Do you like Cake? Delaying gratification

“Delaying gratification is a process of scheduling the pain and pleasure of life in such a way as to enhance the pleasure by meeting and experience the pain first and getting it over with. It is the only decent way to live.” ~  M Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled

A financial analyst was locked into a cycle of procrastination.

Peck asked, "Do you like cake?" She replied that she did.

"What part of the cake do you like better, the cake or the frosting?"

"Oh, the frosting!"

"And how do you eat a piece of cake?"

"I eat the frosting first, of course."

Having gained this insight, Dr. Peck started probing her work habits. Invariably she would devote the first hour or so of each day to the most gratifying and easiest of her tasks and the remaining hours never quite accomplishing the more onerous chores. He suggested that she force herself to do the objectionable tasks during the first two hours, then enjoy the remaining time.  

There is a critical moment early in your day when you make the decision as to whether you will plunge into the difficult tasks in front of you or not. Don’t allow yourself to decide – just act.  When taking the easy road is not an option, and you just plunge into the difficult tasks, you save yourself time and energy.. and make it easier to avoid those detours.

Explore your passion without Pressure

“Finding your passion” can feel like a lot of pressure, but it doesn’t have to. All it involves is identifying the things you like to do and are good at and that others value enough so you can cover rent and groceries. If you can’t find it by way of a full-time job, there are always ways to explore it outside the realms of your job, whether that’s by way of a side hustle or a hobby. There may be things that you feel an overwhelming intensity to pursue. If that’s the case, great. If not, find the next right thing, and follow that path.

 Tracy Brower writing in Fast Company

Saying ‘no’ at work

Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, recommends extreme selectivity as a check on your desire to always be accommodating. McKeown likes to ask people to imagine they have no to-do list, no inbox, no schedule of appointments. "If you didn't have any of that, and you could do one thing right now that would help get you to the next level of contribution, what would you do?" he asks. "Maybe all the stuff you're doing should be questioned. Start from zero every day. What would be essential?" People require space and clarity to identify what matters, McKeown explains, and what matters should dictate what you say yes to.

Although it feels good to say yes, be disciplined about the time you give to others. Employees and partners need your help, but mostly they need you to concentrate on what matters.

Leigh Buchanan writing in Inc.

Time Pressure at Work

The typical form of time pressure in organizations today is what we call “being on a treadmill” – running all day to keep up with many different (often unrelated) demands, but getting nowhere on your most important work. That’s an absolute killer for creativity. Generally, low-to-moderate time pressure is optimal for creativity. But we did find some instances in which people were terrifically creative under high time pressure. Almost invariably, it was quite different from being on a treadmill. Rather, people felt like they were “on a mission”— working hard to meet a truly urgent deadline on an important project, and protected from all other demands.

Teresa Amabile talking about her book The Progress Principle  

Do people work better when they are stressed?

It’s a dangerous fallacy to say that people perform better when they’re stressed, over-extended, or unhappy. We found just the opposite. People are more likely to come up with a creative idea or solve a tricky problem on a day when they are in a better mood than usual. In fact, they are more likely to be creative the next day, too, regardless of that next day’s mood. There’s a kind of “creativity carry-over” effect from feeling good at work. 

Teresa Amabile talking about her book Do people work better when they are stressed?

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  

Work & the Project of Living

Americans have forgotten an old-fashioned goal of working: It’s about buying free time. The vast majority of workers are happier when they spend more hours with family, friends, and partners, according to research conducted by Ashley Whillans, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School. In one study, she concluded that the happiest young workers were those who said around the time of their college graduation that they preferred careers that gave them time away from the office to focus on their relationships and their hobbies.

How quaint that sounds. But it’s the same perspective that inspired the economist John Maynard Keynes to predict in 1930 that Americans would eventually have five-day weekends, rather than five-day weeks. It is the belief—the faith, even—that work is not life’s product, but its currency. What we choose to buy with it is the ultimate project of living.

Derek Thompson writing in The Atlantic 

The Importance of Leisure

German philosopher Josef Pieper wrote, “We mistake leisure for idleness, and work for creativity." 

In a world of “total work,” there is no space for contemplation or rest. There is no need for people to be in “harmony with themselves” as long as they are employed. To “know thyself” is a secondary concern, and any sort of break from work is merely in the service of doing more work. 

As Pieper put it:

The simple ”break” from work — the kind that lasts an hour, or the kind that lasts a week or longer — is part and parcel of daily working life. It is something that has been built into the whole working process, a part of the schedule. The ”break” is there for the sake of work. It is supposed to provide ”new strength” for ”new work,” as the word ”refreshment” indicates: one is refreshed for work through being refreshed from work. 

Paul Millerd writing in Quartz

Your coworkers are better at rating some parts of your personality

Sixteen rigorous studies of thousands of people at work have shown that people’s coworkers are better than they are at recognizing how their personality will affect their job performance. As a social scientist, if I want to get a read on your personality, I could ask you to fill out a survey on how stable, dependable, friendly, outgoing, and curious you are. But I would be much better off asking your coworkers to rate you on those same traits: They’re often more than twice as accurate. They can see things that you can’t or won’t—and these studies reveal that whatever you know about yourself that your coworkers don’t is basically irrelevant to your job performance.

Adam Grant writing in the Atlantic

This is how to really get to know people

If you want people to really know you, weekly meetings don’t cut it. You need deep dives with them in high-intensity situations. When I talked with a crew of astronauts who went to the International Space Station together, I found out that NASA prepared them by sending them into the wilderness for 11 days together. Their guides promptly let them get lost, and they said they came out of that experience knowing each other better than colleagues they’d worked with for years. At Morning Star, a leading tomato-paste plant that has operated successfully for decades without a single boss, I was stunned to discover that the founder often interviews job applicants at their own homes for three to five hours.

Adam Grant writing in The Atlantic

Defeating Procrastination

Procrastination is a side effect of the way we value things. Task completion (is) as a product of motivation, rather than ability. In other words, you can be really good at something, whether it’s cooking a gourmet meal or writing a story, but if you don’t possess the motivation, or sense of importance, to complete the task, it’ll likely be put off.

Getting something done is a delayed reward, so its value in the present is reduced: the further away the deadline is, the less attractive it seems to work on the project right now. 

People who characterize themselves as procrastinators…discount the value of getting something done ahead of time even more than other people. 

Procrastination, in psychological terms, is what happens when the value of doing something else outweighs the value of working now.

This way of thinking suggests a simple trick to defeat procrastination: find a way to boost the subjective value of working now, relative to the value of other things. You could increase the value of the project, decrease the value of the distraction, or some combination of the two.

Elliot Berkman and Jordan Miller-Ziegler writing in The Conversation

The people who can help you see yourself for who you are

Romantic partners and close friends might be more informed, because they’ve observed you more—but they can also have blurrier vision, because they chose you and often share that pesky desire to see you positively. You need people who are motivated to see you accurately. And I’ve come to believe that more often than not, those people are your colleagues. The people you work with closely have a vested interest in making you better (or at least less difficult). The challenge is they’re often reluctant to tell you the stuff you don’t want to hear, but need to hear.

Adam Grant writing in The Atlantic

The real way to build a social network

Picture the consummate networker: a high-energy fast talker who collects as many business cards as he can and attends mixers sporting slicked-back hair. Or the overambitious college kid who frantically e-mails alumni, schmoozes with the board of trustees, and adds anyone he's ever met as an online friend. Such people are drunk on networking Kool-Aid—and are looking at a potentially nasty hangover.

Luckily, building your network doesn't have to be like that. Old-school networkers are transactional. They pursue relationships thinking solely about what other people can do for them. Relationship builders, on the other hand, try to help others first. They don't keep score. And they prioritize high-quality relationships over a large number of connections.

Reid Hoffman, The Start-Up of You

Defeating Procrastination

Procrastination is a side effect of the way we value things. Task completion (is) as a product of motivation, rather than ability. In other words, you can be really good at something, whether it’s cooking a gourmet meal or writing a story, but if you don’t possess the motivation, or sense of importance, to complete the task, it’ll likely be put off.

Getting something done is a delayed reward, so its value in the present is reduced: the further away the deadline is, the less attractive it seems to work on the project right now. 

People who characterize themselves as procrastinators…discount the value of getting something done ahead of time even more than other people. 

Procrastination, in psychological terms, is what happens when the value of doing something else outweighs the value of working now.

This way of thinking suggests a simple trick to defeat procrastination: find a way to boost the subjective value of working now, relative to the value of other things. You could increase the value of the project, decrease the value of the distraction, or some combination of the two.

Elliot Berkman and Jordan Miller-Ziegler

 

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

a Call for Help

Asking for help is smart. It's also the answer to fatigue and the "I'm indispensable" image. But something keeps us from this wise course of action, and that something is pride. Plain, stubborn unwillingness to admit need. The result, painful though it is to admit, is a lifestyle of impatience. We become easily irritated- often angry. We work long hours. Take less time off. Forget how to laugh. Cancel vacations. And all the while the specter of discouragement looms across our horizon like a dark storm front,- threatening to choke out any remaining sunshine.

Say, my friend, it's time to declare it. You are not the Messiah of the twentieth century! There is no way you can keep pushing your life at that pace and expect to stay effective. Analyze yourself any way you please, you are H-U-M-A-M... nothing more. So? So slow down. So give yourself a break. So stop trying to cover all the bases and sell popcorn in the stands at the same time. So relax for a change!

Charles Swindoll, Encourage Me

The Secret to an Exceptional Life

Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers suggests context and hard work are more critical than raw talent when it comes to achievement. He offers Christopher Langan as an example of how the range of opportunities presented to us can made a major difference as to whether we gain traction in life.

Einstein's IQ was 150. Langan’s IQ was a blistering 195. But Langan spent his days working on a horse farm in rural Missouri. Why didn’t he rise to exceptional achievement? According to Gladwell, there was no one in Langan's life to encourage and help him develop his exceptional gifts. He grew up in a small town in Montana with an abusive stepfather in abject poverty.

Gladwell writes, "He had to make his way alone and no one--not rock stars, not professional athletes, not software billionaires, and not even geniuses--ever makes it alone."

You didn’t rise alone. Is there someone to whom you should show gratitude? Someone who poured? themselves into making you who you are? Is there someone who you could cultivate, radically altering the kind of person they become?

Stephen Goforth

the secret power of deliberate practice

You may think that your rehearsal of a job interview was flawless, but your opinion isn't what counts. Or you may believe you played that bar of the Brahms violin concerto perfectly, but can you really trust your own judgment? In many important situations, a teacher, coach, or mentor is vital for providing crucial feedback.

Deliberate practice is above all an effort of focus and concentration. That is what makes it "deliberate," as distinct from the mindless playing of scales or hitting of tennis balls that most people engage in. Continually seeking exactly those elements of performance that are unsatisfactory and then trying one's hardest to make them better places enormous strains on anyone's mental abilities.

The work is so great that it seems no one can sustain it for very long.

Doing things we know how to do well is enjoyable, and that's exactly the opposite of what deliberate practice demands. Instead of doing what we're good at, we insistently seek out what we're not good at.

Then we identify the painful, difficult activities that will make us better and do those things over and over. After each repetition, we force ourselves to see - or get others to tell us - exactly what still isn't right so we can repeat the most painful and difficult parts of what we've just done. We continue that process until we're mentally exhausted.

If it seems a bit depressing that the most important thing you can do to improve performance is no fun, take consolation in this fact: It must be so. If the activities that lead to greatness were easy and fun, then everyone would do them and no one could distinguish the best from the rest.

The reality that deliberate practice is hard can even be seen as good news. It means that most people won't do it. So your willingness to do it will distinguish you all the more.

Geoff Colvin, Why Talent is Overrated

Somewhere between boredom and anxiety

A comfortable routine can turn on us, leaving our creativity stifled, dulling us to other possibilities. We become lethargic, sleepwalking through life. Boredom soon nips at our heels.

At the other end of the experience spectrum, we have bungee-jumping thrill seekers. Tired of sexual escapades and rock climbing, they sometimes self-medicate to starve off boredom. Drugs can stimulate many feelings: euphoria, depression, anxiety, even fear. But none induce boredom (though some, like cocaine, can leave the user with a devastating boredom, after the drug has done its thing). Sex, food, drugs, and gambling each stimulate the same dopamine reward pathway in the brain.

Psychologists tell us the cure for chronic tedium is not high-sensation thrills. Somewhere between boredom and anxiety there is a sweet spot called flow. It's an optimal level of arousal. As Dr. Richard Friedman writes:

Flow happens when a person’s skills and talent perfectly match the challenge of an activity: playing in the zone, where there is total and un-self-conscious absorption in the activity. Make the task too challenging and anxiety results; make it too easy and boredom emerges.  Flow get to the heart of fun. It’s not hard to see why the enforced tranquility of a Caribbean vacation could be a dreadful bore for a workaholic but bliss for a couch potato: temperament, as well as talent, have to match the activity or there is trouble in paradise.

Stephen Goforth