How To Increase Motivation: 4 Secrets From Research




Before we commence with the festivities, I just wanted to let you know my first book is now a Wall Street Journal bestseller! To check it out, click here.


You’re too tired to do it. Or you’re too wound up to do it. Or you’re too intimidated to do it. Or, plain and simple, you “just don’t feel like it.”

At times we all struggle with how to get motivated. (Hey, sometimes I don’t feel like writing this stuff.)

Well, Daniel McGinn, an editor at Harvard Business Review, reviewed the research on getting your engine going and put it all together in a new book: Psyched Up: How the Science of Mental Preparation Can Help You Succeed.

He addresses a number of reasons you may not feel up to a task and offers scientific solutions for how to get yourself going.

For instance, maybe you’re too nervous about what you have to do and so you procrastinate and that’s preventing you from getting started. You need to calm down, right?



Don’t Calm Down. Reappraise.

Don’t calm down. That nervous energy is useful. Studies show it can actually increase performance if you channel it right.

I know, I know — when you think about beginning that awful task your brain starts racing, you get goosebumps, maybe your hands are shaking…

Funny how the symptoms of nervousness are so similar to excitement. So you know what? Tell yourself what you’re feeling is excitement.

Might sound silly, but this process is called “reappraisal” — and it’s got some heavy duty brain research backing it up.

From Psyched Up: How the Science of Mental Preparation Can Help You Succeed:

The psychological term for the process Brooks’s work describes is “reappraisal,” and it describes how someone can reevaluate a potentially emotion-eliciting situation in a way that changes its emotional impact.

And crazy as it might sound, it works. In fact, people who told themselves those nerves were excitement performed better than people trying to calm down.

From Psyched Up: How the Science of Mental Preparation Can Help You Succeed:

In two follow-up experiments—one that required people to give a work-related speech, and another that required people to do difficult math problems—she again found that people who talked about being “excited” just before the task significantly outperformed people who talked about being nervous, or calm, or were told to try to remain calm.

(To learn more about the science of a successful life, check out my new book here.)

But maybe you’re not lacking motivation because of nerves. Maybe you just don’t have the energy. For the solution to this challenge we need to look at the work of Professor Sylvester Stallone…


Listen To The “Rocky” Theme

Yes, literally.

From Psyched Up: How the Science of Mental Preparation Can Help You Succeed:

The Rocky theme songs are referenced repeatedly in research on motivational music. For instance, in one 1995 study, two researchers asked pairs of runners who’d posted equal speeds in the past to compete against each other in the 60-meter dash. Before the athletes ran, however, one group stood in silence. The other group listened to the theme from Rocky on headphones. Afterward, the Rocky listeners ran faster. Their heartbeats were quicker, their muscles were tenser, and their anxiety was lower. Listening to just one minute of the Rocky theme song gave them a significant and systematic physiological advantage.

Yes, it’s available on Spotify and iTunes. But maybe you’re not in the mood for 70’s horns. Fine, fine. I’m not giving up:

It’s not just the “Rocky” theme that can motivate you. Plenty of songs can.

The leading researcher on music and performance, Costas Karageorghis, says, “The key to a motivational track is that it physically energizes, stimulates, and activates…”

So pick any tune that gets your blood pumping. Even angry music can improve performance.

From The Science of Sin: The Psychology of the Seven Deadlies (and Why They Are So Good For You):

What Tamir and her colleagues found was that people preferred to listen to the angry music before playing Soldier of Fortune. Faced with a task in which anger might serve a useful function, facilitating the shooting of enemies, participants opted for an anger boost. What’s more, listening to the angry music actually improved performance…

(To learn what the music you love says about you, click here.)

But maybe you’re not lacking motivation because of nerves or energy. Maybe you’re just not in the right headspace. You’re not “feeling it”. No problemo…


Have A Ritual

Athletes warm up. Pianists play scales. Coroners… well, I don’t know what coroners do but you get the point. Many professionals have some sort of ritual they engage in to get themselves ready to work.

And research shows those rituals improve performance.

From Psyched Up: How the Science of Mental Preparation Can Help You Succeed:

Over the last thirty years, sports psychologists have conducted dozens of studies into what athletes do before they compete, and the studies generally show that people who use a well-conceived and consistent routine perform better than those who don’t.

Customize your ritual for you. When I spoke to Charles Duhigg, bestselling author of The Power of Habit and Smarter Faster Better: The Transformative Power of Real Productivity, he said a “personal starting ritual” is a very effective way to beat procrastination.

Here’s Charles:

One way to use habits to fight procrastination is to develop a habitualized response to starting. When people talk about procrastination, what they’re usually actually talking about is the first step. In general, if people can habitualize that first step, it makes it a lot easier.

(To learn how to use rituals to make you happier and more productive, click here.)

Alright, but maybe your motivational problem isn’t you. Maybe you’re working on a team with some slackers or maybe a friend needs a pep talk. How do you motivate someone else?


How To Give A Special Ops Pep Talk

Stanley McChrystal is a retired four-star general who led JSOC — the group that oversees special operations units like Navy SEALs and Army Rangers.

He’s had to give a lot of motivational talks and he had to give them to people doing stuff a lot more intimidating than anything you and I will ever do. How does he do it?

All his talks follow a simple five-step formula. He says:

  1. Here’s what I’m asking you to do.
  2. Here’s why it’s important.
  3. Here’s why I know you can do it.
  4. Think about what you’ve done together before.
  5. Now let’s go and do it.

I want you to finish this blog post. It’s important because it will help you be more productive. I know you can do it because you’ve read plenty of stuff longer than this. You and I have been here before; I wrote things and you finished them. So let’s keep going, shall we?

(To learn a Navy SEAL’s secrets to increasing grit, click here.)

We’ve learned a lot. Let’s round it all up and learn the craziest — but very effective — way to build motivation…


Sum Up

Here’s how to increase motivation:

  • Don’t calm down. Reappraise: Don’t try to kill that nervous energy. Channel it.
  • Listen to the “Rocky” theme: That said, the effectiveness of running up museum steps and punching a side of beef have not yet been validated by research.
  • Use a routine or ritual: My ritual involves lots of whining… but do whatever works for you.
  • Use the Special Ops pep talk to motivate others: I’m not retyping the 5 steps. Play the “Rocky” theme and get yourself motivated enough to scroll up a few inches, lazybones.

So what’s the craziest — and most unscientific — method for motivating yourself that actually works?

Superstition. Rituals don’t have to be logical or rational to get you going and help you increase performance.

Good luck charms don’t have magic powers but they can increase your confidence and that can make you more effective.

When golfers were told they were using a famous pro’s club, they played better. (To learn how to attract good luck, click here.)

From Psyched Up: How the Science of Mental Preparation Can Help You Succeed:

The results showed that the golfers who thought they were using a PGA player’s club estimated the hole was 9 percent larger (suggesting the shot looked easier), and they sank 32 percent more putts than the control group.

In fact, while writing his book, Daniel McGinn actually tried the experiment himself. He thought typing on a keyboard that Malcolm Gladwell had used might help him write.

So he contacted Gladwell, who was more than happy to assist. McGinn sent Gladwell a keyboard and Gladwell used it and sent it back.

Sure enough, McGinn felt it helped him crank out pages. And crazy as it may sound, if it gets words on the page, it’s effective.

From Psyched Up: How the Science of Mental Preparation Can Help You Succeed:

But as I sat there typing away on Gladwell’s keyboard, I couldn’t help but think of the moments when he must have struggled to find the right words but persevered. Decades after I lost my lucky Cross exam pen, I’m happy to have a lucky keyboard to rely on for a little boost. It may be a little weird, but for me, it works.

You don’t have to logic your way to motivation. It doesn’t have to make sense. It’s all about how you feel.

Whether it’s the “Rocky” theme or a Special Ops pep talk, whatever makes you feel motivated will work. So the most important question right now is…

Do you think McGinn will let me borrow that keyboard?

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