May 2021: From Beth Fisher-Yoshida

Dear SPS Faculty,

I was reflecting on the level of productivity I need to complete all of the tasks I want to complete and comparing it with the reality of my energy and focus. There are some days I am bursting with energy and determination and I am able to accomplish so much more than I expected. I feel that anything is possible and if every day was like this there is nothing I cannot achieve.

Then there are other days when it takes much more effort to focus on completing any task. I need to push myself making little bargains along the way to promise myself rewards if I just get this one task completed. Motivation is more than just an interesting topic. It makes the difference to how much you can achieve and how successful you feel on any given day and then in the course of a career or lifetime.

In looking over some neuroscience principles and practices of how our brains work, I came across information by a behavioral neuroscientist. Tali Sharot, in her TEDx Cambridge talk, identified three principles that guide motivation. These are principles that actual make a difference in our brains and in our behavior.

The first is a social incentive and that is accomplished by comparing yourself to how others are doing. If you benchmark your performance by what is the norm you can at least see if you are lagging, keeping up, or excelling. If it motivates you to compete against your own past performance then that is a good type of competition, I think.

The second principle is to have an immediate reward. If you push yourself to do something less enjoyable then buy yourself some time to do something enjoyable. Promising yourself that if you just get through this mundane set of tasks then you can indulge for a time in something more enjoyable. This has been shown to create new habits quickly.

The third principle is to monitor the progress you are making and code that into a positive framing for better future performance. The idea here is that you are priming yourself for future success and maybe you will not need as much effort to motivate yourself going forward.

Based on my own experience these techniques work. If I break down the chores into smaller amounts of work and I go with the flow, I am able to get over being stuck and make up lost time when I am feeling more motivated and energized. What motivates you?

Thank you,