There are myriad psychology models and theories on what motivates us to do the things we do: how we respond to incentives, achievement theories, and so on.
I look at motivation as excitement. So how can you remain motivated in a simple way that works every single day? Here are 10 ways.
1. Take a break–you deserve it.
The only way we can perform at an optimal level is create time for rest. The moment you know you can’t take any time off is usually when you need it most.
So take that long delayed vacation, and return to your business with renewed enthusiasm.
2. Keep your cards close to your chest.
Finally running that marathon? Excited about your new diet? Bursting at the seams over your new project? Good. Keep it to yourself.
Announcing your intent to do these feats will backfire. Resist the urge to reap the barrage of Facebook likes, and gushing comments. The positive feedback you receive from your network will trick your brain into thinking you’ve already accomplished your goal, sabotaging your once-motivated brain to do said feat.
So keep it to yourself and share the good news once you’ve already done it.
3. Confront death, and define your legacy.
Death is a powerful motivator. We get bogged down in mindless activities. They make us feel like we’re accomplishing things, when in reality we’re just spinning in circles.
Knowing that you have finite time on this planet helps sharpen your focus. Everything we do is another step in defining our legacy. This may seem like heady posturing, but both can be powerful motivators.
4. Celebrate the little wins, no matter how small.
Little wins may seem like just that–little.
Celebrating these wins can help to create positive habits. You break the inertia of mediocrity by teaching everyone around you how to win. They get the chance to bask in that emotion.
Vishen Lakhiani, CEO of Mindvalley, has gone so far as implementing what he calls the “awesome bell.” Which he rings (you guessed it) anytime something awesome happens.
5. Slash your to-do list in half.
Slashing your aggressive to-do list in half will allow room for success. Knowing that it’s realistic for you to complete the list is empowering.
6. Be gentle with yourself.
Stop comparing the accomplishments in your life with those of your neighbor. The story you create in your head will never be as good, and the reality will never be as bad.
There are many people who are smarter than you. The moment you can embrace this notion, you’re free. Free to explore. Free to follow what excites you. Free to ignore what they do, or how they do it, and focus on you.
7. Hack the way your brain perceives your new habits.
Recently, I began waking up two hours earlier than usual during the week. Instead of viewing it as two hours less I get to sleep, I view it as two extra hours to my day, allowing me to add a full workday per week.
8. Embrace vulnerability.
We live in a culture where we horde Instagram followers, and Facebook likes. The perception of our lives being anything less than perfect is a daunting notion. The glossy Facebookification of our lives can create a dangerous facade of success.
Sharing defeats and admitting failure is a powerful cultivator of motivation, allowing you to move past the failure. Work through the emotion instead of taking it out on someone else. Then move on to something more constructive.
Sharing these vulnerable moments also cultivates deeper connection with peers.
9. Do what you love (sort of).
Find what it is you love to do and get proficient at it. Success dwells at the fulcrum of passion and excellence.
But be careful. Make sure that you can make a living from your passion. I’m passionate about a lot of things that I know I’m not so amazing at and that I definitely can’t make a living at. I love playing guitar. My daughter loves when I play songs from the movie Frozen. It’s fun. I’m never going to be a rock star.
There is a an anecdote I’ve heard about Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, and Gates’s father at a dinner party. A guest asked them what the most important quality for success was today and all three responded “Focus” at the same exact time. They all smiled and laughed to each other because they hadn’t really prepared the answer.
We are all inundated with texts and emails. These are no longer just work interruptions. Because of the mini-computers we carry around in our pockets, the flood of information distracts us wherever we happen to be, 24/7.
So turn off your iPhone, stop trolling your ex-lover’s Facebook page, and get to work.
If taken seriously, short quotes can help us live healthier, happier, and more peaceful lives. Yet most of the time, all we do is get inspired for a few seconds and then move on with our busy lives.
Even though a spark of inspiration can be valuable, quotes only become truly powerful when we take time to reflect on their meaning and see how we can make use of them.
If used correctly, those tiny lessons can have a lasting effect on how we live, love, and make sense of life.
They can help us overcome challenges and spark hope when everything seems meaningless.
“If you resist change, you resist life. “ — Sadhguru
Most people waste their lives trying to “play it safe” because they fear changes and unexpected challenges.
Yet the truth is, you can’t run away from change because it’s a crucial part of life.
Life is an unpredictable journey and we can’t ever know what will happen tomorrow, next week, or even next year.
How to use this:
Instead of looking at change with fear, embrace it as a vital force in your life.
Things change all the time anyway — whether you like it or not. But instead of trying to resist, you can choose to welcome new opportunities with joy.
“If you’re always trying to be normal, you’ll never know how amazing you can be.” — Maya Angelou
We often hold ourselves back because we’re afraid of standing out and being different.
Instead, we try to fit in, even if that means feeling miserable deep inside.
The truth is, you were not born to “fit in.”
Yet, that’s not what society tells you. Instead, they tell you to live life a certain way: Go to school, graduate, get a “safe” job, get married, have kids, please everyone around you but yourself, retire, and die without ever fulfilling your own dreams.
According to most people, that’s the formula for a perfectly “safe” life. If you follow it, your parents and their friends might be proud of you.
But what about you?
Is that how you want to live?
Why do we normalize a certain way of living and demonize anyone who steps out of that boring pattern to live life according to their own rules?
How to use this:
Normality often seems the safest way, but it can quickly become the most dangerous path — especially if it doesn’t align with your needs.
You deserve to make your own choices based on your dreams, goals, and strengths.
Just because others are living life a certain way doesn’t mean that’s how you need to do it.
Step out of boring patterns. Do you.
“Lack of direction, not lack of time, is the problem. We all have twenty-four-hour days.” — Zig Ziglar
When we say “I don’t have time,” we usually mean “It’s not a priority” or “I can’t make time for it.”
Yet the truth is, we all have enough time if we’re just careful about how we use it.
Surveys show that we spend almost 4 hours per day on our phones.
Just imagine how much more we could do if we minimized the hours spent scrolling through news feeds every day.
How to use this:
If you feel like “you don’t have time,” start to religiously plan your weeks and days.
On Sundays, plan the week ahead and set three core priorities that’ll help you achieve your long-term goals.
Each evening, set three specific goals for the upcoming day, which will help you accomplish your weekly priorities.
If you have no idea how you’re using your time, start tracking your productive hours with a simple time tracker.
“Only put off until tomorrow what you’re willing to die having left undone.” — Pablo Picasso
We often keep ourselves busy “doing things” yet procrastinate on the few tasks that would truly matter.
Most people are so afraid of facing the truths in life that they choose to keep themselves busy, so they never “have time” to do the hard things.
They don’t follow their heart, stay stuck in careers they hate, and barely show love.
Even though we all have goals and dreams, most of us never dare to fight for them and thus stay stuck in daily lives we don’t enjoy.
How to use this:
Instead of fighting through endless to-do lists, pause and ask yourself which important moments and conversations you’ve been putting off for too long.
Each week, make time for at least one such conversation or activity.
“In a gentle way, you can shake the world.” — Gandhi
So many people believe they need to be bold and relentless to achieve anything valuable.
And quotes like “Nice guys finish last” just make our insecurities worse because we start to think we need to be mean to “win” in life.
Yet, as Gandhi preached more than 50 years ago, we can shake the world by being gentle, soft, and kind. And that’s mostly because shaking the world starts by shaking ourselves and those around us.
How to use this:
If you want to impact the world, start by first impacting your own life.
Stand up for yourself and show us what to do by doing it first.
Contrary to common belief, we can influence millions of people by being kind, compassionate, and caring.
In the 21st century, we’re all lacking love and deeper connection, so if you can show up and convince even just a few people of your good intentions, you’ll soon be able to start an entire movement that might shape more people than you ever thought possible.
“Everything we do is infused with the energy with which we do it. If we’re frantic, life will be frantic. If we’re peaceful, life will be peaceful.” — Marianne Williamson
Our energy shapes every aspect of our lives: It influences how we communicate, how we show up for ourselves, how we take care of our loved ones, how we get things done, and how we ultimately feel.
You can add energy and enthusiasm to the most mundane tasks of your life and ensure you stay on top of your game regardless of external circumstances.
How to use this:
There’s a saying that goes, “How you do one thing is how you do everything.”
The truth is, the majority of our lives aren’t exciting.
Most of our days are spent with basic, boring activities like work, cooking, eating, running errands, cleaning up, and so on.
Yet regardless of what exactly we do, we can always decide to show up and infuse our desired energy into our days.
Instead of being frantic, we can choose to be peaceful and calm.
Instead of being annoyed, we can choose to be compassionate and kind.
And instead of blaming ourselves when things go wrong, we can choose love and forgiveness.
“Your relationship with yourself sets the tone for every other relationship you have.” — Robert Holden
We often blame others for “not treating us right,” yet we’re usually the ones who treat ourselves worst.
We don’t take our needs seriously, prioritize others instead of ourselves, and barely take time to nourish our deepest needs.
And instead of looking within, we get mad at our partner, friends, or family for not taking care of us.
How to use this:
If you want to be treated with respect and love, you must first love yourself.
We’re teaching the world around us how we want to be treated by showing them how we treat ourselves.
Take time to explore your needs by reflecting and journaling.
Cancel appointments if you think they’ll make you feel worse instead of better.
Speak the truth and show up for your desires, even if they might sound ridiculous to others.
This is your life, and you only have one shot at creating a reality you truly enjoy. Trust yourself and give yourself the love you deserve before expecting anyone else to do it for you.
“It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.” — Pablo Picasso
I’m an online writing coach and teach new writers how to build an audience by sharing their expertise or passion online.
One of the questions I hear a lot is: “What if it doesn’t work?”
And I usually reply by asking: “Well, what if it *does* work?”
Most of us are so used to “playing it safe” that we want to know our efforts will be “worth it” before even lifting a finger.
We don’t want to give more than we might receive. That’s also why so many people struggle with their relationships.
They expect 50/50, but the truth is, strong relationships aren’t always balanced.
Sometimes, you need to give 80 and only get back 20, while other times, it’ll be the other way around.
If you can’t deal with the fact that you’ll never know whether your hard work will pay off or not, you’ll struggle to break out of your existing patterns.
How to use this:
Big goals usually require big action and risks.
Whether that’s building your own business, getting a new job, or making fundamental changes in your relationships, you always need to do the work without knowing whether it’ll be worth it.
But instead of wondering, “What if it doesn’t work?” you can ask yourself: “Well, what if it *does* work out exactly how I want?!”
“Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it.” — Dalai Lama
We want to “succeed” at all costs and ignore everything we need to give up to achieve our goals.
You can always go “the extra mile” and do a little more, but the question is: What do you need to give up?
The truth is, every decision we make comes with its own sacrifices.
Whenever you say yes to something, you’re saying no to many other things.
How to use this:
Next time you’re setting or reviewing goals, ask yourself what you’ll need to give up to achieve them and whether it’s still worth it.
If you have to give up your peace of mind, favorite hobby, and quality time with your loved ones to get a raise or build a side hustle, you might want to rethink that goal.
Each decision comes with its own effects. The earlier we consider those effects, the sooner we can avoid frustration in the future.
Be aware of your goals, but also be mindful of what you’re not willing to give up.
When we feel stuck, we usually crave huge changes. We want to make radical shifts to turn our lives upside down because we believe that’s the only way to move forward.
Yet, in reality, those massive shifts rarely lead to sustainable changes. Instead, we often feel overwhelmed and readopt our old patterns very soon, which only leads to more frustration.
The good news is, we can rely on small yet consistent changes to help us regain our power over time. This might take a little longer, but it’ll lead to a more fulfilled and peaceful life in the long run.
Stick to the 80% rule for better health
According to the World Health Organization, more than one billion people worldwide are obese.
The main reasons for that shocking number are obvious: We spend most of our days seated and consume much more calories than needed.
And most of the time, we overeat because we’re so used to processed foods and huge portions — especially when eating outside.
In Okinawa, one of the five Blue Zones where people often live up to 100 years or even more, the population follows the 80% rule: They only eat until they’re about 80% full.
This is powerful because research proves it takes 15–20 minutes for our brains to realize we’re full. So if you stop when you feel like you’ve reached 80%, you’ll likely feel 100% full after a few minutes anyway.
However, you’ll avoid overeating and feeling tired after each meal.
Log out of apps you should be using less
If you want to spend less time on your phone but don’t want to delete certain apps altogether, log out.
Next time you want to use the app, you’ll be reminded of your good intentions and can consciously decide whether you really want to use it.
Don’t leave empty-handed
Whenever you leave a room, take something that doesn’t belong there with you.
E.g., When leaving the bedroom, take empty cups, bottles, or dirty laundry with you and put them in the right place. This will help keep your home tidy and organized at all times with minimal extra effort.
Keep a virtual shopping list on your phone
I started to use a virtual shopping list called Hngrya few years ago.
This simple habit has helped me save so much time: Whenever I realize we’re about to run out of something, I immediately add it to the list: soap, toothpaste, toilet paper, candles, pasta — whatever.
Next time I go shopping, I know exactly what I need to buy.
Since using the app, I’ve never run out of anything.
Plus, using a virtual shopping list has many more benefits: You have a better overview of what you need and make fewer unnecessary purchases, which helps reduce waste and save money.
By knowing what you need, you’re also less tempted to buy sweets and highly processed foods. And most importantly, it makes your shopping experience a lot easier because you spend less time thinking about what you need.
The #1 time and energy saver
While talking about groceries, let me share two more habits that helped me make a profound change: Meal planning and prepping.
Every Sunday, I create a weekly meal plan and write down what I’ll eat next week. I’m not a talented chef and don’t enjoy cooking, so I purchased meal plans full of simple and healthy recipes I like.
As I don’t want to spend too much time in the kitchen, I always cook bigger batches, so I can eat the same meal at least twice.
Without meal plans, I easily opt for processed, unhealthy foods — especially if I need to make choices when I’m already hungry.
But if I’m well prepared, I can easily stick to a healthy, nutritious, and simple plan.
By eating healthily, I feel better, have more mental clarity, and am more energized overall.
Be kind (even if the other person isn’t)
Instead of taking other people and their work for granted, try to show kindness and compassion.
This isn’t always easy, but most of the time, it’ll help you engage in genuine conversations and solve problems much quicker.
Just because someone reacts rudely doesn’t mean you did anything wrong. They might be having a bad day or might’ve received bad news just recently.
Train your “kindness muscle” by reminding yourself that someone else’s behavior is barely a reaction to you but just a reflection of how they feel deep inside.
If you can get it done within 2 minutes, do it
Whenever you have an annoying task to complete that won’t take you more than 1–2 minutes, do it right away.
By procrastinating and whining about it, you’ll only get even more annoyed and waste mental energy. Once it’s done, you can happily get it out of your mind and focus on more important tasks.
Stick to water as your go-to drink
You can save loads of calories and money by drinking water instead of pretty much anything else.
There’s no harm in drinking a cup of coke or orange juice occasionally when you really crave it, but make sure you don’t pour those immense volumes of sugar into your body regularly.
Water is simple, cheap, and healthy, so train yourself to choose it more often.
Get used to complimenting other people
Cheering for others and highlighting their positive traits is a superpower.
Most people are stuck with a scarcity mindset and believe they must compete with others. Yet, the truth is, life is abundant, and we can all get what we want while being nice to each other.
Instead of looking at others with jealousy, try to share your genuine thoughts with them.
If you like how someone looks, tell them. They might’ve spent years losing weight and working out, so your compliment might make their day.
If you realize someone’s making an effort at work, tell her. She might’ve been up all night to finish a presentation, and you might be the only one to acknowledge her hard work.
Life could be much more beautiful if we all supported each other and shared more compliments instead of hate.
Sleep can be the solution to most of your problems
According to CDC, almost 40% of adult Americans don’t get enough sleep.
And while most people don’t even take sleep seriously, the truth is that we can eliminate many of our daily problems just by sleeping better and longer.
If we’re sleep-deprived, we’re more prone to gaining weight but also more irritable, anxious, and mentally exhausted.
To ensure you get a good rest, go to bed at the same time every night. In the long run, this will help you fall asleep easily because your body will get used to a specific schedule.
Also, ensure to sleep in a dark room (or use a sleep mask), avoid eating big meals at least 1–2 hours before going to bed, and don’t take your phone to the bedroom.
Also, allow yourself to slow down at least an hour before bedtime so your body can adjust.
If possible, take the stairs
As someone who’s working from home, I move very little during an average workday. So when I do get outside, I try to make the most of my time by walking most distances and taking the stairs whenever possible.
For me, it’s a simple way to get some extra steps in without much extra effort.
If you’re struggling with money, track your expenses
Most people widely underestimate how much money they spend on luxuries like eating out or new clothes every month.
They work hard for their money but don’t pay much attention to how they spend it.
If you ever feel like you have no idea where your money went, start to religiously track your expenses for at least 2 to 3 months.
I used an app called Toshl to keep track of every penny for two years. This helped me realize that eating out and making random impulse purchases were the two major expenses I could control if I wanted to save money.
Your insights might be totally different: You might be paying for subscriptions you don’t even use or spending lots of money to replace broken items in your home every month.
The problem is, you won’t know unless you document your expenses. And the sooner you start, the sooner you’ll be able to make changes.
Keep a tiny diary
A few years ago, I came across a “One Line A Day Journal,” which is a tiny notebook to summarize your day in just a few lines.
Each page represents a day of the year: the first page is January 1st, the second is January 2nd, and so on.
In my journal, each page is divided into five sections, which means I’ll be able to use it for five years.
I started in 2021, so next year, when I open the page for January 1st, I’ll see my entries from 2021 and 2022 and then put my 2023 thoughts on the same page.
This is a great way to keep track of your life without a huge time commitment.
It literally takes you one minute to sum up how you feel and what you did on a particular day. Yet, it’s a fantastic way to reflect on the previous years and the progress you’ve made over time.
Each year, the journal reminds you of wonderful memories you’ve made and challenges you’ve overcome.
Take full control of what you see online
On average, we spend 3 to 4 hours per day staring at our phones.
And the truth is, most people allow their phones to make them feel worse instead of better.
Here’s a mantra I wish more people would be aware of: Nobody has the right to stress you out on your own phone.
If I see a post I don’t like, I’ll unfollow the author, so they don’t show up on my feed again.
If someone leaves a disrespectful comment on anything I publish, I won’t even waste a second before I block them.
I wouldn’t let a person enter my home and act rudely, so I also don’t let them do the same online.
If you think you have the right to piss me off, I’ll use my right to ensure you can’t do it in the future.
Your phone can be a powerful tool and help you live a better life, but you need to control how you use it.
What’s the point of constantly seeing posts you fundamentally disagree with?
If we spend so much time scrolling through news feeds, we can at least ensure the content we see makes us feel good instead of bad.
We all wish we had a little more inner peace in our lives.
After all, it’s hard enough to cope with the stress of workplace politics or family drama when your mind is clear and still. But when you’re trying to do it with a mind that’s buzzing with worries and insecurities, regrets and ruminations, frustrations and irritations, well… it can be overwhelming, if not completely debilitating.
But here’s the thing about true peace of mind:
Peace of mind is not something you do or find immediately. It’s something that’s cultivated slowly and intentionally.
In other words, peace of mind comes from good habits formed deliberately over time.
If you want to cultivate a calmer, gentler, and more peaceful mind, these four habits are a good place to start.
1. Talk About How You Feel
Because painful emotions feel bad, our natural instinct is to avoid them… Naturally!
The only trouble is…
When you constantly run away from your emotions, you teach your brain that emotions are bad.
But painful emotions are bad, right?
Think about it:
When you touch a hot pan on the stove, is the pain bad? Nope, not at all. Even though pain feels bad, it’s actually good! Pain is a messenger telling you to move your hand so you avoid the real danger — tissue damage resulting from third-degree burns.
Well, emotions work the same way.
Emotions themselves are not bad or dangerous. They’re just messengers trying to communicate something to you.
Just because your emotions feel bad doesn’t mean they are bad.
But if you treat your painful emotions like enemies by running away from them or trying to eliminate them, you train your brain to see them that way in the future — and this only makes you more reactive to them and keeps your mind constantly stressed out and worried.
Luckily, you can counteract this effect by doing the opposite:
By welcoming and expressing your emotions, instead of running away from them, you teach your brain to be calmer in the face of difficult feelings.
“Feelings are something you have; not something you are.
We go from on top of the world to grumpy and irritable in just a few minutes.
We feel sad and just can’t seem to shake it.
Painful emotions are unavoidable. But here’s the thing…
Life goes on whether you feel good or not.
Time passes, opportunities come and go, and our lives march forward whether we’re feeling good or feeling miserable:
If you wait to work on that novel you’ve been wanting to write until you feel “truly inspired,” it’s never going to happen (and you’re gonna feel bad about yourself in the meantime).
If you wait to start that new business you’ve dreamed of until you’re feeling confident enough, it’s never going to happen (and you’re gonna feel bad about yourself in the meantime).
If you wait to tell your kids you love them until it feels more natural, it’s never gonna happen (and you’re gonna feel bad about yourself in the meantime).
Many people can’t find inner peace because their minds are flooded with regrets about all the things they didn’t do.
The antidote, painful as it may sound, is to learn how to do what matters regardless of how you feel. This is the only way to stop the constant stream of regrets and disappointments.
Easier said than done of course. Obviously, it’s easier to go to the gym if you’re feeling energized, just like it’s easier to ask out that cute guy when you’re feeling confident.
And while hard things will always be hard, you can make them a lot less hard with practice. Specifically, you can practice doing things despite not wanting to.
Like an athlete building up endurance and strength, the more you practice feeling bad emotionally, the more tolerance to it you will build.
To free your mind from the constant stress of regret, practice doing important things no matter how you feel.
The next time you want to work toward a goal but don’t feel like it, ask yourself this question:
Should I look at feeling bad as an obstacle or as an opportunity to train?
“The only whole heart is the broken one because it lets the light in.”
— David Wolpe
3. Update Your Expectations
I think most of us know that overly-high expectations of people aren’t a great idea:
Expecting that your spouse will always be in a good mood is a set-up for excessive irritability and resentment.
Expecting that your employees will always act in the company’s best interest is a set up for excessive frustration and disappointment.
Expecting that your plans will always go well is a set up for excessive anxiety and stress.
Because here’s the thing about expectations….
The world and most of the people in it are surprisingly indifferent to your expectations.
This means that much of the time your expectations are going to be violated. And when that happens, you’re going to be chronically surprised — and not in a good way!
The issue is that surprise is like an emotional amplifier:
Seeing your spouse in a bad mood may be mildly disappointing. But seeing your spouse in a bad mood when you expected them to be in a good one is majorly disappointing.
Having your plans not work out is frustrating. But having them not work out after convincing yourself that they would is going to be majorly frustrating.
If you want more peace of mind, you must let go of unrealistic expectations for people.
Of course, you can’t just eradicate your expectations entirely. They have their uses now and then. The trick is to get in the habit of examining your expectations regularly and, if needed, updating them.
Life and other people will always disappoint you. But you’ll be a lot less disappointed if you stop expecting the world of them.
Make time to update your expectations regularly and you’ll be far more calm and peaceful for it.
“We have to be willing to confront the world as it is, not as we want it to be if we’re going to be successful.”
— Barry McCarthy
4. Enforce Healthy Boundaries
When I first drafted this article, the title of this section as “Set and Enforce Healthy Boundaries”
But let’s be honest, setting healthy boundaries isn’t really the problem…
It’s not that hard to ask your boss to stop emailing you on the weekends.
It’s not that hard to tell your adult child to get a job and move out.
It’s not that hard to tell yourself to go to the gym after work.
Sure, setting healthy boundaries can be a little uncomfortable. But the real issue here is enforcing the healthy boundaries you do set.
Because here’s the deal…
Setting a boundary and not enforcing it is worse than not setting it in the first place.
Think about it:
What are you teaching your boss if you tell her you don’t want to be emailed on the weekends but then go ahead and respond to her weekend emails anyway? You’re teaching her to not take your requests seriously.
What are you teaching your adult child if you tell them they need to get a job and move out but keep letting them live for free in your house and subsidizing their video game addiction? You’re teaching him that your requests aren’t actually all that important.
What are you teaching your own brain if you keep committing to starting a new workout regimen but then never following through on it? You’re teaching yourself that your goals don’t really matter to you and that you’re not a very reliable person.
Setting boundaries without enforcing them is just another form of self-sabotage.
The next time you think about making a serious request of someone or setting a new boundary, think carefully about what it will really take to enforce that boundary.
Because if you don’t, you’re training the people in your life not to respect you. And worse, you’re destroying your own self-respect. Both of which will lead to a lot of unnecessary emotional pain and mental stress.
“If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.”
The future is being built now with robotics, artificial intelligence, and all kinds of automation that will take over many of the skills we perform today. But there are some skills that we will need for the future, skills that can’t be automated. If you want to excel in the years to come, make sure you’re up to speed in these areas:
Communication. If you’re in leadership, how you communicate, what you communicate and—most of all—how you listen are all supremely important. In communication, it’s the tone that inspires and the spirit that motivates. No robot or machine could ever have the same effect as a leader with great communication skills. Knowing how to communicate is all about creating and clarifying expectations. It’s important to communicate not just what you want someone to do and (without micromanaging) how they should do it but also why you want it to be done and why the person you’re asking is the best person for the job. People want meaning, so communication will always be a crucial leadership skill.
Engagement. Gone are the days of a leader sitting at their desk with the door closed. That doesn’t work (and really, it never did). For any enterprise to excel and achieve its goals leaders need to value engagement, because great leadership begins with connection. When we understand that despite the ways in which we differ we’re all alike in our desire for acceptance and connection, we can recognize those needs in ourselves—and in others. That’s when we can truly make a difference, and it requires human connection.
Influence. Many sources contribute influence in our lives. Parents, other family members, teachers, friends, books we’ve read, discussions we’ve had, life experiences—all of these influences merge together to form our core values and build our character. In the years to come it’s predicted that our biggest commodity will be ourselves—that people will follow others because of who they are and what their character represents. That’s not something you could ever get from a machine, robot or automation.
Heart. Automation can never substitute for heart, care and love. When a leader demonstrates caring, it makes a difference in everyone they touch. The world is full of people who need to be exposed to a caring heart. Great leaders care about the people they lead above their own leadership; they are close enough to show they care but far enough ahead to also motivate. The future relies on this wisdom: leadership is not about being in charge but about taking care of those in your charge.
There are doubtless numerous skills you’ll need to build a successful future, but it’s these core skills that matter most.
“Between stimulus and response lies a space. In that space lie our freedom and power to choose a response. In our response lie our growth and our happiness.”
This is one of my favorite quotes, most often attributed to Viktor E. Frankl, Holocaust survivor and author of Man’s Search for Meaning. It holds an answer to managing negativity in the workplace. But first, I want to be clear about negative thoughts and emotions.
It’s okay to feel anger, worry, and sadness. It’s okay to be mad. It’s okay to get upset. We all experience a spectrum of feelings throughout the day. It’s normal. Besides, the more we squash negative emotions, the more they appear. But we can learn how to respond when we want to hold onto those negative emotions.
The first step is to acknowledge that we all feel big feelings, then feel compassion for yourself when you have them and, eventually, for others when they do.
Recognize Negative Tendencies
We all have natural negative tendencies and thought patterns. So don’t beat yourself up—or at least try not to. Recognize these leanings and attempt to catch yourself before you go into your habitual swirl of doom. You know what that looks like. You might be one of those who identify what’s wrong before you recognize what’s going well. Perhaps you like to vent—a lot. Or, if you are like me, you get defensive when you get feedback and see it as a criticism. These knee-jerk reactions can go completely unnoticed by us because they are ingrained habits and impulses—learned behaviors we acquired long before we were functioning adults.
The key is to acknowledge a feeling and then identify if your reaction to it will be helpful or unhelpful. We obviously don’t want to act out negatively or do something that’s hurtful. But sometimes our natural tendency does exactly that.
I’ll give you an example. Last week I was triggered by one of my colleagues who provided input on a strategy document I wrote. The comments, I felt, were not useful. Instead of dismissing them as a reflection of the person’s own issues, I was triggered and unleashed. I felt annoyed and wanted others to feel my irritation and validate my frustration. So I immediately texted and called a couple of my closest colleagues and complained. I distracted myself from the issue at hand and got wrapped up in a negative cycle of judgment and griping. And while my peers understood and empathized, I can only imagine that my rant did not put a positive spin on their day; perhaps it even impacted them later on. It was not an issue that I was triggered, but it was that I let it play out with my teammates and truly created a negative work environment. Not helpful and not fair—to myself, my peers, or that clueless colleague who was trying to give me some honest feedback.
Here is a confession: I struggle with gossip. I want to follow the Golden Rule. If I hear someone speaking negatively about someone or something else, I don’t want to participate or share a juicy story of my own. But I usually do. I sympathize and likely continue enabling the rumor mill. Why? I also struggle with being direct, so gossip is an easier way for me to process my feelings. Great job, Brit, on being self-aware. But I need to take this a bit further.
Really, the better course of action is to either not participate or change the subject. Have more empathy and compassion for those who are at the center of the story. We are all just trying to do the best we can with the information we are presented with at the time.
Goodbye to Toxic Positivity
Toxic positivity is as bad as gossiping. It can be used to gloss over any unpleasant truths in the workplace. Rarely are statements such as “it could be worse” or “don’t stress” or “look on the bright side” helpful to the individual who is having a bad day, for whatever justified or unjustified reason. Toxic positively feels a bit like gaslighting—as if the other person’s feelings don’t matter or aren’t appropriate.
As with gossip, the answer is empathy and compassion. How do you show empathy and compassion? Through listening with the intent to understand, validating those strong emotions, and offering support—even if it’s just an ear.
Flip the Negative Script
A very close friend of mine and I work together. We use a technique to manage negativity so we can help each other share strong feelings but also get some forward momentum. If this person calls wanting to air out grievances, I ask, “Do you want to talk to Work Britney or Friend Britney?” My response is different based on who this person wants to talk to. If it’s Work Britney, I’ll say something like, “Want to work out a solution together?” If she is looking for a friend, I’ll say, “Dude, that stinks. I’m here for you.”
You can use this technique with your people. Let them know you’re going to wear different hats based on their need. This way, you can either play the role of boss or lend a friendly ear. I’ve asked my leaders in the past to do this. It’s helped me be able to share my feelings and then make a plan–which often means being more direct with the object of my aggravation.
Find a Release Valve—A Healthy One
People call work a “pressure cooker” for good reason—we all need a release valve. But you need to find one that works for you. Maybe it’s journaling, or exercise, or yoga—whatever helps you process the big feelings. But watch out. Doom scrolling, gossip, toxic positivity, and other nefarious habits that cause more self-harm may seem to be effective release valves, but they clearly only perpetuate the negative cycle on yourself and others.
Set the Tone
Leaders have more influence than they realize. Just consider that a poor relationship with a leader is the top reason people leave a job. You can flip this dynamic on its head by asking people how they are doing, what problems they are facing, what’s their biggest challenge.
Just as important, you can set the tone for these conversations. Instead of focusing on the negative, you can ask people about their big wins in the past week. I recently asked my people what their best day at work was in the past six months. Smiles began appearing on every face. Their brains were working hard. Then they shared great stories—and the whole nature of the conversation changed.
You Be the Example
A leader’s job is to manage the energy in the workplace. If there is negativity everywhere, notice it, acknowledge your role in creating or perpetuating that environment, and make a conscious decision to do something different.
It’s an unrealistic attitude to think every day is going to be unicorns and rainbows. Just do your best to be more mindful of negative patterns. Craig Weber calls it “Catch It, Name It, Tame It.” Meanwhile, “Catch people doing things right,” as Ken Blanchard would say. Celebrate the small wins. Celebrate when things go well. And little by little, you’ll change the environment.
It all goes back to the Frankl quote. “Between stimulus and response lies a space. In that space lie our freedom and power to choose a response. In our response lie our growth and our happiness.”
We have a choice. Do we want to bring people down or lift them up? Do we want to share the latest gossip or simply move on with our day? Negative emotions are shared by all of us, but a negative environment doesn’t have to be. We have the power to create more shared experiences that are positive. It’s about asserting our freedom and remembering that we have a choice in our response—and then choosing the path that leads to our growth and happiness.