Sustainable Motivation and the Power of Passion

February 26, 2016 2 comments

a-passion-your-life-passion-in-lifeMerriam-Webster dictionary defines Motivation as “a force or influence that causes someone to do something”. However, the power of motivation and its ability to be sustained is much more complex and slightly different for each individual. Sustainable motivation is one of the greatest factors in one’s ability to achieve a goal or complete a task. So, if you are finding yourself struggling to get something done, drained by the process, distracted, disinterested . . . it is likely because you have not tapped into a sustainable motivation for doing what you are doing.

I see brilliant and competent students struggle daily to achieve at even a moderate level. Part of the problem is that we often frame our motivation for doing something in extrinsic terms (coming from outside of us). I want to complete this degree because I have been told that it will most likely result in stable employment. I need to complete this course because it is a required course for this degree. I need to do well on this exam so that I can get a good grade in this course, so that I can complete my degree and gain employment. As Thomas Koballa states in his article “Framework for the Affective Domain in Science Education” “Students with performance goals often are preoccupied with gaining social status, pleasing teachers, and avoiding “extra” work.”

Wow, no wonder if those are your motivations that you are having trouble finding the energy to complete the tasks necessary. The trouble here is that what is referred to as the affective domain is not factoring in to this equation. The affective domain is that part of our existence that arises out of emotions, feelings, values, and opinions. It is the part of us that evokes passion; it is an intrinsic motivator. Rather than attempting to motivate yourself towards achieving an extrinsic goal, like doing well in a course so that you can progress in your degree, I suggest framing your goals in a way that taps into your affective domain. Why do you care about what you are doing? Think about the context, the potential for impact, how it aligns with your skills and interests.

The energy to keep going despite hardships, to push through even with conflicting priorities and complex challenges needs to come from within. So if you are having trouble relating on an emotional level and seeing the purpose of what you are doing, take some time to explore that. Talk to others that are passionate, go and speak to your instructor about the course material. I can guarantee that your professors have passion for their subject matter as they have likely dedicated a large portion of their lives to the study of it.

See your degree as more than a sequence of equations, principles, theories and facts that need to be memorized and mastered, see it as a pursuit of knowledge that can have an impact on your life and the lives of others. No matter what you study, bring your values, opinions, feelings and passions into the subject matter. In doing this, you will be far more likely to want to get out of bed in the morning, go to class and learn.

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Failing Successfully

January 29, 2016 Leave a comment

Working in the Faculty of Engineering, most of our new students have had very little exposure to failure and potentially no exposure, whatsoever, to academic failure. While at first this may seem to be a good thing, the reality is that failure is one of the most valuable experiences we can have in life.

If you think about it, how did you learn to walk, skate, swim, ride a bike, hit a ball? Likely by failing first, and failing many times and only then figuring out how to succeed. When I think about the things that I have learned in my life, just about all of them, and certainly the lessons that stick with me the most, are the ones that came through failure: better ways to approach conflict, how to listen with empathy, how to forgive, accept a complement, be gracious, cook a good meal, follow through on a task, create something new or innovative, challenge a concept or opinion effectively, develop healthy eating and sleeping habits. While, for the most part, I am good at these things now, I certainly was not at one point.

There have been many moments where I have been ashamed, embarrassed, felt terrible for what I had done, known that I could do better, desperately wanted to change, improve, get better, succeed. . .

So rather than taking those moments and converting them into self-ridicule, blame and low self-esteem, the key has been to figure out how to fail successfully. How do I harness the emotion that has come out of those failures into something that results in motivation, resilience and the ability to pick myself up and keep going? The ability to do this is what makes failing so powerful. If we can transform a failure into an impactful lesson on what not to do, we get significantly closer to success.

Does this mean that I am telling our students to get out there and fail? YES, that is exactly what I am saying, as nothing great has been accomplished without failure. If you have not failed, then you have likely not pushed yourself hard enough, have not taken on a challenge, have not been creative, innovative and confident enough. If you think about the people that have contributed most to our world, those that likely you admire and look up to, they are not the people that have never made a mistake, they are the ones that have failed the most, but kept going.

There are many famous quotes about failure, but the one that I think resonates the most for me when I think about our students is one from Maya Angelou: “You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”  I frequently say to students that they are not only in university to learn about the properties of materials, statics, discrete math, and programming; they are here to learn how to become the functional, happy, and successful adult versions of themselves. To do that, they will need to encounter their limits, brush themselves off, learn to re-calibrate and keep going.

So when you get that first failing grade, fumble in a presentation, fight with your roommate over unwashed dishes, do something you regret when out with your friends, disappoint your parents, yourself, and others . . . don’t fret for too long. Recognize that failure presents you with a phenomenal opportunity for growth and development that simple success never provides. For out of great risk, and abundant mistakes, come the best opportunities for innovation and excellence. The reality is that so longs as you keep trying, you have not failed, you just haven’t succeed YET. As Thomas Edison, put it so well, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.

Puppy and Play Therapy

December 3, 2015 Leave a comment

Mindfulness and stress reduction do not need to be hard.  Today we showed our Engineering students some simple ways to unwind, de-stress

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Puppy Therapy!!

and find some balance and calm during exam time.

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Colouring

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Puzzles and Lego

Shifting from Distress to De-Stress

November 19, 2015 Leave a comment

EXAM-STRESS

As we move from the rush of midterms, labs, and assignments into final exams I see an increasing number of students that are suffering from acute anxiety, stress, and a full spectrum of other ailments and viruses. It breaks my heart to see such highly capable and accomplished young people struggling with sleep disorders, headaches, anxiety, panic, substance dependency, and other destructive symptoms and behaviours.

Working now in an Engineering Faculty, I remind my students that they are not here just to learn the technical and theoretical, but to learn how to function as professional adults in a world filled with deadlines, pressure and high expectations. Since our admissions criteria is so very high, there is no doubt that these students have the intellectual capacity to succeed; what ends up putting students at the greatest risk is how effectively or ineffectively they manage their stress response.

What happens with some students is constant worry, and pressure moves from being an acute stressor to a chronic way of being. Worry and anxiety become a constant thought pattern and the impact of that leads to low energy levels, sleep issues, over and under-eating, depression, and massive self-doubt. If these thoughts go unchecked the body responds as if it is at real risk of harm “fight or flight” and this causes the release of stress hormones, that result in a deepening of the problems. This cycle then repeats and repeats until the student starts to feel as though he/she can no longer function.

As final exams draw near, I want to remind students of the importance of recognizing this cycle and intentionally responding with simple actions to counter the bodies stress response. When you notice yourself feeling a stress response, take a moment to focus on your breathing. Just by bringing attention to your breathing and focusing on a slow out-breath you can reverse some of your body’s automatic responses to stress and feel calm again.

Rather than responding to the stress and pressure of exams by working longer and harder at studying, work smarter and shorter. Build into your exam routine time for play, exercise and sleep. To claim that you don’t have time for these activities will only contribute to your stress, will cause you to be less able to focus and will make it seem like you need to study longer, when really what you need most is a break. The impact of stress activation is that it shuts down your prefrontal cortex and makes it harder for you to think clearly. So take the time to engage in whatever activities help you to feel a sense of calm and well-being.

Lastly, if you are struggling to manage your stress reach out for help. Visit your academic counselling office and get referred to campus and community services that can help you.

The stress and anxiety that you are feeling is not a sign of weakness, if anything, the smartest and most capable people I know are often the ones that struggle the most with these things. We need to talk openly about it and realize that healthy mindfulness practices are as important as healthy eating, not smoking, exercise, and sleep.

So during this busy and stressful time of year make and take the time to care for yourself, body, mind, and soul.

A Life Beyond ‘Do What You Love’

May 21, 2014 Leave a comment

tired_at_workAlthough I frequently guide students towards careers that will enable them to do something that they love and are passionate about, this article makes an excellent point that it is not always as easy as “do what you love” nor should it be.

By GORDON MARINO
May 17, 2014
Student advisees often come to my office, rubbing their hands together, furrowing their brows and asking me to walk along with them as they ponder life after graduation. Just the other day, a sophomore made an appointment because he was worrying about whether he should become a doctor or a philosophy professor. A few minutes later, he nervously confessed that he had also thought of giving stand-up comedy a whirl.

As an occupational counselor, my kneejerk reaction has always been, “What are you most passionate about?” Sometimes I‘d even go into a sermonette about how it is important to distinguish between what we think we are supposed to love and what we really love.
But is “do what you love” wisdom or malarkey?

In a much discussed article in Jacobin magazine early this year, the writer Miya Tokumitsu argued that the “do what you love” ethos so ubiquitous in our culture is in fact elitist because it degrades work that is not done from love. It also ignores the idea that work itself possesses an inherent value, and most importantly, severs the traditional connection between work, talent and duty.

When I am off campus and informally counseling economically challenged kids in Northfield, Minn., a city of about 20,000, the theme is not “do what you love.” Many of them are used to delivering papers at 5 a.m., slinging shingles all day or loading trucks all night. They are accustomed to doing whatever they need to do to help out their families. For them, the notion of doing what you love or find meaningful is not the idea that comes first to mind; nor should it. We put our heads together and consider, “What are you best at doing?” or “What job would most improve your family’s prospects?” Maybe being licensed as a welder or electrician? Maybe the military? Passion and meaning may enter into the mix of our chats with the understanding that they sharpen your focus and make you more successful.

My father didn’t do what he loved. He labored at a job he detested so that he could send his children to college. Was he just unenlightened and mistaken to put the well-being of others above his own personal interests? It might be argued that his idea of self-fulfillment was taking care of his family, but again, like so many other less than fortunate ones, he hated his work but gritted his teeth and did it well.

It could, I suppose, be argued that my father turned necessity into a virtue, or that taking the best care you can of your family is really a form of self-service. But getting outside yourself enough to put your own passions aside for the benefit of a larger circle, be it family or society, does not come naturally to everyone.
Not all take this path. You may know the tale of Dr. John Kitchin, a.k.a. Slomo, who quit his medical practice for his true passion — skating along the boardwalk of San Diego’s Pacific Beach. But is it ethical for the doctor to put away his stethoscope and lace up his skates?

Thinkers as profound as Kant have grappled with this question. In the old days, before the death of God, the faithful believed that their talents were gifts from on high, which they were duty-bound to use in service to others. In his treatise on ethics, “The Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals,” Kant ponders: Suppose a man “finds in himself a talent which might make him a useful man in many respects. But he finds himself in comfortable circumstances and prefers to indulge in pleasure rather than take pains in enlarging his happy natural capacities.” Should he?
Kant huffs, no — one cannot possibly will that letting one’s talents rust for the sake of pleasure should be a universal law of nature. “[A]s a rational being,” he writes, “he necessarily wills that his faculties be developed, since they serve him, and have been given him, for all sorts of purposes.” To Kant, it would be irrational to will a world that abided by the law “do what you love.”

Perhaps, unlike Kant, you do not believe that the universe is swimming with purposes. Then is “do what you love,” or “do what you find most meaningful” the first and last commandment? Not necessarily.

The faith that my likes and dislikes or our sense of meaning alone should decide what I do is part and parcel with the gospel of self-fulfillment. Philosophy has always been right to instruct that we can be as mistaken about our views on happiness as anything else. The same holds for the related notion of self-fulfillment. Suppose that true self-fulfillment comes in the form of developing into “a mature human being.” This is of course not to claim that we ought to avoid work that we love doing just because we love doing it. That would be absurd. For some, a happy harmony exists or develops in which they find pleasure in using their talents in a responsible, other-oriented way.

The universally recognized paragons of humanity — the Nelson Mandelas, Dietrich Bonhoeffers and Martin Luther Kings — did not organize their lives around self-fulfillment and bucket lists. They, no doubt, found a sense of meaning in their heroic acts of self-sacrifice, but they did not do what they were doing in order to achieve that sense of meaning. They did — like my father and some of those kids from town — what they felt they had to do.

Dr. King taught that every life is marked by dimensions of length, breadth and height. Length refers to self-love, breadth to the community and care of others, and height to the transcendent, to something larger than oneself. Most would agree with Dr. King’s prescription that self-fulfillment requires being able to relate yourself to something higher than the self. Traditionally, that something “higher” was code for God, but whatever the transcendent is, it demands obedience and the willingness to submerge and remold our desires.

Perhaps you relish running marathons. Perhaps you even think of your exercise regimen as a form of self-improvement. But if your “something higher” is, say, justice and equality, those ideals might behoove you to delegate some of the many hours spent pounding the track on tutoring kids at the youth center. Our desires should not be the ultimate arbiters of vocation. Sometimes we should do what we hate, or what most needs doing, and do it as best we can.

Gordon Marino is a professor of philosophy at St. Olaf College and the editor of “The Quotable Kierkegaard.”
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This post was published on The Opinionator

Managing Stress During Critical Moments:

April 22, 2014 Leave a comment

examsAt exam time the tension and stress in the air is palatable.  I will walk down a hall lined with students waiting to enter the exam room and could hear a pin drop.  It is as if they are not even breathing.  Similarly, I have conducted numerous mock interviews, where the greatest obstacle that the student faces is his/her own nerves.  In these cases I tend to focus more on mindset and less on the content of the answers.

The reality is, if your mind is paralyzed with anxiety and stress, it will not matter how much you have prepared, you will not be relaxed and confident enough to access that information.

Here are some tips to help you prepare for those critical moments, to decrease your stress, and increase your focus and confidence:

Create a plan to study and prepare.  Do your research well in advance.  I have found that I cannot study effectively for more than about 6 hours a day.  Beyond that, I find that my eyes may be scanning the material, but my brain is not processing or storing any of the information.

Be sure to eat properly before you go in for the interview or exam.  This should include plenty of protein to provide a longer source of energy.

Get a good night’s sleep.  Don’t stay up preparing into the wee hours of the morning, what is most likely to set you up for success is rest.  Disconnect from the material a couple of hours before you head to bed, so that your mind can gear down and you can get some restorative sleep.

Instead of getting worked up and anxious counting down the hours and minutes, take yourself outside and go for a walk or a run.  I find that my clearest thoughts come when I am walking my dog.  The combination of increased blood flow, fresh air, and stress relief is great for increasing focus.

Finally, instead of standing silently holding your breath before you enter the exam or interview room, take yourself somewhere quiet and take a few deep breaths and focus on your breathing.  This is proven to slow your heart rate, decrease your blood pressure and enhance your memory.  Going into the room calm will enable you to focus and perform at your optimum.

Running on Empty?

March 31, 2014 Leave a comment
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Running on Empty

I read a blog post from the minister at the church I attend and what he wrote really resonated with me. We are at a time of year in the academic calendar when energy is low and demands are high. I can see it written all over everyone’s face: in the slow dragging of feet, the deep sighs and yawns and the expressionless way that people seem to be lumbering through their days. When there is so much to be done, I too find myself forgetting to even check my tank to see how much gas I have. I commonly find that I am running on fumes, focussed too much on what needs to be done and not enough on whether I have the energy to do it.

Whatever it is that you need to keep yourself going, to fuel your body, mind, and spirit, I encourage you to take the time to do it. The impact of time lost in stopping to refuel will be paid back exponentially in the revitalization of your energy and focus.

Thanks Kevin, for reminding me to stop and refuel and not let myself run on empty.

Kevin’s Post from Canon Kevin’s Corner

When I first got my driver’s license 26 years ago and was driving my father’s car it would perturb him to no end if I brought the vehicle back less than half a tank of gas. You see, he never really let his car get much below half a tank before he would fill it up. He could never understand why I would let my own cars get so low on gas. On the many trips he and Mom made to Ontario, right at about this time of year, he will be traveling with me in the car and always ask the obvious question, “Why do you let your car get so low on gas? There’s no need of it! You pass all these has stations every day and you still wait.” He would shake his head upward, lips pursed, and eyes closed as if to say – it’s no use telling you anything.
He knew me!

Dad was really on my mind today. I had pulled over to return an email on my cell phone when I noticed that the fuel light on my car was not just low, but was flashing. Then I remembered that it originally showed low fuel three days ago. O dear!!! I was about three-quarters of a kilometer from the Shell station. Thankfully it was downhill. As I pull back on the road the car actually sputtered but then gained some momentum as the car tipped downward. I pulled into the Shell station and literally sputtered up to the pumps on fumes and stalled out!!!!!!! Close call. The image of my father shaking his head, resigned to the fact that I do not listen, came right before me.

Not long after I first moved to London and purchased this car, I actually ran flat-out of gas and had to be rescued. That happened to me once in Windsor as well. One would think that I might learn from my mistakes. One would be so wrong. There is no need for me to run out of gas. As dad told me all those years ago, I pass gas stations all day long in this city. Bad habits are hard to break sometimes. But I commit there and now to not let my car get that low again.

Having fueled the car up and having avoided the embarrassment of being out of gas again, I began to think about the other ways that we run out of fuel. How often do we move through our days mindlessly, knowing full well that we are getting pretty low and our energy is at a place where it will be hard to imagine how we could keep going? We fail to take the necessary steps to make sure we have the energy to continue. Or how often do we spiritually feel that our tank is getting pretty low? There are times I am sure that most of us feel as though we may be drifting further away from God and not closer.

A couple of weeks ago I became aware of the fact that I was not taking the time to do things that replenish me. I cannot tell you how I got there – but I can tell you that I was feeling as though I was not as in touch with my Creator as I normally like to be. As I engaged in my Lenten reflections it became painfully obvious that in the busy day-to-day grind of life, that for a number of weeks I was not taking the time to do the things that were spiritually life-giving for me. As much as I needed to get to Shell today for petrol I needed to name what fuels me – and go get it. I love to read, and two weeks ago I came to the stark realization that I had gone a couple of months without reading a book at all. I also love to write. My writing had all but stopped. Again I could see my father saying to me why do you let your tank get so low? Just as I sputtered to the tanks today, I sputtered to the book store a couple of weeks ago and have been reading and writing in an attempt to keep things moving?

Dad was right! We have no need to let our tank get so very low. The car and our spirits need ‘regular’ attention in order to keep running smoothly.
I would be interested in hearing what fuels you. What do you need, to keep you moving forward. If you feel comfortable, comment on this blog and share the things that are life-giving for you. When you feel a little low, or lacking energy spiritually or otherwise, where do you go to fill up as it were?

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