Know your Perfectionist

A study measured three types of perfectionism: self-oriented, or a desire to be perfect; socially prescribed, or a desire to live up to others’ expectations; and other-oriented, or holding others to unrealistic standards. A person living with an other-oriented perfectionist might feel criticized by the perfectionist spouse for not doing household chores exactly the “right” way. Socially prescribed perfectionism is “My self-esteem is contingent on what other people think.”

Perfectionists tend to devalue their accomplishments, so that every time a goal is achieved, the high lasts only a short time, like “a gas tank with a hole in it.” 

There are also different ways perfectionism manifests. Some perfectionists are the sleeping-bag-toting self-flagellants, always pushing themselves forward. But others actually fall behind on work, unable to complete assignments unless they’re, well, perfect. Or they might self-sabotage, handicapping their performance ahead of time. They’re the ones partying until 2 a.m. the night before the final, so that when the C rolls in, there’s a ready excuse. Anything to avoid facing your own imperfections.

Olga Khazan writing in The Atlantic

"Keeping a “have done" list

"If you are working on one thing all day, it is very easy to remember what you did and give yourself credit for it," says CEO and co-founder Walter Chen. "But if you did 20 things and one is have a conversation with your kid and one is put out a fire, it's often hard to remember those things." Pausing to reflect is an opportunity to remember those accomplishments and to recognize their value. "Giving yourself credit helps you feel productive," says Chen, affirming, "That actually makes you more productive." 

Bottom line: To-do lists are useful for organizing and prioritizing work. But you should also maintain a "have done" list--or at least reflect on your accomplishments for a few minutes at the end of each day--to keep yourself motivated.

Leigh Buchanan writing in Inc.

The Power of Small Wins

Try to remember the last time you – or anyone you know – had a truly enormous breakthrough in solving a problem or achieving one of those audacious goals. It’s pretty hard, because breakthroughs are very rare events. On the other hand, small wins can happen all the time. Those are the incremental steps toward meaningful (even big) goals. Our research showed that, of all the events that have the power to excite people and engage them in their work, the single most important is making progress – even if that progress is a small win. That’s the progress principle. And, because people are more creatively productive when they are excited and engaged, small wins are a very big deal for organizations.

Religiously protect at least 20 minutes – and, ideally, much more – every day, to tackle something in the work that matters most to you. Hide in an empty conference room, if you have to, or sneak out in disguise to a nearby coffee shop. Then make note of any progress you made (even if it was a small win), and decide where to pick up again the next day. The progress, and the mini-celebration of simply noting it, can lift your inner work life.

Teresa Amabile talking about her book The Progress Principle  

"I’m just going to go for it, because why not?"

A few weeks ago a North Dakota plumber lined up to run in his first half-marathon. But Mike Kohler was sleepy. He wasn’t used to getting up so early. And he was wearing headphones. That may explain why he took off 15 minutes before he was supposed to do so—putting him with the runners who were competing in the full marathon. Soon he started seeing signs that indicated he was on the wrong route, but he shrugged off those warnings. Mike assumed the two paths overlapped part of the way.

Eventually, he realized his mistake—but kept going. At the 13 mile mark he seriously thought about quitting. He had run as far as he had planned to run and even beat his time goal. He had nothing more to prove.

Instead, he finished the marathon.  

“I’m just going to go for it, because why not?” Mike later told the Grand Forks Herald. “I’m already here, I’m already running, I’m already tired. Might as well try to finish it. He added, ”This just kind of proves you can do a lot more than what you think you can sometimes.”  

The “Uh Oh” Effect

Resist the “uh oh” effect. Midpoints—of work projects and training regiments can either discourage (the oh no” effect) or motivate (“oh no, time's running out”). UCLA researchers studying teamwork found that the majority of groups did almost no work until halfway to the deadline then suddenly buckled down. Set interim goals and adopt the “chain” technique: Pick a task and mark a calendar with an X every day you do it—the string of X’s serves as an incentive.

Aaron Fernandez writing in Wired Magazine

What do you really want?

Why do certain people put themselves through the years of intensive daily work that eventually makes them world-class great? The answers depend on your response to two basic questions: What do you really want? And what do you really believe?

What you want - really, deeply want - is fundamental because deliberate practice is an investment: The costs come now, the benefits later. The more you want something, the easier it will be for you to sustain the needed effort until the payoff starts to arrive. But if you're pursuing something that you don't truly want and are competing against others whose desire is deep, you can guess the outcome.

The evidence offers no easy assurances. It shows that the price of top-level achievement is extraordinarily high. Maybe it's inevitable that not many people will choose to pay it. But the evidence shows also that by understanding how a few become great, all can become better.

Geoff Colvin, Talent is Overrated

The best performers

Self-regulation begins with setting goals - not big, life-directing goals, but more immediate goals for what you're going to be doing today. In the research, the poorest performers don't set goals at all; they just slog through their work. Mediocre performers set goals that are general and are often focused on simply achieving a good outcome - win the order; get the new project proposal done. The best performers set goals that are not about the outcome but rather about the process of reaching the outcome.

For example, instead of just winning the order, their goal might be to focus especially hard on discerning the customer's unstated needs. You can see how this is strongly analogous to the first step of deliberate practice. The best performers are focused on how they could get better at some specific element of the work, just as a pianist may focus on improving a particular passage.

The best performers make the most specific, technique-oriented plans. They're thinking exactly, not vaguely, of how to get where they're going.

Geoff Colvin, Talent is Overrated

If-Then Planning

It's called if-then planning, and it is a really powerful way to help you achieve any goal. Well over a hundred studies, on everything from diet and exercise to negotiation and time management, have shown that deciding in advance when and where you will take specific actions to reach your goal (e.g., "If it is 4 p.m., then I will return any phone calls I should return today") can double or triple your chances for success.

Heidi Grant Halvorson, Nine Things Successful People Do Differently

Just beyond your current limits

Excellent performers judge themselves differently than most people do. They're more specific, just as they are when they set goals and strategies. Average performers are content to tell themselves that they did great or poorly or okay.

By contrast, the best performers judge themselves against a standard that's relevant for what they're trying to achieve. Sometimes they compare their performance with their own personal best; sometimes they compare it with the performance of competitors they're facing or expect to face; sometimes they compare it with the best known performance by anyone in the field.

Any of those can make sense; the key, as in all deliberate practice, is to choose a comparison that stretches you just beyond your current limits. Research confirms what common sense tells us, that too high a standard is discouraging and not very instructive, while too low a standard produces no advancement.

Geoff Colvin, Talent is Overrated

wishes are not goals

We often imagine that we generally operate by some kind of plan, that we have goals we are trying to reach. But we’re usually fooling ourselves; what we have are not goals but wishes. Our emotions infect us with hazy desire; we want fame, success, security – something large and abstract.

Clear long-term objectives give direction to all of your actions, large and small. Important decisions became easier to make. If some glittering prospect threatens to seduce you from your goal, you will know to resist it You can tell when to sacrifice a pawn, even lose a battle, if it serves your eventual purpose.

Robert Greene, The 33 Strategies of War

Shrink the Change

Our emotional side is an Elephant and our rational side is its Rider.

A sense of progress is critical, because the Elephant in us is easily demoralized. It’s easily spooked, easily derailed, and for that reason, it needs reassurance, even for the very first step of the journey.

If you’re leading a change effort… rather than focusing solely on what’s new and different about the change to come, make an effort to remind people what’s already been conquered.

A business cliché commands us to “raise the bar.” But that’s exactly the wrong instinct if you want to motivate a reluctant Elephant. You need to lower the bar. Picture taking a high-jump bar and lowering it so far that it can be stepped over.

If you want a reluctant elephant to get moving, you need to shirk the change.

Chip & Dan Heath, Switch

Unleashing Change

Allow a sense of pragmatism to hang over every project. This will help to make room for other possibilities besides our originally chosen path. If you fall in love with your creation and marry your effort, you may join the most frustrated of groups--people who fight the process rather than allowing their efforts to become living documents of creativity, which are always in process. You have to make room in your head for change to be a part of that process rather than seeing it as something extra, a burden beyond what is necessary. Make room for change before you start your task and then you'll be ready to adopt to shifting circumstances, new revelations, and emerging goals.

 

Stephen Goforth

welcome to Holland

It’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip - to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It's all very exciting. After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, "Welcome to Holland."

"Holland?!?" you say. "What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I'm supposed to be in Italy. All my life I've dreamed of going to Italy."

But there's been a change in the flight plan. They've landed in Holland and there you must stay.

The important thing is that they haven't taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It's just a different place. So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met. It's just a different place. It's slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you've been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around.... and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills....and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.

But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy... and they're all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say "Yes, that's where I was supposed to go. That's what I had planned."

And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away... because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss.

But... if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn't get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things ... about Holland.

Emily Perl Kingsley

The next small victory

In training camps, we don’t focus on the ultimate goal - getting to the Super Bowl. We establish a clear set of goals that are within immediate reach.

When we start acting in ways that fulfill these goals, I make sure everybody knows it. I accentuate the positive at every possible opportunity, and at the same time I emphasize the next goal that we need to fulfill.

When you set small, visible goals, and people achieve them, they start to get it into their heads that they can succeed.

Former NFL coach Bill Parcells, Harvard Business Review

unlocking closed doors

Houdini was a master magician as well as a fabulous locksmith. He boasted that he could escape from any jail cell in the world in less than an hour, provided he could go into the cell dressed in his street clothes. A small town in the British Isles built a new jail they were extremely proud of. They issued Houdini a challenge.

"Come give us a try," they said. By the time he arrived, excitement was at a fever pitch. Houdini rode triumphantly into the town and walked into the cell. He proudly walked into the cell and the door was closed. Houdini took off his coat and went to work. Secreted in his belt was a flexible tough and durable ten-inch piece of steel, which he used to work on the lock.

At the end of 30 minutes his confident expression had disappeared. At the end of an hour he was drenched in perspiration. After two hours, Houdini literally collapsed against the door--which opened. Yes, it had never been locked--except in his mind. One little push and Houdini could have easily opened the door. Many times a little extra push is all you need to open your opportunity door. Most locked doors are in your mind.

Zig Ziglar, See You At the Top

Setting Goals

Can you imagine Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to climb Mount Everest, explaining how he was able to accomplish that feat? Suppose he explained he was just out walking around one day when he happened to find himself at the top of the tallest mountain in the world. Or the Chairman of the Board of General Motors explaining that he got his position because he just kept showing up for work and they just kept promoting him until one day he was Chairman of the Board. Ridiculous – of course – but no more ridiculous than your thinking you can accomplish anything significant without specific goals.

Zig Ziglar, See You at the Top

Activity is not accomplishment

John Henry Fabre, the great French naturalist, conducted a most unusual experiment with some Processionary Caterpillars. These caterpillars blindly follow the one in front of them. Hence, the name. Fabre carefully arranged them in a circle around the rim of a flower pot. So that the lead caterpillar actually touched the last one., making a complete circle. In the center of the flower pot he put pine needles, which is food for the Processionary Caterpillar. The caterpillars started around this circular flower pot. Around and around they went, hour after hour, day after day, night after night. For seven full days and seven full nights they went around the flower pot. Finally, they dropped dead of starvation and exhaustion. With an abundance of food less that six inches away, they literally started to death, because they confused activity with accomplishment.

Zig Ziglar, See You at the Top

a personal notebook

Successful people track their progress, set goals, reflect, and learn from their mistakes. And they often use some kind notebook to accomplish this. If you want to get somewhere in life, you need a map, and this notebook is that map. You can write down what you did today, what you tried to accomplish, where you made mistakes, and so forth. It’s a place to reflect. It’s a place to capture important thoughts. It’s a place to be able to track where you’ve been and where you intend to go. It’s one of the most underused, yet incredibly effective tools available to the masses.

Angel Chernoff