It's that time of year again--the transition between the old and the new, when people get the bizarre idea that somehow this year is going to be different, that somehow they're going to be so full of pep and vigor in the first month of the new year that they're going to change their lives through the sheer force of will power.
And to that, I say, BAH, HUMBUG!
Yes, I am a Scrooge when it comes to new year’s resolutions.
New year’s resolutions are a scam that we perpetrate against ourselves. We begin the new year with fervent optimism, and then as the realities of life settle in, our resolve crumbles. Then, we think, I’ll try again next year. Next year will be different. There will be more time next year.
Well, this fantasy next year is never going to happen. We've built it up too much in our minds, invested it with too much importance, imbedded it with the sparkle of a magical amulet. And when you make something that grandiose, it’s bound to fail.
So in the place of this forever unattainable “new year’s resolution,” I propose something much more humble. Instead of putting off this new you until January 1, I say do it today. Don't wait; after all, a new year’s resolution is just a euphemism for procrastination. If you're wanting to make a big change in your life--or even a little one--start out small. Trying to lose 20 pounds? Go for a five minute walk. Eat a salad with crackers and cheese for lunch. Want to write the great American novel? Sit down and write 250 words. Need to find a new job that doesn't bore you to tears? Look on monster.com. Email someone in the field and ask how he or she got started. But don't wait until January. Don't put it off. Do it today. Do it right now. Tell yourself it’s just practice for the real thing, or play whatever mind games you have to in order to get yourself going.
And then when you fail--which you are bound to do--are you going to walk away from the "new you"? Are you going to put it off until next year's resolutions? No! If you fall off the wagon once or twice, it doesn't mean you're a failure. It just means you've hit a bump in the road. Jump back on that horse (okay, I see that my metaphors or not very consistent...but hopefully you get my gist). Try again and again and again. Don't give up--you know, all those phrases that Nike summed into their three word slogan, "Just do it."
And don't forget--Carpe the diem! Don't put off until tomorrow what you can do today.
Okay, I'll get off my soapbox. Happy new year, peoples!
So just to be completely transparent, I didn't come up with this idea. In fact, it comes from a TED talk I watched by Amy Cuddy, which I've tried to spread far and wide and which I hope you check out after reading this post. I'm summarizing it here because I just think it's too darn great not to.
Alphas are big. They may not have big bodies, but they use their arms and legs to make themselves deem bigger than what they actually are. They hold their heads up high. They emanate power and confidence and maybe even arrogance and aggression as well. They don't walk; they swagger. They're in charge, and they know it.
It turns out that big cheeses exist in both the animal and human world. In fact, we behave a lot like animals in this regard. When we feel confident, we tend to make ourselves physically bigger. Cuddy talks about competition winners in particular. At the moment of victory, their arms go up and they lift their heads so that all the world can see *I'm It. Yes, look at me. I'm Super-Awesome, and I know it.* It doens't matter if they've seen anyone stand this way or not; it's a natural human (and animal) response.
On the flip side, people who are feeling insecure tend to close in on themselves. They keep their arms and legs close to their core bodies, lean over, keep their heads down, and avoid eye contact. They don't try to make themselves big; in fact, they do the exact opposite.
Or if you're sitting down, you can put your legs up on the desk in front of you and cross your arms behind your head, like you're the CEO in a fancy Manhattan building with a big window and an awesome view.
But wait! Does this really work? I mean, it sounds a little bit goofy, right?
Apparently it does work. Standing like this--in your power pose--actually changes the chemicals in your brain. It increases the testosterone levels in your brain, which leads to feelings of dominance and confidence, while decreasing the cortisol levels, which diminishes your feelings of stress.
So, yeah, just by standing like Wonder Woman, you can hijack your brain chemistry.
Of course, this research doesn't imply that you should constantly stand around like Wonder Woman or dress like Wonder Woman or tell people your name is Wonder Woman (which is what my niece used to do). People might look at you like you were a lunatic if you did. What you should do instead, according to Cuddy, is try out one of these poses before an evaluative situation, such as a performance, a test, a speech, or a job interview. Instead of just sitting around panicking and checking your phone messages, try slipping away to a private area--like a bathroom stall--and get your superhero pose on. Be quiet but be proud.
Cuddy suggests doing a power pose for about two minutes to pump yourself up. Her research shows that's all the time you need to make a real (temporary) difference in your brain chemistry.
Full disclosure--I decided to test out this technique before my last job interview. I stood in the bathroom with my hands on my hips, feet apart, and head up for a few minutes. During the interview itself , I felt very confident even when they asked me questions I hadn't prepared for. And best of all, I ended up getting the job.
So next time you're facing a stressful, evaluative situation, pretend you're Wonder Woman (or some other superhuman). Be the alpha!
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So which one are you? A big cheese or a tiny crumb? Well, maybe you're both. It probably depends on the situation, right? If you're thinking about giving a speech in front of class, you're probably a sweaty, nervous, car wreck, but if you're playing that video game you're the bomb at, you're probably Captain Fearless. The truly good news-tastic thing is that there's a really simple way to transform yourself from a pile of sweaty wimpdom to a superhero fantasticon.
Here's how: Hack your brain using your body language.
Make yourself physically bigger. Extend your arms and legs into a big X shape. Or try this--the Wonder woman pose:
The person I want to be smiles at everyone, even strangers; is a great teacher who has wonderful rapport with her students and is able to inspire them to do great things; influences people to do the right thing even when it hurts; doesn't care about fashion but always looks put together; has a wonderful relationship with her daughter; mentors young people, who respect and admire her; works fearlessly to make the world a better place; makes the people around her feel happy and enthusiastic; eats right and exercises; and is generally a superlative, super-human type of person.
Have you ever done that? Wrote down the qualities you wish you had? Have you ever looked at someone and said to yourself, "Why can't that be me?"
Here are some words of advice from the great British writer and satirist Oscar Wilde: "Be yourself; everyone else is already taken."
Well, that's a a real letdown, isn't it? Why can't I be that other person I admire? Am I really trapped in this body, in this brain? Am I really fated to be the loser that I already am?
No, you're not. Notice Wilde said to be yourself; he didn't say not to imagine yourself as someone else.
So here's my challenge--Imagine yourself as the best version of you. Pretend to be the person you want to be.
Let me give you an example. I work as a teacher, but inside, I don't feel like I am a teacher. Teachers are these people who are in charge, in control. Teachers know what they are talking about and are able to bring out the best in their students. They inspire. They are experts in their field. Well, guess what? I'm not any of those things, or at the least, I don't feel like I am. That's why I wrote that I work as a teacher, not that I am a teacher.
So since I don't feel like I am this paradigm of teacherliness, what can I do? Quit my job? No, I have to make a living. Admit to my students that I am an imposter who doesn't know what she's talking about? Well, maybe, but I don't want to make them lose their respect for me. So what can I do?
I can pretend to be a great teacher. I can think to myself, "Well, what would a great teacher do in this situation?" And then I can do whatever I think a great teacher would do.
Yes, that's the secret. Pretend to be
the person you want to be.
Let me give you another example.
Recently I was at an event put on by an organization I am affiliated with called Dallas Interfaith Power and Light. It was a film screening I had helped organize, and about 65 people showed up. When I got there, I saw people milling around, waiting for the film to start. Well, I felt a bit less than confident. I didn't know most of the other people there, and the people I did know were busy talking to other people. I could have found a seat and hid my face in the screen of my phone. But I decided, no, that is not what a representative of this organization should do. So instead, I decided to mingle. I walked up to a guy I didn't know and started talking to him. I asked him what had inspired him to come to the event. I asked him what kind of work he did. I started a conversation. And the thing that allowed me to break out of my shell and take a chance is that I imagined what a true advocate and exemplary representative of Dallas IPL would do, and I did that.
This technique requires you to don a mask. The mask is made of up the characteristics of the personality you want to assume. Want to be class president? Imagine what a class president would do, would sound like, would look like, and do those things. Want to attract girls? Think about what an attractive guy (or girl) would do, what he would say, what he would look like, and do those things. Want to be an ace student? Think about what an A+ student would do, would sound like, would look like, and do those things. Yes, that's the secret. Pretend to be the person you want to be.
Don't think it works? Don't believe me? This post is partially inspired by a TED talk by Amy Cuddy, who describes how she managed to become a college student even though she knew she didn't belong. Her advice: fake it until you become it. If you do nothing else, please watch this video. It will definitely give you a different view on life and gift with you some techniques to ramp up your brain chemistry.
So that's my advice. Fake it until you are it. Be your best you--the best you that lives in your imagination.
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This summer I had the good fortune to be able to work with teenagers in the Upward Bound program. They were taking part in a six week stay at a local college campus, going to classes and experiencing what it’s like to be a real college student.
I was their computer teacher (in spite of the fact that my degree is actually in English, and I don’t really consider myself to be particularly tech savvy). For their first assignment, I asked the students to create a newsletter using inspirational quotes and stories from your website www.motivateus.com. If you remember, I had called to ask if you would mind if I did so, and you gave your permission. You also asked me to let you know how things went, so I am writing this letter to tell you a little about the class.
My themes for the course were inspiration, motivation, and activism, and I tried to create assignments that catered to those themes. For their Excel assignment, for example, I used facts and figures on world poverty from the World Bank and information about blood donation and disaster relief from the Red Cross. For another assignment, they were required to research information on a cause that interested them and write to their legislators about that topic. They wrote about obesity, teen drinking, medical marijuana, health care, and a variety of other things, and in the end, I did indeed send those letters to their legislators. In addition to these and other assignments, I read to them each day from the book Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations by Alex and Brett Harris.
It is pretty obvious, as you can see, that I had an agenda. I didn’t just want to teach them how to use computer applications. I wanted to inspire them to make a change in the world and in themselves for the better. And I was pretty blatant about communicating this goal. The question is whether or not I had an impact on any of them.
Basically what I saw is that the students performed at a consistent level from the time they entered the class to the time they left. Those who worked hard did so from the time they entered to the time they left, and those that slacked and played on Facebook (yes, even in a program like Upward Bound, there are slackers) did so consistently throughout the six week period. So did I make an impact? Hmmm. Hard to say.
I will say that I made them think. And yes, I do use the word “made” consciously. I asked them questions about their beliefs, asked them how they were enacting those beliefs, asked them what “hard things” they faced, and asked them questions inspired by the Harris’ book.
Although it is difficult for a teacher to measure the impact she has on a student--especially when she sees those students for a very brief period during their young lives--I think it is important that we keep trying. At the very least, they know that there are people in this world who really do value passion, inspiration, and motivation, and I appreciate the fact that you have put your web site out there for everyone to see. Those of us who care should not remain silent. We need to communicate that message, whether through the internet or face to face.
So I would like to thank you sincerely for allowing us to use the material from your website for our classroom project. It started the class out on the right foot, and I hope that it helped inspire my students to, in a slight modification from the army’s motto, “be all they can be.”
A small smudge. Green. Another. Green side by side with blue. One tiny spot right after another. Meaningless splotches of color up close. Stand back, however, and it's George's Seurat's A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.
Pointillism is a technique made famous by Seurat in which paintings are composed of tiny specks of color that, when taken all together, become majestic works of art. Can you imagine? Painstakingly pricking the canvas over and over again with a paintbrush for hours at a time as a picture emerges? The amount of work that goes into it is amazing, but even more astonishing is the image the artist has in her head before she even begins her work. She visualizes the finished product in her mind, perhaps in its entirety, maybe as a fuzzy image, but if she wants her creation to be fully realized, she must build it step by step, smudge by smudge.
But this essay is not about art. It's about you. It's about me. It's about every day of our lives and the choices we make that bring us ever closer to greatness or that leave us just as far from our goals as we ever were.
Because greatness is not achieved in one grandiose gesture; it is accomplished in those tiny little building blocks that we stack atop one another every day.
Everyone wants to be famous. Or rich. Or unforgettable. Or brilliant. Everyone wants more than just his or her allotted fifteen minutes of fame. But the thing that not everyone wants to do is work to make it happen, slug through the muck, little by little. And that's why we are a species of wannabes--beings with great potential who just aren't willing to put the work into it that our dreams require.
Thomas Edison said that genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration. It's the sweat that drips down our backs as we toil to bring our genius to life. It's the seconds that pile upon minutes upon hours upon days and months it takes to bring out the greatness within.
I told my students they had a little spark of greatness within them. They do. We all do. But if we don't constantly kindle that spark, it will die, and we will be left with regret for what could have been.
This thought for the day was inspired by my Upward Bound students, by the book Do Hard Things by Alex and Brett Harris, and by my own life.
Word and Book Lover.