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3 Steps to Help You Find and Keep Your Motivation

A few years ago, I decided I was going to run a marathon. I bought a brand new pair of Nikes, loaded my iPod full of great running songs, and mapped out the perfect route around my house. A month later, my Nikes were still pristine, my iPod was collecting dust and that perfect route was gently mocking me every time I left my house. Needless to say, I had the motivation at some point. And then, without any warning at all, it was suddenly gone.

But I’ve learned a thing or two about motivation over the years. And I wasn’t ready to throw in the towel. So, here’s what I did to get the excitement back (and keep it) and how you can use these same steps to stay motivated in any endeavor.

1. Know Thyself

The first mistake I made was thinking I could train for this big event on my own. I’m the kind of person who really thrives in a group. I’m a natural teacher’s pet so group programs inspire me to excel and bring out a healthy competitive spirit. Plus, I need support from others who are right there with me, aiming for the same goal. Knowing this about myself, I decided to join Team in Training, an organization that helps train people for endurance events while raising money for Leukemia. With professional trainers and a huge group of like-minded people, I started actually looking forward to our scheduled training sessions.

Pro Tip: Figure out what works best for you and tailor your approach accordingly. If your goal-getting strategy isn’t aligned with who you naturally are, your motivation will sink.

2. Keep It Real

As a non-runner, it was a little overly ambitious to set out with the goal of running a marathon. My motivation waned almost immediately because it seemed like such a stretch from where I was. When I started, I couldn’t run a mile without getting seriously winded. So I scaled it back a bit and focused on a half-marathon event instead. This made the whole idea much less intimidating and the prospect of achieving my goal much more realistic, and my motivation soared.

Pro Tip: Remember the ever-important “R” in SMART goals. Yes, stretching yourself is a good thing. But, when a goal feels impossible, motivation is hard to come by.

3. Take Responsibility

Ultimately, even though I was on a team running with a group of other non-runner people, I was the only one responsible for my success or failure in this goal. I was the one who had to deal with the aches and pains after a long run. I was the one who had to wake up early in the morning to hit the track for training. And, as I ran those intense 13.1 miles, it was my voice I heard most loudly, cheering me on. No one else could have pushed me as hard as I was willing to push myself. When I crossed that finish line, I knew my team had encouraged me, but it was still MY win. I had held myself accountable for reaching this goal, and I took the necessary steps to ensure I found my motivation and kept it right through to the end.

Pro Tip: Own your goals. No one else should care about your motivation more that you do. This is your gig, so stop looking to others to keep you on-track.

Photo Credit: Soopahgrover (Flickr)

What James Franco Can Teach Us About Productivity

Admittedly, this post is a little late. The Oscars were several weeks ago now but, for those of us who love movies, fashion, and snarky commentary from Joan Rivers, this year’s ceremony won’t quickly be forgotten.

In case you missed it, the show was widely panned by critics who placed the blame squarely on the shoulders of the two young hosts: Anne Hathaway and James Franco. Franco, in particular, received a brunt of the criticism because of his lazy demeanor. Some people went so far as to suggest he was stoned during the telecast—an accusation I think is probably unfounded, considering what we know of this man. In truth, it’s probably much more likely that he was just the victim of his own overly ambitious schedule. Those who still think multi-tasking is legitimate productivity technique, pay close attention. This is what it looks like when the quest for productivity goes wildly out of control.

Who Is James Franco?

First off, here’s a little background for those of you who don’t really know who James Franco is or why we should care: He’s a 32 year-old actor with a pretty stellar list of credentials including a Golden Globe for his performance as James Dean and mainstream pop culture cred for playing Harry Osborn in the Spider Man trilogy and for his role as a loveable pot dealer in Pineapple Express. This year, he was also nominated for the Oscar for Best Actor in 127 Hours, making his hosting gig even more unprecedented.

However, the most impressive thing about James Franco isn’t his acting resume; it’s his extra curricular activities. The list is pretty incredible…and very odd. A few of the most notable things he has done include a guest role on General Hospital (which he called “performance art”) that mirrored his actual life, a generally well-received book of disturbing short stories called Palo Alto, and various multimedia art projects that have been on display at Sundance and the Museum of Contemporary Art.

On top of all this, he’s an almost compulsive student. After earning his Bachelor’s Degree in English from UCLA, where he took 62 credits per quarter (the normal max is 19), he then simultaneously attended graduate school at Columbia University for creative writing, NYU for filmmaking, Brooklyn College for fiction writing and North Carolina’s Warren Wilson College for poetry. Now, he’s a Ph.D. student studying English at Yale and also attends the Rhode Island School of Design.

Yes. Seriously.

I’m pretty sure he’s not a pothead. That kind of schedule doesn’t exactly align with the typical stoner mentality.

But keep all of this in mind as we explore the Oscars debacle and how this uber-productive person got in over his head.

Watch Out for Diminishing Returns

Now, James Franco is kind of known for that squinty eye thing. It’s actually pretty adorable. But during the Oscars ceremony, he looked downright out-of-it. At one point, he even stumbled over his words so badly, I don’t blame people for thinking drugs could have been involved. But that’s what happens when you’re exhausted. Running around the globe—from graduate classes to film sets and back again—must cause an unbelievable strain on the body and mind.

In a recent interview, Danny McBride, Franco’s costar in an upcoming movie, said the following:

“There was a teacher that he had at school in New York, and James (Franco) had missed a class or two because of filming, and (the teacher) basically said if he didn’t come to this class, he would be dropped from the class. So for the last half of the production, James (Franco) would finish shooting Monday night, get on an airplane in Belfast (Northern Ireland), fly to New York, go to the class, get back on a plane, fly back to Belfast and come back to work every week.”

If this is any indication of how this guy manages his crazy schedule, it’s no wonder he was out of it.

There’s a limit to how much stuff one person can do before exhaustion sets in. If you want to be productive, you have to recognize when you’ve reached the point of diminishing returns—when you’re so exhausted that you’re actually working against yourself. I think that’s what happened the night of the Oscars.

Multi-Tasking Doesn’t Work

Franco actually started off the evening with his cell phone in hand, taking pictures of the Oscars audience to post on Twitter. Um…kind of a bad idea. In fact, the night of the ceremony, he posted dozens of tweets, complete with photos and videos. This is the very definition of multi-tasking and the resulting unfocused, disinterested, and distracted performance the audience saw is exactly why we should all avoid it.

Franco’s attention was literally split in (at least) two different directions from the get-go. While one side of his brain was thinking, “Focus on your lines, be charming, smile big, make ‘em laugh, blah, blah, blah,” the other side was thinking, “Get a good shot so the Twitter fans will be happy, gotta upload this as soon as I get backstage, wonder if that pic was blurry, blah, blah, blah.”

Doing two things at once might sound easy enough. It might physically even BE easy enough. But mentally, you’re straining your resources. And, when something really matters, you want to be playing with 100% capacity. Divided attention is usually fairly obvious to everyone involved, and most people find it insulting. This is one of the reasons I think people were so outraged by his lackluster performance. It was like a smack in the face for those of us who were expecting more.

Jack of All Trades = Master of None

Poor James Franco turned in a really bad performance as host of the Oscars. And, as it turns out, his peers at Yale also raked him over the coals for his lame Twitter stream. So, apparently, he failed at both things that night. This is pretty typical for multi-tasking. When you try to be a “Jack of all trades” you end up “master of none.”

Who’s to say if the rest of his life will play out the same way? From this perspective, it certainly doesn’t look good.

When I think of James Franco, I remember my number one rule for productivity: If you’re trying to do too much, there’s no system in the world that can help you. Dividing your attention and packing your schedule full to the point of exhaustion is a sure-fire way to end up with a bunch of mediocre performances.

Clearly, a person like James Franco doesn’t want to be mediocre. And when he has his head in the game, he’s insanely talented. But the same productivity rules that apply to everyone else, also apply to him. Multi-tasking doesn’t work any better for famous people than it does for the rest of us. Trying to pack every conceivable goal into the span of a few years might sound great in theory, but I’m guessing that, in practice, it’s a big pain in the ass.

So take heed. Give your full, undivided attention to the one, important task at hand before moving on to the next. No matter how rich and talented and smart you are, human productivity has its limits.

Even an adorable smile can’t change that.

5 Simple Career Management Tips Everyone Should Follow Starting Now

There are a few standard career management tips I recommend to every professional regardless of position, industry, experience level, or future ambitions. These things are super easy to do and they help ensure you’re taking at least a minimally active role in your professional development. No matter how busy you are, there’s just no excuse to ignore these tips. Get started NOW.

1. Keep your resume up-to-date.

You never know when opportunity will knock. Even if you aren’t actively job searching, your resume should always be ready to go so you don’t get stuck making last minute updates.

Your resume is one of the most important documents you have to offer so you don’t want to rush it or ignore it for years on end. If you haven’t looked at it since starting your current job, pull it out, brush off the dust, and add the relevant information. If you’re not extremely proud of it, keep working. Your resume is no place to slack off. Now—while you’re not in a panic searching for a new job—is a great time to work on it.

You never know when the perfect position will open up and you’ll want to jump on it immediately. If you’ve been proactive about keeping your resume updated, you’ll be ready to pounce.

2. Join a professional association for your vocation and/or industry.

Associations are one of the most powerful career tools available and yet, too many people disregard them. Find out what’s available for professionals who share your role or work in your same industry. Join the group and attend the meetings regularly. Most offer valuable continuing education opportunities as well as the chance to meet and mingle with some of the top professionals in your field.

I also suggest volunteering to serve on the leadership board if your schedule allows it. Through active participation you’ll get to know your fellow members and make a name for yourself. Remember that these are your people. Together you can share experiences, establish best practices and even explore new opportunities. Associations look great on your resume and are helpful networks to tap when job searching, but don’t wait until you need the support. Get involved right away and start building those relationships.

3. Get a mentor.

A professional mentor can help guide you through your career by sharing his or her experiences and offering practical advice. Find a professional in your field whose career you’d like to emulate. It doesn’t have to be someone who does the exact job you’d like to do in the future. Instead, focus on finding a person who demonstrates the character traits you’d like to hone in yourself. It should be someone you respect and want to learn from.

Ask the person if he or she would be willing to engage in a professional mentorship relationship with you. Define exactly what the means to you and how you’d like the relationship to work. For example, you could suggest doing a lunchtime meeting once a month to discuss specific issues you’re dealing with or goals you’re working on. Additionally, you might want to make time for two phone calls during the month for quick check-ins and progress updates.

Keep in mind that everyone wants to know “what’s in it for me” and, for most mentors, this is an opportunity to share their hard-earned wisdom. Make it clear why you chose this person and that you’re very eager to listen and learn.

If the person is unable or unwilling to commit to helping you, move on. A mentorship relationship is a two-way street. You need someone who sees your value and wants to help you grow and succeed.

4. Become a mentor.

Regardless of where you are in your career, there is someone who can benefit from your knowledge. Find that person and take him or her under your wing. Being a mentor is a wonderful opportunity to learn while you teach. You can share your advice and help someone else grow while, at the same time, expanding your own leadership capabilities. Plus, it feels good.

Approach the mentorship relationship in the same way described above. Make your proposal clear and be upfront about what is involved. Let the person know what you see in them and what you have to offer. It’s important to find the right person who really understands the benefits of mentorship and wants to learn from you. But once you start looking, you’ll probably find several potential candidates.

5. Keep a win list.

As you progress through your career, keep a running list of your accomplishments. These can be any size at all so don’t be stingy. Even small victories should be recorded. If possible, keep back-up evidence in a file as well. For example, if you receive a nice letter from a client complimenting your service, make a copy for your records. This is the kind of thing that can help keep you motivated in the future when you’re feeling down.

This list is also a great tool to pull out during performance reviews and job interviews. You can reference specific endeavors and projects you successfully completed, and you can offer details on how your work impacted the business. Plus, while you’re updating your resume, you can look at the list to get inspiration for the accomplishments you want to highlight. This helps make your resume more powerful and demonstrative of your capabilities.

Photo Credit: o5com (Flickr)

Easing Into Resistance

This past weekend, I became very familiar with a little thing called “resistance”.  It’s kind of like a temperamental toddler in your head, kicking and screaming and repeating, “I don’t wanna! I don’t wanna! I don’t wanna!” That’s what resistance feels like. It happens when you know you SHOULD do something, you know you WANT to do it, and you know you CAN do it, and yet…you just don’t wanna.

So that’s where I was all weekend long. It started on Friday, when I arrived at my fifth (and final) three-day life coaching class. I was excited. I was ready. I was in it to win it.

And then I wasn’t. Just like that. Something flipped in my brain and I was suddenly a cranky two-year-old. All this personal growth stuff just didn’t sound fun anymore. I didn’t feel like examining myself or pushing myself or improving. I didn’t want to help others. It just felt…wrong.

I ignored it at first. Friday came and went and I pushed through as best I could, but my heart wasn’t in it. Saturday progressed at a snail’s pace. And then finally, I snapped. I grabbed my favorite coach in class, yanked him outside during an exercise and unloaded a pile of verbal vomit on top of him. And, ya know what? It was cool. He handled it. He listened and didn’t judge and gave me permission to be whatever I needed to be in that moment— selfish, angry, confused. It was A-OK.

And then I went back to class.

The next day, Sunday, our last day of class, something shifted. The resistance was still there, but instead of beating myself up for it, I let myself sit with it. I didn’t fight it or ignore it. I just accepted the reality of what I was going through. And it dawned on me that resistance is a natural part of growth. It happens to everyone. I’m not special or weird for feeling this way. This understanding made me almost giddy.

It then occurred to me, during a conversation with a fellow classmate (who also happens to be a yogi) that I deal with resistance all the time in yoga class. Sure, it’s more physical than mental, but the same principles apply. I’ve found that, when you’re trying to stretch into a particularly difficult posture, and your body is tight and resistant, it doesn’t help to push your way through. In fact, that’s a sure-fire way to hurt yourself. The better approach is simply to relax into it. Let the resistance be there, keep your breath steady, and slowly, you’ll ease a little closer to your goal.

Ultimately, you have to give yourself space to feel the resistance, respect it, and work with it instead of against it. I think that goes for all kinds of resistance.

I share this story with you because resistance is normal. I want you to know that everyone goes through it. There are times to push and challenge, and there are also times to relax and let go. You get to make the choice. Give yourself permission to be a bratty toddler now and again. Sometimes, you’ll learn more from that experience than you would otherwise. When you relax into it, you may actually stretch more.

Photo Credit: Domestictimes (Flickr)

The Importance of Celebrating

You may have noticed that it’s been a little quiet around here. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been going through a pretty big transition. At this point, things are starting to slow down and life should (hopefully) return to normal (or some semblance of) before long. So look out for more frequent blog posts in the near future.

For now, though, I wanted to share a little bit about what I’ve been doing and what I’ve learned recently. As many of you already know, I’ve been very fortunate in my career. Several years ago, another website I created was purchased by a company called OfficeArrow and, in the process, I was hired to be the Managing Editor there. This was an amazing opportunity and one that truly changed my life in more ways than I can count.

However, we all continue growing and, at some point, I realized that OfficeArrow and I were growing in different directions. It wasn’t anyone’s fault…it was just a fact. I wanted to spend more time coaching and writing, but my role as Managing Editor at a demanding start-up company meant my days were full with a variety of “other” tasks. I was starting to feel that my true passions weren’t being honored and I knew something had to change.

To make this long story a little shorter, I’ll jump ahead. I’ve been slowly transitioning out of the company for nearly a year. I cut my hours, began training others on how to do my tasks, and started focusing on building my coaching clientele. I also continued growing my freelance work. All in all, I made the conscious decision to let go of what wasn’t working. That doesn’t mean it was easy or that I didn’t question my choice many times. But I put a plan in place and followed it.

This week, I had my official “last day” working with OfficeArrow. And while it wasn’t a particularly emotional experience, it was a significant step in my career. It was kind of like saying “goodbye” to an era, and “hello” to many new, exciting opportunities.

So here I am — in a good place, albeit a slightly scary one. Change, no matter how well you prepare for it, always brings a certain amount of fear. I’m okay with that. I’m working through it.

This transition I’m going through is the result of attaining a big career goal. I’ve released something that was no longer serving me in order to embrace things that are better aligned with who I am and what I want. And this is worth celebrating. I have to remind myself that it’s okay to take some time to simply sit back and breathe and recognize my achievement. This is what I’m learning. I don’t need to just move on to the next thing.

Many of us have trouble relaxing long enough to realize how far we’ve come. We’re always looking ahead, setting new goals and continuing the path of progress. In some ways, it becomes an obsession. We build up momentum and the idea of slowing down starts to seem like such a waste.

This was the mentality that gripped me earlier this week. I crossed “OfficeArrow” off my proverbial list and started thinking about the next thing I wanted to attack. But really, that’s not fair. I need to celebrate. I need to grab a lounge chair and sit in the sunshine for a while. I need to NOT tackle my to-do list.

Celebrating our achievements can be hard. We’re trained to be humble and shake off praise with modesty and humility. But there’s value in celebration. Taking the time to reflect and rejoice in the moment is a gift we deserve. So I’m taking that time.

I’m asking you to celebrate with me today. Not for me, but with me. Celebrate YOUR accomplishments. Throw a party in honor of all things you’ve done that brought you here, because wherever you are, it took effort. Give yourself a hearty pat on the back and don’t listen to The Saboteur when he says, “It was nothing.”  Your work, your time, your energy—they all matter. You’re here because of your actions. Buy yourself a cupcake at lunch. Take yourself to a movie tonight. Whatever you do, no matter how big or how small, just celebrate.

You have permission to bask in your own glory, today and every day.

Photo Credit: ewan traveler (Flickr)

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