in exercise and sport

Music’s effects on exercise were first observed in 1911 by educator and statistician, Leonard Ayres, who found that cyclists pedaled faster when a band was playing. More recent studies have explored how music motivates exercisers and found that it can distract the brain’s attention from physiological feedback of fatigue. This can lower perceptions of effort being exerted.

Best for: Multiple studies have shown that self-paced sports such as cycling or running can be exponentially enhanced by music with higher tempos since they tend to increase speed.

Worst for: Music is less likely to serve as a motivator for high-intensity sports/exercises since the body’s physiological responses become too strong to ignore.

While the advantages of music are clear, there is still room to optimize  its motivating effects. For both work and athletic environments, the selection of music is crucial. For work, a study focusing on surgeons, found that people completed tasks more accurately when they enjoyed the music that was playing. For sports,on the other hand, Dr. Karageorghis suggests a more specific method for choosing the most effective music. He developed the Brunel Music Rating Inventory, which after asking participants to rate motivational qualities of music in relation to sport and exercise, showed the importance of music tempo, pointing to an ideal tempo between 120 and 140 beats per minute. Dr. Karageorghis accordingly suggests “Push It” by Salt-N-Pepa, “Drop It Like It’s Hot” by Snoop Dogg and the dance remix of “Umbrella” by Rihanna for maximal effect.

When music is used strategically, it holds the power to increase productivity, accuracy and efficiency for anyone from gym-goers to surgeons. And if we think of it as a “drug”, as Dr. Karageorghis refers to it, music is one that can be used to our benefit.

What I Learned as a Sport Psychologist at the World Series

In 2015 I had the immense privilege of being the sport psychologist working with the New York Mets. This was tremendously exciting for me as I had been working with the team for nine years and also because I grew up in New York City with a New Yorker dad that was a Mets fan.

It was a incredible season full of exciting moments and a team that was full of enthusiasm. Surprisingly though, there were moments where I found myself struggling to enjoy it. In fact, I remember being on the field before one of the early games in the series and feeling like my mind was a swirl about all the things I had to do, my obligations and my stress about helping each player be their best. This experience taught me something. It is a lesson that I have applied to my work in many ways. Often we get so caught up with the outcome of things that we do not focus on the process. In sport psychology we talk about “controlling the controllables”. One way to do this is to really understand what you control in any one moment. Your attitude, your preparation and your effort. In sport and performance psychology we use the acronym APE for this. APE stands for your:

Attitude – Preparation – Effort.

You don’t actually control the outcome or results directly. You control your mindset and preparation. There are many sport and performance psychology techniques that apply to everyday life and help me in those moments.  But it’s not just me , in fact in this years exciting world series, one of the critical performers, Jose Altuve uses them too. In addition to being known for his incredible play on the field, Altuve is loved in the clubhouse for his preparation, and the energy he brings on a daily basis. It didn’t always look like it was going to be a happy ending for Altuve, however. When he was a young player and trying out for multiple MLB teams, he was consistently getting cut after each opportunity. Altuve, who is listed at just 5′ 6” did not let this get the best of him, and instead showed incredible grit and determination.

After getting cut the first day of a two day tryout with the Houston Astros, Altuve did  not take no for an answer. He went back to the Astros’ tryout the next day, hoping that the scouts who had cut him the previous day would not remember doing so. While they were suprised to see him, they allowed Altuve to try out again and eventually offered him a $15,000 contract. Now that Altuve is a leading candidate for the 2017 MVP award and playing in the World Series I would say that the Astros made a good decision. We can all learn from the tremendous grit, perseverance and positive mindset of Jose Altuve. He just never gave up on himself or his goals and that is the only way to overcome obstacles and reach your full potential.

Altuve is known to use the sport psychology skill I mentioned before called imagery/visualization, or “mental reps”.  This technique allows you to practice your performance mentally. Mental reps give a player a clear advantage over his opponents as he is able to place himself in a batters box an unlimited number of times and place himself in an unlimited number of situations.  Most MLB starting players get about 3-5 at bats per game, but including mental reps into your routine can help you to see more pitches from more pitchers in more scenarios.

The 2017 World Series has been incredible so far, and I am so honored to have had my own World Series experience with the Mets in 2015. I am a believer that life is a sport. In fact, so much so that I wrote a book about it! The lessons that we teach athletes in situations like Game Seven of the World Series can be applied to the meeting room, on a first date, and yes, even to my life as a sport and performance psychologist. Im lucky to continue to work with high performing athletes and other performers. By utilizing the same sport psychology techniques I coach athletes on, I can enjoy these precious moments more… and so can you.

 

 

Playoff Season: The Winning Strategy

Photo by Stuart Seeger

Athletes tend to calm themselves down before a high stakes match by practicing self-talk, stating, “It’s fine, it’s just like any other game.” In some ways, of course, this is true. The rules are the same and the players that have been beside you all season are still right there. However, don’t be fooled because it is a different game. The challenge of a playoff game is that it may seem like any other game, but it is an entirely new playing field.

These games hold much more importance for each individual player, the team as a unit, the coaching staff, and the fans. The heightened stress of these games for everyone involved raises the stakes and changes the environment in the stadium or arena. The challenge for teams, or for any high-level performer, is simple: Take the focus off the result and put it on the  process or the things you control.

In order to do this, you need to prepare for changes in environment and how you are going to adapt. Some teams do this by practicing in similar temperatures to what they will be facing or by replicating loud crowd noises. This commitment to total preparation is what gives a team the edge that it needs to come out on top. The focus on details during preparation may seem unimportant, but these are the factors that allow players to perform at their best, despite the pressure of their surroundings. The next step is to make sure that you have a solid mental preparation. By working on your mindset, your level of relaxation and your ability to focus, you will play the best you are capable of, playoffs or not.

 

The Psychology of Responding to Injury: The Birthday Complex

A common psychological response to injury is what I like to call the “Birthday Syndrome.”

Photo by Akadruid

As kids, our birthdays were the single greatest day of the year. I remember I would start counting down the days about a month before my big day. In fact, I would think so much about my birthday that while I was waiting for it to arrive, I would practically forget to focus on experiencing day to day life! The same is true for athletes when they are faced with an injury that prevents them from participating in their chosen sport for any extended period of time.

Daily rehabilitation is not a priority because their focus is on the day they can return, and getting back to their optimal level of performance.  To prevent this from happening, I recommend being process-focused, which means to engage with each moment. The way that we think impacts how we recover, and there are many simple mental techniques that one can utilize to foster engagement. It’s important to encourage the mentality to focus on what you can control, such as sticking to your rehab schedule, staying positive, and improving meaningful relationships. For instance, working to find ways to better support your teammates is a huge part of sports! A process-focused mentality will improve recovery time and develop mental strength, which will in turn enhance your game in the future. Make every day your “Birthday” and you will find that before you know it, you’re playing again!