Damn Few

Damn Few is a memoir and inside look at Navy SEAL training by Rorke Denver, who served both as an active duty SEAL and later as an instructor for basic and advanced SEAL training. Denver also starred in the movie Act of Valor, which brought to the screen fictionalized accounts of true events from his career.

From a performance psychology perspective, this quote from Denver provides insight into the mentality necessary to make it through SEAL training, “I knew one thing already: However relentless the instructors, however high the demands, I would find a way to get through BUD/S. I was not going to quit…that positive self-talk, that sense of absolute inevitability, that refusal to even consider anything else-that turned out to be the elusive key to doing well at BUD/S. I was already getting into the SEAL mind-set” (p. 26). It is apparent from Denver’s account that becoming a SEAL is more of a mental test than a physical one, and the extremes to which SEAL candidates are pushed provide support for the nearly limitless capacity of our minds – and how rare it is that we truly test that capacity, let alone even approach its limit.

So, if you are seeking inspiration or motivation for a difficult task in your life, try reading about the experiences of these incredible warriors. Your challenge will be put into perspective very quickly.

Love 2.0

Love 2.0, as the title implies, provides a new and unique perspective on love. Barbara Fredrickson is one of the foremost researches on positive emotions, and her investigations of love provide a fascinating picture that is quite different than our (or at least my) romantic notions of love. In short, Fredrickson demonstrates biological, physiological, and neurological evidence that love happens in moments of connection rather than as an enduring bond that lasts a lifetime. Thus, familial, husband-wife, and parent-child connections last (or not) over time based on the extent to which the people involve regularly relate to one another in a caring and compassionate manner.

All well and good, but what does this have to do with performance? I would argue a great deal. I cannot think of an example of a performer who performs in isolation. Most athletes have a coach. Most performers have an instructor or mentor. And the exceedingly few who do not perform with others or with a coach/instructor have a support system of people who make it possible for the performer to devote the time and energy necessary to hone skilled performance. In all cases, the new ideas presented in Love 2.0 can help to sustain, grow, and balance the relationships necessary for performance.

Further, Love 2.0 begins and ends with self-acceptance. The meditation practices and other suggestions for incorporating more love and openness in one’s life not only create a more balanced, focused, and inspired individual; but they also create a sense of ease, comfort, and confidence in oneself that provides a foundation for motivation, consistent performance, and resiliency.

Give and Take

Give and Take by Adam Grant offers a fascinating examination of how being a giver can result in being successful. In fact, giving can result in more success than those who take or those who seek to be matchers (i.e., reciprocal relationships where you give some and get some). Of course, givers can also end up as the least successful of these groups, and Grant spends a significant amount of time exploring what makes the difference between givers who are successful and those who are taken advantage of.

The book provides some scientific evidence for an earlier post about being focused on giving or getting. Among many applicable anecdotes, one of particular relevance to performance is the finding that teachers and coaches who are givers are much more likely to develop expertise in their students and athletes. This is because their caring, kind approach and patience help to make learning fun, which in turn allows their pupils to sustain the motivation necessary to achieve expertise.

Finally, evidence suggests that when givers are in a community, more members of that community tend to also give. Of course there are caveats, but in general givers are more likely to cause others to want to be generous rather than to take advantage of them. So, what can you give today?

Hate to lose?

So do most people. But what are the effects of our aversion to loss?

Consider: professional golfers putt better for par than for birdie. In other words, when all variables are taken into account (e.g., length of putt, difficulty of green, etc.), a professional golfer is more likely to make a putt when going for par (i.e., trying to avoid a bogey, which is the same as taking a loss on the hole) than when going for birdie (when they can still miss and not lose par).

On the other hand, hating to lose can cause us to persist even when situations are against us. For example, a person who only wants to pursue victory will have a tendency to back off when victory is unlikely. A person who hates to lose will often put forth effort until the very end, regardless of the score.

There are many biological reasons for our hatred of losing (a single cockroach can ruin a bowl of cherries, but a cherry does nothing for a bowl of cockroaches), and it is relatively futile to try and fight this biological urge.

Thus, it is important to recognize how it can help us (serving as motivation when our situations look bleak) and hurt us (providing less focus and effort when seeking gain rather than avoiding loss). In financial considerations, loss aversion can make us avoid taking risks that are actually beneficial for us.

So, the next time you are faced with a decision or performance situation, take a moment and examine it from both a loss averse perspective (likely to be your natural reaction) and a seeking gain perspective (likely to require you to pause and use intention and effort). This won’t tell you what to do, but it will give you a better perspective on your options and provide an opportunity to make a choice more consistent with your values.

Inspiration: Perspiration

There are times all of us feel something less than inspired. During these times, we often wait for inspiration to find us. There are two problems with this: 1) it draws our attention to external sources, and 2) while we wait we miss out on lots of opportunities to create inspiration.

Regarding the first point, as discussed earlier, inspiration comes from personal values, purpose, and meaning. Values are choices we make about the life we want to live. While they may be influenced by external sources, ultimately it is an internal process of deciding what we want our lives to stand for. This is why the energy and positive feelings that come from motivational speakers tend to be so fleeting: they are not connected to values, and if they are it is not our values, but rather those of the speaker. So, the next time you are waiting for inspiration, look internally about what you value and who you would like to be.

And after you do that, do something about it! We miss out on opportunities to be inspired by feeling trapped by our jobs, our relationships, our circumstances, etc. While all of these things may make it more difficult to pursue our dreams, they seldom (if ever) make it impossible to do so. Building on the concept of Have Fun First, rather than waiting for inspiration start doing something that you enjoy. For example, if you are working a job that pays well, supports your family, but does not leave you fulfilled, set aside time to pursue something you enjoy. Many a successful career has started as a trivial hobby.

Wondering where you will find the time? How about starting with the time you spend saying how much you dislike your job? Most people find when they start putting time and energy into something they enjoy, they find they have more time and energy to be present with family and other important aspects of their life.

By doing more, working harder at something you enjoy, and having fun, you’ll discover your inspiration.