A little perspective shifter to stay
A little perspective shifter to stay
A little perspective shifter to stay
As anyone who ever attended a high school reunion can attest, your personal identity is fluid. Hairstyles, sports allegiances, and even personalities change over time. (Cue that Simple Minds song Don’t You (Forget About Me).)
Evidence from my own yearbook includes Ryan, a sweet if wildly unmotivated friend who, at age 20, dropped out of college to be a ski bum in Colorado. Fast forward eight years, and Ryan is the CEO of a nonprofit startup dedicated to preserving ecological practices of indigenous communities in Andean South America. I spotted him in Palo Alto with a Bluetooth receiver behind an ear that he once reserved for storing clumsily hand-rolled cigarettes.
Ryan’s personal story is now a successful part of his company’s fundraising and branding efforts. He uses his evolution to demonstrate how apolitical weekend outdoorsmen can become activists. It perhaps goes without saying that his parents are especially fond of this
Here at Unstuck, we recently explored the unexpected benefits of talking to yourself, which may help you find clarity and motivation in your life. But, for some, this tactic may introduce a completely new question: What if you don’t know what to say?
One good option is a mantra. Reciting a mantra — which translates to “mind instrument” in Sanskrit — is a favorite practice among meditators and yogis alike. Its aim is to provide a positive and transportive guard, either against distraction or feelings of worry. Though mantras have traditionally been very precisely chosen words, they have also come to simply be the words we live by, be it meaningful quotes or inspirational phrases.
Like all first bosses, mine was terrifying. Laura barked orders in a clipped Boston Brahmin accent, ran five miles before work every morning, and had multiple first-person anecdotes co-starring Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
Among her many intimidating traits was a tendency to murmur to herself at any given moment. I’d hear Laura quietly reciting to-do lists while pouring herself bottomless mugs of black coffee in the kitchen or half-whispering intel in an elevator en route to a meeting.
Because I was 22, eager to please, and entirely lacking perspective, I tended to assume these mutterings had something to do with my shortcomings as her assistant. But in reality, my former boss’s propensity for self-talk may have actually been one of the keys to her remarkably successful career. Recent neuropsychological studies show that talking to yourself can help you target and achieve goals as well as identify and adapt emotions faster than if you’d stayed
Why do some of us give up on our goals while others have the grit to see them through? How do some people manage to persist in the face of repeated rejection and other setbacks?
To crack the nut of extraordinary motivation, I decided to study the example of Rebecca Skloot. Skloot is the author of the 2010 book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which spent seventy-five weeks on the New York Times Best Sellers list, won a slew of awards, and has been turned into a film starring Oprah Winfrey, due for release in April on HBO.
In hindsight, this success seems inevitable. (Success often does, and rarely is.) In reality, the first-time author spent ten years reporting and writing her book, during which time she encountered barrier after barrier:
That person’s got what it takes to succeed.
What is the “it”? Smarts? Vision? Creativity? Those are great qualities, but they can’t make a full impact without another ingredient: determination to get things done — in a word, grit.
Grit keeps us going when things get tough. It pushes us toward the finish line when we’re too far away to see it. When we get stuck, grit insists there has to be another way.
Psychologists have recently found that the grittier a person is, the likelier they are to succeed. The connection is so strong that grit is a better predictor of success than raw talent or high IQ.*
Whether or not you’re naturally gritty, it’s the kind of mettle you can develop. It comes down to believing that change — in your abilities and circumstances — is always possible through your own actions.
This is what goes on in a gritty frame of mind:
Life is complicated — but your motivation isn’t. Without exception, every action we take is motivated either by love or by fear. For example:
• Acting weird around someone we’re not sure about: Fear (What if we don’t get along? I don’t want to feel disliked by someone I don’t really connect with.)
• Offering constructive criticism, even though it makes you sweat: Love (I want this person to do well. I won’t withhold the information he needs to do that.)
• Telling someone it’s okay, even though you think it probably isn’t: Fear (I’m not sure how to tell him otherwise. He might react badly. I don’t want to feel bad about it.)
• Sharing the responsibility for a situation your partner created: Love (I care about improving this situation, for everyone involved. Blaming her for it won’t help change things.)
Whether it’s an everyday quibble (your boyfriend is being difficult) or a really big deal (your
Let’s start the new year as ourselves — magnified.
Just imagine it. As we walk the chilly corridors of January, we give off a certain something, that je ne sais quoi usually spotted in the picture-perfect pages of magazines. Our confidence swells. Others are drawn into our orbit. We have something to offer — and we’re offering it.
Are we being overly romantic? Maybe. But hear us out.
There’s something that you’re good at. Really, really good at. But in the swirl that is life, it’s probably gathered some dust, as you scramble with paperwork, home repairs, and finding five minutes to breathe.
So let’s take those five minutes now (pretend you’re reading a work email if need be) to breathe and ponder: What is that misplaced thing I do so well that brings me joy? Here are some thought starters: serve as the glue for your family, find the singular treasure at flea
There’s great satisfaction in getting things done.
We get involved. We learn things. We find order in chaos. And the ultimate reward: We make progress that is appreciated (even if it’s just by us).
This kind of soul-nourishing effort rates as high as money, if not higher, when it comes to motivation. It helps define purpose and give us the ambition to stick with it.
But every so often, almost unwittingly, our ambition withers and things languish half finished. At Unstuck, we call this acting like an Idle Achiever. We’re unable to commit to the project or the person or the mission at hand. Instead, we start and stop like we’re driving a stick shift for the first time.
To smooth out this herky-jerky moment, it helps to understand how we got there in the first place. Take our mini-quiz to find out what type of Idle Achiever you tend to be. Then,
Stuck moment: My life, in a word? Uneventful. Sure, I’ve got plenty of things to do. And I do them. Every. Day. The same. Way. Why don’t interesting things happen in my life?
* * *
Way back in 1969, Peggy Lee sang the Grammy-winning song, “Is That All There Is?” It’s the story of a person who experiences life’s milestones and ends up disappointed each time. Isn’t there more to it? Is that all there is?
We’ve all felt it at times. Maybe we rushed to adulthood with open arms, surprised to find it riddled with responsibility and taxes. Or our marital bliss became a grind of daily compromise. Perhaps that promising new job devolved into paperwork and PowerPoint.
We’re left wondering, Where’s my opportunity? When and where does my ship come in?
The answer is: Right there, right where it’s always been. But we need to