You Can’t Fake Passion

Although being passionate about something isn’t in itself enough to guarantee success, without a real interest in what you do it’s very difficult to get to where you need to.

Your childhood offers insight into what really drives and engages you and what you are deeply passionate about. It’s worth exploring your early years which may remind you of interests you’ve long forgotten about and could reignite. It may also help you to understand where you’ve taken the wrong path and how you could correct that.

One of the ways of looking at your passions and interests is through the lens of motivation. There are two basic types of motivation, one that is external to us and one that is internal.

Extrinsic motivation means being driven by something from the outside, for instance working toward a goal, or avoiding failure through fear of disappointing others. What led to your choices about the classes you took at school, whether you pursued higher education, or your first job? How much were you influenced by not wanting to let your parents down or living up to family expectations rather than following your own interests? There’s nothing wrong or right about how this came about, it’s just helpful to understand what might be driving you now.

Intrinsic motivation, or being internally motivated, is about loving an activity for its own sake, finding it exciting and engaging. It relates to the things that you have the energy for and want to pursue without any external rewards (e.g., money or recognition) and also to punishments or things you feel a need to move away from because they are less pleasant.

The people I meet as a psychologist working with leaders, often have a good deal of intrinsic motivation. They have a passion for what they do and see the meaning in it. Without this it becomes very hard to keep going over a sustained period of time in a demanding role. For example, I’ve also worked with people who are more motivated by external rewards: the potential to earn a lot of money, social recognition, status. They don’t love what they do or have a burning interest in the industry itself. This makes their work really draining and can lead to burnout. Constantly being driven by extrinsic goals alone is not healthy. Ideally, you need both internal and external motivation to keep following your true passions while remaining connected to the world around you.

Who influenced your career choices?

Research shows that our parents’ expectations have a huge influence on the career path we take and what we achieve, regardless of their own upbringing or income. Studies also reveal that teenagers often set out to follow in their parents’ footsteps, whether as an entrepreneur, shop assistant, council worker, small business owner, or doctor  and those whose parents are in “top jobs” are more likely find themselves in such a job. What parents think their child is interested in and capable of also strongly influences a young person’s choices and the actions they take toward pursuing a specific career. What is critical here is that parents’ best intentions can lead children astray. For example, if they think their child is passionate about numbers so encourage them toward a career in accounting, but the child actually always adored drama, then the child may miss out on pursuing their real dream. If you look over your early life and conclude that you were led mainly by your parents’ wishes rather than your own, that realization may be enough for you to take ownership and control of how you move forward.

School can also have a strong influence. For example, a highly academic, high-achieving school can put strong pressure on its pupils to continue to the best universities and pursue what society deems to be the top jobs. Conversely, a large school struggling for resources may not support children’s individual passions, meaning they never have the opportunity to explore and fulfill their potential.

Think about the following questions but don’t worry if you can’t answer them right away, come back if anything springs to mind:

  • What were you really enthusiastic about as a child? Are they the same things that you get joy from now?
  • How many of your own career or life choices were influenced by your parents and/or your environment? Do you think what your family wanted took you off on a certain path?
  • How much of your time at work or in life is spent doing things because you have to and how much because you want to? Do you think you need to address this?

 

Extract adapted from my book Defining You which is available at Waterstones, WHSmiths and Foyles in the UK as well as amazon.co.uk. Elsewhere it’s available on amazon.comamazon.com.au, amazon.ca and in various bookstores in Canada (e.g. Indigo) and the USA.

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“You can’t fake passion.” -Barbara Corcoran

References to research in Defining You by Fiona Murden

Photo by Bruce Mars from Pexels.com

 

What’s the Point of You?

That may be a little harsh, really what I mean is what’s your purpose? It’s a hard question for anyone to answer and it can feel a bit like a slap in the face if you don’t know. But purpose, if you can find it, is so powerful that it has positive benefits both physically and mentally. Multiple research studies have shown the outcomes of having purpose to be quite astounding including: protecting against heart disease, diminishing the impacts of Alzheimer’s, improving our ability to handle pain, mitigating depression, curbing anxiety, and also lengthening our lives. One study which looked at over 6000 people across a 14 year period found that the people who had a sense of purpose had a 15% lower chance of dying – no matter what their age. Alongside this, meaning is a major component of well-being and life satisfaction.

Viktor Frankl, a neurologist, psychiatrist, and Holocaust survivor, gives a powerful example of how critical purpose is in his book The Search for Meaning. He recounts his experiences in a concentration camp and how finding meaning, in even the most brutal of experiences, kept him going and gave him a reason to live. He also interviewed hundreds of fellow prisoners, and found that those who survived the mistreatment and were able to fight back from illness all had a deeper meaning or purpose keeping them going. Frankl famously argued that within the context of normal life, people who lack meaning fill what he called the “resultant void” with hedonistic pleasures: power, materialism, obsessions, and compulsions—in other words, those things that we chase after that give us a short lived boost but which we gain no lasting satisfaction from.

So, it’s clear that purpose is critically important but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to work out. In the past, people relied on religion and culture to define their meaning. These provided a framework from which to operate, the bigger picture from which to see life. However, as the world changes some people are moving away from identifying so closely with religion and traditional cultures, and consequently purpose is no longer given to us on a plate—we have to define it for ourselves. This isn’t easy to do, and anyone who claims otherwise is misleading you.

I spoke to Jeff Weigh for his podcast ‘Perfect Imbalance’ last week and describing my own journey to discover my purpose. It’s messy a ride, it hasn’t been easy, it didn’t fall in my lap and I majorly diverted off course a few times before coming back to what I really love. I still wouldn’t say I have absolute clarity but I’m definitely along the right track. Psychological research shows that people can actually get very down looking for purpose because they have been set up to believe it should be easier to find than in reality it is. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, but it does takes time, effort and reflection.

My favourite illustration (aside from Frankl) of someone who has lived his life with purpose is Sir David Attenborough. His whole career has been deeply anchored on his values, making use of his strengths and preferences, all of which are critical to our personal purpose. Attenborough’s life has been centered around his devotion to the natural world and a passionate desire to communicate and share that with the general population. Now in his 90s, Attenborough is still working and enthusiastically contributing to society’s understanding of the natural world and human impacts on it. But if you look at the course his life has taken you can see it’s not been a straight line, rather it has evolved and changed as he has, adapting to both his own experiences and the changes in the world around him. When he was 20 he wouldn’t have been able to have told you what he’d be doing when he was 50, 70 or 90 but he would have been able to articulate what ‘made his heart sing’.

Finding your purpose doesn’t mean that it won’t change and evolve as you go through life. Nor does it mean you won’t sometimes get knocked off course. But like a lot of things it starts with self-awareness, taking the time to reflect (not over analyse – that’s a bad route to go down) on who you are, what you love and are passionate about, what your values are – it’s up to you to put in the effort.* And it’s not a one off, you need to keep revisiting these facets that make up who you are and taking time to think. It made sound like a bit too much work, but it’s well worth the effort. Purpose provides the guiding light that helps you see why you do what you do. Having purpose reminds you of the more meaningful side of life when you (or I or any of us) get sucked into hedonism, worrying about superficial things or getting caught up in the daily grind. It provides you with the far reaching goal on the days where you just want to give up. Having a sense of meaning in your life literally gives you a reason to get up in the morning.

* I’ve been lucky to receive a lot of positive comments on my book but one 3 star review said it’s a bit “surface level”  The book isn’t supposed to give you the answers, it’s there to guide you to finding your own answers. However you search out your meaning, if you don’t dig deep and look you won’t find. 

(Dear reviewer – most of the tools in Defining You are backed by years of research by esteemed academics e.g. the tool you refer to after saying they are “surface level” is used by the US health protection agency and in hospitals across the States and UK).

 

Extracts taken from Defining You which is currently 99p on Amazon UK. It’s also available at Waterstones, WHSmiths and Foyles in the UK. Elsewhere it’s available on amazon.comamazon.com.au, amazon.ca and in various bookstores in Canada (e.g. Indigo) and the USA.

I’m talking about finding your purpose at Red Smart Women’s Week in London this Saturday 22nd September. Last day of ticket sales – 18th Sept 2018

https://hearstlive.co.uk/smartwomenweek/#1531407421503-a6e00f6d-754f

 

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References

Hill, P. L., & Turiano, N. A. (2014). Purpose in life as a predictor of mortality across adulthood. Psychological science25(7), 1482-1486.

Fiona Murden (2018). Defining You. How to profile yourself and unlock your full potential. Nicholas Brealey Publishing

Viktor E. Frankl (1984) Man’s Search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy, New York: Simon & Schuster.

Image: pexels.com

I Want It NOW!

Catch a train, wait in a queue or go out for dinner and everyone is intensely staring at a screen. It feels like we’re submerged by technology in a world that is moving at an ever-faster pace. Everyone wants everything ‘NOW’.

As Julie Andrews would say….“Let’s start from the very beginning, a very good place to start”….this is where you may need to exercise some patience before I get to the point!

Taking a leap back to 50,000 years ago (which is around when our brains stopped evolving) there were certain factors that were critical to our survival including eating, reproducing and being part of a group. Consequently our brain structure evolved to encourage and reward these behaviours (and any other behaviour that meant we escaped death).

These parts of the brain act quickly so that if we are under threat we run away; if we are hungry we eat whatever is available; if we have an opportunity to mate we get on with it. I call this part of the brain, the survival driven brain. We are still led by these ancient drivers today. When we follow them we get a quick fix, a rush of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, which make us feel (temporarily) good.

The other part of our brain (simply speaking) is more concerned with feeling fulfilled, finding purpose in life and contributing to society. It’s much slower and takes more effort to engage. This is the part that employs patience and manages the more troublesome survival driven brain. Unfortunately, whilst it is the wiser part of the brain, when we’re facing a threat or if we’re over stimulated, it doesn’t get a look in. Our ancestors needed the brain to function like this so that survival was the main focus of attention. I call the part that carries out these processes the meaning driven brain.

Although we don’t face the same urgency to run away from predators today, our brain operates in exactly the same way. So we still have a survival driven brain that dominates a large majority of our behaviour.

 

How Does This Relate to Technology & Wanting Everything Now?

Technology is great, it’s fast, responsive, and it allows us to live life via the touch of a finger. This plays to our survival driven brain’s need to get a quick fix and rapid response. It also meets the need of engaging with others and therefore belonging and reproducing (e.g. via selfies and tinder). Meanwhile, constant notifications received via social media act as reward cues, releasing dopamine and encouraging us to do the same thing again and again. A short lived rush which originally evolved to help us survive now keeps us hooked on our social media.

 

So Why Does This Make Us Want Everything Instantly?

This habituates us to getting everything immediately and reduces our ability to hold out for a reward or response. Professor Christopher Lucas from New York University School of Medicine has looked at the interaction of kids with technology. He explains how children focus on social media and video games in a different way to focusing on schoolwork. Using technology the brain receives frequent, intermittent rewards which habituates us to need more of the same. When children are in a classroom the rewards are not immediate, they are received over an outstretched period of time. This doesn’t live up to expectancies, so children disengage.

The same is true for adults. The constant stream of information and sensations we receive when we interact with technology not only leaves us wanting a quick fix to every situation, it also distracts us from more meaning driven activities that have a longer term benefit. It puts us in survival driven mode and on edge, constantly on the look out for danger or needing another reward.

 

What can we do?

As with every area of psychology, the first step is to become more aware. It’s very difficult to live outside of the norms that society and our environment creates and technology is very much part of those norms, but we can limit the amount of time we use it. We can also take part in more meaning driven activities, that offer prolonged levels of reward such as: sport, reading, gardening, mindfulness or simply doing a good deed for someone. Ultimately doing these things will give back to us as individuals, helping us to train our brains to be more patient and giving us lasting benefits.

Mindfulness:

If you’re interested in mindfulness I would highly recommend Andy Puddicombe’s headspace app.

https://www.headspace.com

 

Technology is Not All Bad:

https://www.headspace.com/blog/2016/07/14/were-addicted-to-pokemon-go-and-thats-ok/

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-media-psychology-effect/201203/brain-behavior-and-media

 

References:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/10/health/views/10klass.html?_r=1

Egerton, A. et al. (2009). The dopaminergic basis of human behaviors: a review of molecular imaging studies. Neuroscience & Biobehaviour. Rev. 33, 1109–1132

Satoh, T., Nakai, S., Sato, T., and Kimura, M. (2003). Correlated coding of motivation and outcome of decision by dopamine neurons. Journal of  Neuroscience. 23, 9913–9923

Caplan, S. E. (2003). Preference for online social interaction: A theory of problematic internet use and psychosocial well-being. Communication Research, 30, 625–648

Yoo, H. J., Cho, S. C., Ha, J., Yune, S. K., Kim, S. J., Hwang, J., Chung, A., Sung, Y. H., & Lyoo, I. K. (2004). Attention deficit hyperactivity symptoms and internet addiction. Psychiatry & Clinical Neurosciences, 58, 487–494