The Jellybean Motivator

Monday, 30th November 2009


The windows had frosted from the frigid weather as a group of writers nestled around the dining room oak table. We were reviewing each other’s material, highlighting effective passages, and leaving a trail of red ink over less inspiring words.
My young children often busied themselves downstairs with toys, PBS shows, and games like spying on the adults. The understanding was that the oldest would keep an eye on the younger ones and notify me if there was any trouble. The only drawback to the plan was that the oldest normally instigated the trouble.
On this particular winter day she had slipped into my sewing kit, mesmerized by the multi-colored threads and their possibilities.
The possibility she settled on was stringing the thread from one corner of the room to another, dancing around columns and couches and TV set. Whatever could be ensnared was ensnared, until the basement looked like a large spider web trap of thread.
When I checked on them, I quickly told them to clean it up. A few minutes later, Jackie crept up to me as I sat with the group. She tugged on my shirt sleeve.
“Mom, I want a jellybean.”
I looked into the intense blue eyes, brushed a blonde curl off her forehead, and said, “If you and your brother clean the basement in five minutes then you can have a jellybean. On your mark, get set ….GO!”
My daughter hurried off, calling her brother’s name.
I smiled and turned back to resume work, when a lady in her late thirties crossed her arms over her chest and huffed, “I can’t get my kids to clean anything, no matter what I bribe them with. It doesn’t even matter if it’s ten dollars, they won’t do it. You can get your kids to clean the whole basement for a jellybean?”
Now here is the question:  How did I get my four- and five-year-old to dash off and hurry and clean their mess? And even more importantly, how do you use the same skills to get what you want in your life?

Leverage for Motivation

Monday, 23rd November 2009


Competition?  Promise of peace?  Driven by passion? etc.  I still remember when I consciously started doing better in school.  I was a junior in high school (yeah, we can’t all be early bloomers), and I sat next to Jeff Gardner.  We were in social studies class together where I had already determined I was going to struggle through and hope for a B instead of a C.
One day we had just gotten our tests back.  I looked at the seventy-three percent with a sinking feeling.  Here I was going down the path of hardship and misery again.  How many more years of school did I have left?  I was calculating the answer when Jeff leaned over to my desk and looked at my test.
I quickly turned the test over, but the damage had been done.  He had seen it.
“Having a bad day?” he asked.
“What?” I asked, confused that he was even talking to me.  He was in the goody-good-guy-group and a wrestler—not really the type of person who talked to me.
“Your test. That’s not a very good score, and the test was easy.  See,” he said, holding up his test with a big juicy red A splattered across it.  “That score isn’t like you. You always do better.  So, are you having a bad day?”
I agreed, not knowing what else to say. Having a bad grade wasn’t like me? What was he saying? It was totally like me, but I wasn’t going to argue. I would let him believe his positive lie about me.
The teacher interrupted us to give us our assignments. We had a quiz to study for the next day.
Jeff turned to me and smiled. “I’ll kick your butt tomorrow on that quiz. You’re going down, Jones.”
My shoulders squared as I gathered my books.  “Not a chance,” I said with conviction.  And I didn’t go down.  I scored close to him.  It took a few more quizzes for me to outdo him.  Then the competition spread to other classes we had together.  I wasn’t going to let some “wrestler boy” take me down.  I had a cause. I had a mission.  I was pulling good grades.
The semester after that, I hit the straight A list.  I had done what many people thought would be impossible for me—including myself.  Why?  Because I was challenged by some boy?  Because someone told me it wasn’t like me to pull bad grades?  Well, yeah.
We can have self defeat pull us down, like I did for years.  I pulled the cloud of feeling inferior and inadequate over me because my grades weren’t measuring up.  One boy.  One competition completely changed my academic life.  Why?  Because I rose to the challenge.  I could have blown him off, but truthfully, I was too proud for that.  Going head-to-head with a boy and proving the worth of my gender worked for me.
What will work for you?  Maybe you are not as furiously competitive as I am, but what could you put in your environment that would change the whole way you approach your “hard” task?  What would give you the leverage to get what you want?
“Decide not to turn back” scenario.
Sometimes it’s not “other people” that give me the leverage to go for the BHAG (Big Hair Audacious Goal).  Sometimes it is as simple as deciding that such-and-such is simply what I am going to do.  That might sound too easy, but it really isn’t.  You not only have to decide what you want, but you have to decide that you have the abilities to get or accomplish what you want.
I was amazed how I put down a goal to be a NSA (National Speaker Association) speaker for years.  In order to qualify as a speaker, I needed fifteen paid engagements.  Year after year that goal seemed impossible to accomplish—until one year, through working with a friend, I realized that I really wanted it.  So I sat down and made a plan on how I would make it happen.  The plan wasn’t the normal way most speakers approach this task.  I skirted the traditional method, and in five months I easily accomplished what I wasn’t able to accomplish for the past two years.  Was it that my talent was better?  Well, of course I had gotten better from all the experience those years gave me. But I know that wasn’t what made the difference.
Was it that this particular year was a better time to be hired to speak?  Actually, no.  It was a down market—worse than many speakers had seen.  So what was it that made me successful?  And what will you apply in your life to make you succeed with your big goals?
Ready?  Drum roll.  It was that I believed that year that I could do it.  I sat down and came up with a plan.  I followed the plan.  I worked hard—really, really, really hard. I got a couple of lucky breaks, and voila, I did it.
For most things it is really no more difficult than that.  When you cut off all excuses or options but to succeed, it is amazing.  You don’t have time to wallow around in misery.  You have to get going and do what is set before you.  If I would have continued to feel sorry for myself, or accepted the fact that I wasn’t earning a good grade, would I have the experience of achieving a higher test score than Jeff?  Not a chance.  The only way I was able to accomplish a task that was challenging for me was to focus all my energy on doing what I needed to do.
*If you gave a single focus to your BHAG, how would your experience change?
*How would the results change?
*How might that benefit your life?
*If it would be a big change, when are you going to implement that task?

*What excuses are you using to not get going and stepping it up?*Or if it is not an excuse, what is the obstacle, and how can you work around it?

Choosing Better

Monday, 9th November 2009


Choosing Better Step 1: The Hard Decision
Making the tough decision to do the hard work doesn’t happen naturally for most of us. In fact, if my children are any indicator of what is natural human behavior, our first impulse is to look for any way to get out of work.
When I announce dish duty at the beginning of a chore season, I sometimes get tears and debates about why dishes are not appropriate for that particular child. Either they already learned the dish-doing skill or another sibling hasn’t had as much opportunity to do the dishes. They will say and argue whatever is necessary to avoid the task.
How many of us are exactly like that when it comes to . . . let’s say . . . tax season? We feel like we shouldn’t have to worry about this. Or we wish we didn’t have to mess with that. Although my children don’t like the consequences when they don’t do the dishes, I can tell you that the consequences of not paying your taxes are worse.
Choosing Better Step 2: Figure Out What is Motivating the Decision
Most things that are set before us aren’t as clear cut as taxes. Most law-abiding citizens complain when taxes are imposed on them, but then they pay them and work like a workhorse to recover from the damage. The same level of fear of consequences generally isn’t there for other decisions in our life. When I chose to take the harder route for my education, I wasn’t worried what would have happened if I took the easier route. The thought never entered my mind that I would be building more brain cells, nor was I thinking about how this choice would affect my later years in things like college or my professional life. None of those thoughts entered my head—although my decision did affect all those areas. Nope, my only real thought was that I didn’t want to be stuck in that “stupid group” in junior high.
I know. I hear gasp of shock for my lack of political correctness, but back then, in seventh grade, if political correctness was around I hadn’t heard about it.
I didn’t want to be stupid. That was it. That was enough motivation to kick me out of bed early in the mornings so I could study more for tests. It was enough to kick my shyness in the stomach, driving me to either raise my hand for help or to get in line to talk to the teacher. It was enough for me to avidly write down any extra credit opportunities and to complete every last one of them. (The worst, by far, was seeing the dead cadavers in high school. I got sick and passed out on that one, but still earned my bonus points.)
I chose hard out of the desire to “not” be something. It worked. It drove me on. But if I would have had more self-awareness of what was driving me to succeed, I could have worked on my motivation to be more positive.
What will it take for you to choose hard and start to live the life you truly want? Not wanting something? Wanting something?
Sometimes the choice to choose hard or easy comes tiptoeing in our lives, looking innocent and harmless. Sometimes it presents itself as a simple choice, like whether to get as much sleep as needed or to get up and do some exercise or meditation. Other times it looks like there really is no choice, like eating a great dessert or a salad. On impulse, most of us would choose the great dessert. It wouldn’t be until we got a bigger picture of what exists down the road that we ever make the decision to choose more salad in our lives.
Sometimes fear of consequences motivates us. Oftentimes this happens when something we thought harmless makes too big of a presence in our lives—for example, food. If we continue to choose the desserts, the carbs, and the fats, we might have a couple of spare tires around our middle, or we may be hearing the warning alarms sounding off in dramatic ways, alerting us to decreasing health.
Usually choosing hard doesn’t happen naturally. We must will it at some point.
Choosing Better Step #3: Immediate Satisfaction
Choosing hard doesn’t usually reward you with immediate satisfaction. In fact, when I chose to go into the mainstream of school, I was laughed at by others when they saw the grades I’d get back on assignments. “That was so easy. How could anybody not get it?” was their chant.
I’d turn red, sink in my seat, and hope that no one would pay attention to me. I would forget that I had dyslexia and that I had made the choice to be in mainstream education. Instead, I would sit there and wonder what was wrong with me and why everyone else got it and I didn’t. I would tell myself that I was stupid. Yep, the very thing that motivated me to choose hard, I labeled myself. I had help. My delightful younger brother would join in with the others and chant that I was stupid on a daily basis. He would try to recruit other cheerleaders to join in. Oftentimes he was successful.
Would it have been easier to escape all of them and feel good about coloring a paper? I seriously doubt it. Sometimes it appears like one route is so much easier than the other, but once you’ve traveled down the road, you realize that that road wasn’t so easy after all. Sometimes you will run into difficulties, no matter which road you take.
If I would have chosen resource (that’s what they called it then), I would have been laughed at, mocked, and demeaned probably in a much bigger and more dramatic way than I was in mainstream. I wouldn’t have been developing the tenacity to push through hard things. That choice would have hurt me on many levels and impacted the rest of my life.
Did I know, when I made that decision, that it was going to be so important? Uh, no. Do you know which decisions that you are making on a daily basis are going to be the important ones? Would it help if you did?
Are all of your choices going to be correct ones? Of course not. But fortunately—at least from my experience—life grants you the ability to goof up and then go back and try to get it right. Life is really patient that way. It will give you plenty of chances.
Choosing Better Step #4: Stay On Own Path and Stop Detouring
When I would peek over at the papers of other students and see the beautifully formed letter A sprawled across the top of their homework, my heart would immediately start twisting. I would struggle to take in air as I waited to see what would be written on the top of mine. I knew that there was a great chance that I wouldn’t be getting an A to match theirs, but I always hoped I would.
If I did get that A, it would be one of those times where I’d run the assignment home for Mother to look at instead of what I normally did, which was to rip the paper to shreds and find the nearest trashcan.
When I became focused on what others were doing, and how they were succeeding, I would sink into a depression, feeling stupid and hating myself for having put myself in that position. I was embarrassed and would develop terrible headaches. In class my mind would be filled with dreams of escaping elsewhere where I would be accepted. That, of course, did not help my retention of what I was supposed to be learning.