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Head Games

November 30, 2009

The mind, at the risk of sounding cliche, is truly a powerful thing.  The power of persuasion by your mind, whether it’s internally or externally initiated, is truly fascinating!    One of my favorite TED talks is Dan Gilbert’s lecture on happiness, where he reveals the mind’s amazing ability to rationalize any situation.  He reveals a surprising slide that shows equal rates of satisfaction between lottery winners and paraplegics.    Dan explains that when presented with a situation that can’t be changed, the mind has the ability to not just merely adapt to, but to actually accept the situation as for the best.

A simple but interesting example from my own life occurred when I left the Navy and started my career with IBM.   My first 6 months was to be spent at a training site in Michigan with about  25 other new hires.  Since most of us lived in other states, I agreed to share an apartment with a colleague.  When we were informed by our chosen apartment complex that the only apartment available didn’t have a dishwasher, we were at first disappointed (who wants to do dishes!), but eventually convinced ourselves that this would be just fine.   As it turned out, not only did we manage to rationalize the lack of this little luxury to the point of satisfaction with the situation, but our minds had truly fooled us.  You see, we lived in this apartment for a full 6 weeks, scrubbing away at those dishes, only when the sink could be heard calling mercy, before I noticed an appliance in our kitchen that looked amazingly like a dishwasher!  Yes, we were dumbfounded for a few moments, wondering why we didn’t notice it earlier.  The mind is a powerful thing!

So how do these head games apply to leadership and management?  Motivation can be both internal (a self motivated individual) or external, as from a management perspective, where the genesis is typically purely external.  Just as we can convince ourselves that we’ll be better off without that dishwasher, a good manager can motivate someone to believe they can do better, or in the negative case, to believe that they are a failure or worthless.  Some minds are strong enough to overcome negative input and actually turn it into a powerful self motivator.  External motivation can come in many forms including competition, peer pressure, fear and even from a simple motivational poster.

I mentioned before the mind’s ability to self persuade, both from internal and external sources.  Some of the best examples of internally generated self motivation are from the sports world.  Examples such as Babe Ruth’s called home run in the fifth inning of Game 3 of the 1932 World Series.  Or Tim Tebow’s emotional declaration in 2008 that he would push himself and his team to play harder than any other in the country, after a shocking early season loss, only to convincingly run the table and win the National Title.  These are cases where individuals were able to convince themselves of the possible, not that they willed it to happen, but they significantly increased their odds by believing that it would happen.

The skillful ability to motivate yourself or someone else to achieve a goal, or to some level of achievement, is only eclipsed by a great leader’s ability to inspire someone from within.  Inspiration actually creates the desire (or want) to achieve from within where motivation convinces an individual that they should do something.  When you walk out of a inspirational movie, you want to go do something great, not because the movie or actors told you to, but because the story inspired you from within to want to do so.   A great leader has this ability to make you want to do something without actually having to specifically direct you.

Leaders have the ability to inspire, generating your own internal motivators, whereas managers motivate, creating an external source of direction and cause.  So whether you consider yourself a leader, a manager, or a follower (the reality is everyone has the chance to be all of the above at one time or another), be aware that your actions, words and thoughts have great influence on not only others, but yourself as well. This video clip is a simple example that demonstrates this with a coaches ability to motivate a player, a player’s ability to inspire his team, and the mind’s ability to fool oneself to accomplish something that was previously thought impossible. Remember, when it comes to persuasion of one’s mind, everyone has their head in the game!

One Comment leave one →
  1. August 13, 2011 8:38 am

    A wnoerfdul job. Super helpful information.

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