How to stay motivated

Next time you’re struggling to stay motivated and focused it might be worth taking a fresh look at why. Research suggests that it is likely to be because you feel forced, can’t see the point of the activity or doubt your own capabilities

Studies show that we are more motivated when we feel in control. If we choose a course of action consistent with our own opinions we tend to persist for longer, suggesting that pursuing a task we endorse is energising, whereas acting under duress is taxing.

When we’re true to our own beliefs and values our motivation increases, for example studies show a clear correlation between students valuing a subject and being willing to independently investigate a question. If you’re struggling with motivation, reflecting on why an activity is meaningful can make you feel more invested in it.

Our perception of our own capabilities also plays a key role in motivation. Research indicates that the more competent we are at something the more likely it is that we will want to pursue it. A study of student athletes showed that practice made the students more likely to consider themselves competent, and a sense of competence meant that they were more likely to engage in athletic activity. Similar studies in music and academics suggest the same thing.

Believing that effort pays off can also inspire us to stay motivated and keep learning. Carol S Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford University found that people who credit their success to innate talent rather than hard work give up more easily when facing a new challenge because they assume it exceeds their ability.

Read more about sustaining motivation in Scientific American Mind.

Learn more about your mind in our illustrated guides, The Mind Manual and A Mind for Business, published by Hamlyn Press and Pearson/FT.


How to hack your to-do list

Bottomless inboxes and endless to-do lists have become the bane of our lives. Trying to keep track of outstanding tasks can be stressful – our attention has a limited capacity and we can only fit so much in our mind at any one time. But help is at hand. Research suggests that rather than removing tasks by actually doing them we just need to have a good plan of when and how to do them. The act of planning how to finish something enables us to let go of uncompleted tasks that are cluttering our memory.

David Allen’s international bestseller ‘Getting Things Done’ provides a practical guide to how to do this. The GTD archive and reminder system acts as a plan for how to release the part of your attention that is struggling to hold each item on your to-do list in your mind. It is based on writing down everything you need to remember and filing it effectively in three main areas:

  1. Archive to store stuff you might need one day (and can forget about until then)
  2. Current task list where everything is stored as an action
  3. A “ticker file” of 43 folders in which you organise reminders of things to do (43 folders because that’s one for the next thirty-one days plus the next 12 months).

Breaking down your to do list into individual actions allows you to convert your work into things you can either physically do, or forget about, happy in the knowledge that these tasks are in the system. Each day you pick up the folder for that day and either action the item, or defer it to another folder for a future day or month.

With the remembering and monitoring taken care of your mind is freed from its tendency to get fixated on unfinished tasks and forget those that have been completed – known by psychologists as the Zerigarnik Effect.

Read more about hacking your to-do list on the Mindhacks blog.

Learn more about your mind in our illustrated guides, The Mind Manual and A Mind for Business, published by Hamlyn Press and Pearson/FT.


Setting the record straight about introverts and extroverts

Of all the psychological concepts that have made it into modern culture, one of the most popular is that of ‘introverts and extroverts’. Yet there are also few that have been more misunderstood, and many myths still persist about this tricky personality trait.

Popularised by psychoanalyst Carl Jung in the early Twentieth Century, the concept of being ‘introverted’ often conveys shyness or withdrawal from people, and can even carry a stigma of appearing to imply less confidence or skill with people. In her influential book Quiet, Susan Cain has set the record straight on the strengths of introverts in a world sometimes overly dominated by extroverts. Our view of introversion and extroversion is changing all the time.

In a recent review of personality literature, Professor Adam Grant summarises a few of the myths about introverts and extroverts that are being dispelled by modern research:

  1. Introverts are good in social situations, they are just more sensitive to other people and need more time to process all the things they notice and experience. Extroverts tend to be less sensitive to stimulation, and hence crave more of it, but both camps are good with people.
  2. Introverts can make good public speakers, just like extroverts. Whether we are good performers, and whether we worry about speaking in public, seem to correlate to other factors more than introversion and extroversion. Many performers are actually quite introverted.
  3. Extroverts don’t make better leaders. Despite a general prejudice that introversion is a handicap for leadership and management roles, in fact both ends of the spectrum appear to be equally successful at leadership. Introverted leaders tend to lead proactive, engaged staff better, whilst extroverted leaders are better at leading passive teams that look for direction from above.
  4. Extroverts aren’t better networkers either. They might enjoy the experience of networking more, but this doesn’t mean other people enjoy being with them too. Extroverts can be more overbearing and studies suggest they can cause more negative reactions in other people, whilst introverts tend to be slightly easier to be around in calmer social environments.
  5. ‘Ambiverts’ make the best sales people. Rather than the classic view of extrovert sales people charming clients and dominating discussions, people in the middle of the spectrum – ambiverts as they are sometimes known – seem to be more commercially successful. Dan Pink writes about this in his book To Sell Is Human: listening is an important component of modern selling, not just talking.

It may take a while for these factors to filter through to business practices, recruitment strategies and popular culture, but it’s clear that our old views of introverts and extroverts need to change. It’s time to start recognising the strengths and weaknesses of both ends of the spectrum, and designing our organisations, and our society, to get the best from everyone.

Learn more about your mind in our illustrated guides, The Mind Manual and A Mind for Business, published by Hamlyn Press and Pearson/FT.


The Mind Manual, out now

The Mind Manual is our brand new guide to what’s going on inside your head, published today. It’s a practical guide to looking after your mind, and the follow-up to our award-winning guide to mental performance, A Mind for Business. Featuring our popular blend of insights from psychology, filtered through the wisdom of Mindapples’ global…
Continue reading »

Theory of Change: The Mindapples Approach

The aim of Mindapples is to help everyone take better care of their minds. Research carried out by Mindapples and the charity Mind in 2013 showed that more than half of the people surveyed had never thought about the health of their minds, and 56% of the people wanted to know more about their mental…
Continue reading »

“Male brain” vs “female brain” – no difference found

The difference between men and women’s brains has been a hot topic throughout the ages. Studies showing that one gender is better at certain mental tasks than the other (eg. spatial awareness), is often attributed to biological underpinnings; that men and women’s brains are hard-wired differently. A recent research study1 has found that there is in…
Continue reading »

A Leap Year Wish

It’s been inspiring and encouraging to see the publicity around the Young Minds Matter series launched by The Duchess of Cambridge when she was guest editor of the Huffington Post this month. Especially the theme of taking preventative action. At Mindapples, that’s obviously a theme that is close to our hearts. If you’ve come across…
Continue reading »