Dealing With Motivation Problems

The Garage

Our next-door neighbour was a builder and built our garage and conservatory. He did a great job in most respects, but, just when the job was almost finished, he lost all motivation.

His wife had left him (we had occasionally heard the sound of plates being smashed) and he was depressed. He was now living several miles away in some rather poor accommodation.

Being unable to get yourself motivated is one of the symptoms of depression.

I was very sorry for him, and also wanted to get our garage finished, as I’m sure you can understand. I decided the two problems could probably be solved in the same way.

So I called him. I remember hearing his dull listless tones on the other end of the line.
‘What are you doing now?’ I asked.
‘Nothing.’ He droned after a long pause.
‘Get over her right now.’ I instructed him, in my best Clint Eastwood ‘Do you feel lucky?’ voice.

Fifteen minutes later he was standing at our door looking very sorry for himself. He was a very good-looking builder with the physique to match and big puppy-dog eyes that could have melted Mrs Thatcher’s heart. Fortunately mine is made of sterner stuff (well, almost).

I got him in and gave him a drink. The normally lively chap slumped in a chair in the kitchen, hardly noticing all the building materials piled up by the door, waiting to be used.

‘What’s your plan for finishing the garage?’ I asked.
There was no response. He just looked down.

‘What have you been doing for the last week?’ I asked.
‘Nothing.’ He said.
‘What, no games of squash, nothing?’ (He was one of those annoying people who is fantastic at every sport.)
He nodded.

‘Here’s the problem.’ I explained. ‘When you are stressed your body produces a chemical called cortisol. This hormone builds up in your body and makes you feel depressed. It does all kinds of damage to your system and it makes it very hard for you to set goals or get motivated to do anything.

Unless you do something about it, it just keeps building up.’

He nodded.

What To Do

‘To get rid of it, you have to get some aerobic exercise. Because you usually get so much exercise you don’t normally have much in your system at all, so you have virtually no tolerance to it. Any small amount probably has a much greater effect on you than most people.

You need to get rid of it as soon as you can. Go back home and get some exercise straight away.’
‘What should I do?’ He asked.
‘What can you do immediately?’ I asked.
‘I could go out on my bike.’ He said.
‘Ring me as soon as you have.’ I told him. And off he went. Shortly afterwards it started to pour with rain. It was now my turn to be depressed. I was sure that he would never go out in such awful weather.


Two hours later I got a call.
‘I’ve ordered the scaffolding and the plaster. The electrician will be coming tomorrow, are you in, or should I come over to let him in?’
‘How are you?’ I asked him, delighted.
‘I did what you said and went straight out on my bike even though it was raining cats and dogs.’ He laughed. ‘I can’t tell you how much better I feel. Thank you so much’

It was like speaking to a different person. Within a week the garage was finished.

Coming Home Again

I heard another story about a son who had come home, at the age of 30. He had no job, and has been living off his parents, gradually doing less and less. He hasn’t looked for work or done anything to help in the last six months.

His parents were very worried and wanted to do the best for their son. When I talked to them about it, I discovered that the things they were doing to help him were actually making the situation worse. But it wasn’t their fault. It was because they didn’t know what to do.

To get my new booklet ‘How to Motivate Yourself and Others – 67 ways to make sure you get things done’ at the specially offer price till midnight on 28th April use this link.


Getting people motivated is one of those things that can be really difficult unless you know what to do. Sometimes what you are doing to help can actually be making the situation worse.

At this time there are a lot of people who are having trouble getting motivated so we have produced a new booklet on how to motivate yourself and others.

Here are a few tips to keep you going:
* Make sure people are receiving enough feedback. Often just checking this and making sure it’s happening will make a big difference. People need to know the impact of their actions and the results of their efforts.
* Say ‘Thank You’ – This is a very simple one that most of us could do more of.
* Make sure you are getting some exercise – about 15 minutes of aerobic exercise three or four times a week can work wonders. Ideally, do it after any stressful situations to flush out the cortisol from your system. Even a brisk walk is better than nothing.
* Set very small, short-term goals and objectives. When you are feeling unmotivated, large goals seem impossible so you don’t even feel like bothering to start. Small goals are much easier. Then, when you have achieved even a small goal, reward yourself.
* Keep a track of the progress you have made and refer to it every day. This is often much more motivating than looking at all the things you have yet to do.

Another Way To Deal With Difficult Times

A Problem Shared Is A Problem Halved

I remember an old friend of mine calling me when she had problems with her boyfriend. He had been away for a few weeks and she hadn’t heard anything from him.

She was clearly devastated. We talked for nearly an hour. At the end of that time, I had to go, and felt really bad about saying ‘goodbye’. I said I wished I could do more to help, but she insisted that she felt much better.

Even worse was a radio programme I heard once when I was driving through rush-hour traffic in London. It was hosted by Anna Raeburn. A woman called and had just been attacked. She told Anna what had happened. It was completely awful.

I was hanging on her every word. Anna Raeburn just listened and made a few comments. Then I came up to a tunnel. I knew there was no reception in the tunnel and the traffic was going very slowly. I left it as long as I could and finally plunged in.

I felt I had abandoned the poor woman on the line. When I finally emerged she was just finishing and thanking Anna.

I’m sure you have had similar experiences.

Sleepless in Seattle

If you’ve seen this film you will remember the heart-rending call from Tom Hanks’ son to the radio programme there. It’s compelling. Why is that?

Threats, Stresses and the Adrenaline Response

What do you do when faced with a threat or stress? We were always taught that there are just two responses:
Fight or flight.

This was because the reaction comes from our ancient roots and we are dealing with a physical threat – someone or something trying to kill us. If this is the case we need to run away or kill it.

Another Way

You may be surprised to learn that there is another way. The original research was done on men. This is often the case with this kind of research. The researchers then assume that women behave in the same way.

However, that’s not always the case.

Laura Cousin Klein, Ph.D., now an Assistant Professor of Biobehavioral Health at Penn State University was one of the authors of a study that showed this alternative.

Tend and Befriend

This study shows that women can have a remarkably different response to stress. They called it ‘Tend and Befriend’. They say that women have a larger behavioural repertoire than just ‘fight or flight’. This seems to happen when the hormone oxytocin is released as part of the stress responses in a woman. This encourages her to gather with others and befriend them (or talk to them). This releases more of the hormone that encourages the response.

This hormone has a calming effect that does not seem to occur in men.


Many studies have shown the link between longevity and social contact. The researchers, Drs Klien and Taylor, think this may explain why women consistently outlive men on average.

One study even showed that those who had the most friends over nine years reduced their risk of death by more than 60% compared to those with the fewest.

Another study, the Nurses’ Health Study from Harvard Medical School, indicated that physical problems in old age were much less likely if you had lots of friends and lived a happy life. It seems that not having friends is as damaging to your health as smoking.

Death of a Spouse

Research also shows that those who have a close friend are much better at surviving the death of a spouse without their health deteriorating. Clearly for most people, this is a time of extreme stress.


It’s also bad news for people who emigrate and aren’t able to make friends. Women who are able to develop a new social network and make new friends are less likely to be abused than those who don’t. (Taylor et al., 2000).


What does this tell us about work? I think the most important thing it tells us is that we must make sure we don’t let work take over our lives so completely that we neglect our friends – both for our own benefit and for theirs.

It also tells us that when stressful things happen at work, we should talk to people about it and as managers, encourage people to do that.

Phone A Friend

So pick out a friend you haven’t spoken to for a while and get in touch. Make sure you keep those contacts going. The time when you don’t have enough time for them is probably the time you need them the most.


Don’t think that, just because you are a man, this won’t work for you too. It’s just that most of this research has been done on women. But there is some evidence that it can work for men too in some situations. Go on, have a go.

Why You Will Never Reach Your Full Potential – You May Be Surprised

First, Maths

I used to teach maths to people in the factory where I worked. They
needed to know how to use the ‘resistor colour code’. This is a set
of coloured bands printed on a resistor that tells you what the
resistance is. Each colour has a digit; yellow is 2, orange is 3,
red is 4, and so on.

In order to be able to read the code you need to have a basic
understanding of decimals. I was amazed at how few people had a
grasp of decimals, given that we had been using a decimal coinage
system for many years by that time.

I would often find that, when I sat down with someone who was
experiencing significant difficulties, the problem was the same.

They would tell me: ‘I’m really bad at maths.’
‘How do you know?’ I would respond.
The answer was almost always the same and uttered with compete
conviction: ‘Because when I was seven, my teacher told me ‘You are
no good at maths.”

This I found to be utterly shocking. My father, who was a head
teacher for many years and before that a brilliant maths teacher,
had never allowed thoughts like that to enter our heads as children.

He had a stunning record of taking pupils to great levels of
achievement. So, whenever I encountered one of these unfortunate
individuals I would phone my father and ask for his help in
explaining whatever concept was holding the person back. He never
failed them.

A Picnic

Then, a while later, I joined my boss and his wife at the company
picnic. She was a teacher and had in her care children of seven and

‘You can tell at seven when a child is useless at maths.’ She told
me confidently.

I am sure she heard my gasp of horror. Here was a teacher who was
actively reducing the chances for her pupils.

Why You Can’t Reach Your True Potential
I expect you are thinking that this title is a bit negative and not
the kind of thing you have come to expect from me. I hope so.

Strangely, this is good news, not the bad news it sounds like. Read
on to find out why, and why that teacher was so wrong.

Attention Density

What do you know about attention? It’s one of those weird things.
We instinctively know what it is (and when we’re not getting it or
doing it).

You may remember your teachers telling you to pay attention (or
perhaps your partner). You may have told your children to pay

Attention Skills

Attention is about several things:
Your ability to
* select one aspect of the environment (internal or external)
* focus on an aspect of the environment
* release your attention and focus on something else

People who have attention problems can have difficulty with one or
more areas.

Attention Density

This is how much attention you are paying to something.

Your Brain

We can all imagine situations where a high level of attention
density is required. What’s interesting about it is that what you
pay attention to changes your brain.

This means that if you pay attention to specific areas your brain,
because it is plastic, will become more adept in that area.

This is knows as ‘neural plasticity’. You probably just think of it
as learning. I expect you are familiar with the experiment where
people were blindfolded and had their brains monitored through
various imaging techniques.

Within HOURS the parts of the brain that normally deal with visual
inputs were being re-assigned to other senses.

So just think what happens from days, weeks and months of attention
in specific areas.

Your Potential

It’s very hard to assess anyone’s potential. There are many
examples of people whose teachers told them they were no good or
had ‘no potential’ and they then went on to huge success. Plenty
more were told they would do great things and did not.

How It Works

Let’s imagine that we could put you into a machine that was able to
accurately measure your potential to draw like a Leonardo Da Vinci
and we measured that today as being 21%.

If you were really inspired and practised for a few weeks and we
measured it again, it would have changed and gone up. The more you
practised, the more your potential would increase as your brain

So your problem is that your potential is becoming greater and
greater, so you would forever be behind your true potential. But
only because you had increased that potential.

What’s so exciting is that we can all increase our potential to do

Your Organisational Goals

If you asked everyone in your organisation to write down what the
top three goals of your organisation currently are (with no
conferring) what do you think the answers would be?

Would they be the same? Would you have a lot of variety?

I imagine in most of the organisations I’ve worked in, there would
be a huge variety. Often when I’ve asked questions like this all
I’ve had in response is blank stares.

Just Imagine

What do you think would happen if everyone were focussed on
achieving the same thing? What would happen to their brains and
their potential to achieve the goals?

It’s simple enough to do and the results could be spectacular.

Reaching Your Potential

I would suggest that most of the people who reach their potential
only do so because it is so low. So perhaps it would be best to
focus on something that is really worth achieving and just keep
working at it, rather than worrying if you are reaching your ‘true
potential’. And be wary of any teacher who tells your children
that they are useless at anything.

Is It Really Better To Give Than Receive?

First, Some Chocolate

I came across some research recently from the researcher, Dr Matthew D Lieberman of the University of California was asking the question; ‘Does fairness taste like chocolate?’

As a keen consumer of chocolate, I was very interested in the answer.

It turns out that, in the language of neuroscience, fairness does taste like chocolate in that you get a very similar response in the brain from eating chocolate and from being treated fairly. An area called the ventral striatum is activated and this makes you feel happy. And in this way we are motivated to get fair treatment. (There is also a part of your brain that is activated when it experiences unfair treatment, but I don’t know if it’s activated by poor quality chocolate.)

Is It Really Better To Give Than Receive?

The next question Dr Lieberman went on to ask was: ‘Is the reward in the brain for giving greater than that for receiving?’ To answer this question he turned to some research by Jorge Moll et al.

It turns out that it is better to give than to receive as far as your brain is concerned. (Though, for your information, I do love to receive chocolate…) But interestingly, your ability to predict how you will feel about it is not good. So people don’t realise how good they are likely to feel when they give something to others.

The Secret of Happiness

This reminded me of some research on happiness I shared with the very small group of readers who were getting the early version of Grapevine back in 2002. If you got that, I hope you don’t mind me duplicating this information at the end of this issue for those who didn’t.

Meeting Simon
After one of my workshops in Wessex I was approached by Simon Barnes. He was very excited and said that our ideas on objectives and performance management were very much in alignment.

He then went on to tell me that he was developing some web-based Performance Appraisal software and wondered if I would have a look at it and give him some feedback.

I did have a look and I gave him lots of feedback. When we next got together I was delighted to see that he had implemented all of my suggestions.

Why This Is a Good Idea

Ultimately, because it saves you money, time and effort and can make you more money too. Here’s why.

In my view, paper performance management systems can be a pain because updating them is such a hassle. This is inefficient and time-consuming. If you have a web-based system that works properly everyone can see what’s going on and keep up to date.

Every employee should be able to easily see the objectives that their objectives cascade from so they know their part in the whole. This also makes vertical alignment much easier.

This helps the company as a whole to be much more focussed on the objectives and what needs to be achieved. This in turn makes it much more likely that the company or organisation will achieve its objectives (watch out for more issues on this topic and related research coming soon).

A Version For Smaller Companies

One of my suggestions at our second meeting was that Simon could develop a smaller version for smaller companies that would be simple and easy to use, yet still give them the benefits of such a system.

Well, that system is now almost ready and I reviewed it last week. Just yesterday we got together again. It’s not quite perfect yet, which is why Simon needs one or two small companies (10-15 employees) to pilot the new software. He is offering a year’s free use of the system to a company that is willing to help.

Your Opportunity To Help (And Feel Good Into The Bargain)

I suggested that Grapevine readers would undoubtedly be the best candidates for this (yes, that’s you).

My one concern was that not all those who apply will get the pilot opportunity and they would miss out on this special offer (which would not be fair). Simon has very kindly agreed that any company that just offers its services to pilot the system will get three months free usage, with no obligation at all.

To find out more use this link
or call Charlie on +44 (0) 1483 811413 by 14th April.

The Software

Just to let you know that this is a web based system that will enable you to keep track of objectives and your progress against them. It will also help with alignment of objectives and be full of tips from me on how to write your objectives and how to carry out performance reviews.

If you use it properly your performance reviews and appraisals should be virtually written and agreed before you carry them out (which is how it’s really meant to be).

I will be personally writing and vetting all the information that comes with the system (I won’t be doing the difficult software bit, though; they have experts doing that).

For those who sign up (it will be on a monthly fee basis) there will also be discounts on all our products here at Vinehouse.

Chocolate and Giving

So now you have the opportunity to give and so do I! And I must say I feel good about it already.

Now for the research on Happiness. Though this is from a few years ago, I think you will still find it to be very interesting, if not useful.

Why is The Secret of Happiness still a Secret?

Daniel T. Gilbert Ph.D. Professor of Psychology Chair Program in Social Psychology, Faculty, Social Cognitive and Emotion Laboratory, Harvard University.

According to Dr Gilbert’s research our skills at predicting how we will feel as the result of various events can be very poor. We tend to think that we will feel worse than we really will, so as a result we often make decisions that will make us unhappy, thinking they will make us happy.

Is it better to make a quick decision or to think about it?
Dr Gilbert designed an experiment where students were offered a course in photography. At the end of the course, each student made large glossy prints of their two favourite photos. They were then given the opportunity to take just one of them home. The students in Group A were given seven minutes to make the decision. Those in Group B were told to take their time and that if they changed their mind when they got home they had four days to change the photo.

After a week, all the students were asked how happy they were with their photo choice. Group A was the happiest. Group B was unhappy (even though none of them had changed their photograph).

How good are you at making yourself happy?

A further experiment was carried out where students were offered a photography course. They were told about the course (identical to the one above) and that there were two options: Option A where you would have seven minutes to choose your favourite photo to take home and could not change it. Option B where you had four days to make up your mind on your favourite photo and would be able to change it at any stage during those four days.

Most people chose Option B – the option that would make them unhappy.


Question whether giving yourself lots of time to review decisions and change your mind is really going to help, especially in areas that are not important. It will make you unhappy with a choice you would otherwise have been perfectly happy with.

Be careful about allowing people longer than necessary to make up their minds – you may have to deal with the consequences.


Our ability to predict effectively how we will feel depends on various factors, many that we often forget or are unaware of.

One simple factor is that there will be other events in our life that will mitigate some of our feelings. Another is our ‘psychological immune system’. For example, if we don’t get something we want we often tell ourselves it wasn’t that wonderful anyway (sour grapes). This is a very effective strategy and we tend to ignore its power.

If you are dating a person and they exhibit bad table manners, we might decide not to see them again. However, if you are already married to them we would tend to say things like
“He earns a lot of money.” Or
“She has a good sense of humour.” Or
“He never does it in public.”
All of which mitigate the problem.

From the research it seems that once we have committed to a course of action, we tend to be happier with it.

Is being happy a skill?

Richard J Davidson

William James and Vilas Research Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry. Directors of the WM Keck Laboratory for Functional Brain Imaging and Behaviour, Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience, the NIMH-funded Wisconsin Center for Affective Sciences, The Center for Mind-body Interaction, and the NIMH Training program in Emotion Research. University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Do you achieve all your goals? Or just some of them?

One of the keys to achieving our goals is the emotion we feel when we are thinking about the goal. To feel motivated to achieve a goal you need to have the right emotions. This can make it less likely that we achieve it.

Some people are able to shrug off negative feelings. For others, negative emotions stay with them for a long time. This affects their perception and the way they think about their goals.

Richard Davidson believes this is a skill that can be learnt. He also thinks that early exposure to negative or positive stimuli can affect our abilities in this area.

Research shows that the side of the brain that is activated when we think about things has an effect on how positively or negatively we think about an issue. The right side of the brain is linked with negative thoughts and the left with positive.


If you want to achieve something, you need to think about it in the positive – as what you do want, rather than what you don’t want.

When you are learning, the way you think about what you learn affects how much you learn and how well you learn it.

It may be that we can train ourselves to view the world more positively. Dr Davidson is currently looking at methods that are already used, such as various forms of meditation, to see how they change the brain.

At the very least, when we are helping others to learn, one of the first things to do is to help them to access feelings of interest and excitement about the topic. This makes it easier to learn.


There are different emotions attached to the anticipation of a goal and the achievement of a goal. People who are depressed seem less able to access the anticipatory emotions. In order to start on a achieving a goal, you need to access these feelings (excitement, optimism, inspiration and interest for example.)

From PET scans Dr Davidson and his associates have identified that, depending on which side of our brain we use, we have a more positive or negative view of the world.

When parts of the right frontal lobe are activated, we tend to see the glass as “half empty”. When the left frontal lobe is activated, we tend to see it as “half full”.

If people are shown pictures that are negative in content, the right frontal lobes become active. If they are then shown other more neutral stimuli they then tend to see these in a negative light too – because the right side of the brain remains more active. Some people are able to recover from this bias more quickly than others.

It has been known for a long time that learning a physical skill changes the brain. If you play the violin the part of your brain which controls the fingers of the left hand becomes larger. Dr Davidson thinks the same is true for mental skills. So by exercising these mental skills we can change our brains and become better at being more positive.

To take part in the pilot contact us using this link
or call Charlie on +44 (0) 1483 811413 by 14th April.