A STUDY of professional soccer players from several different
countries, the players showed a consistent pattern: A high percentage
of them were born at a time that allowed them to be a little
older than their peers. In other words, lets say the school
year starts in September and you were born in December. Youre
supposed to start kindergarten at five years old, so do you start
school when you are almost five, or do you wait a whole year
till youre almost six?
My brother and sister were both in this
situation. My sister started early, so throughout her time in
school, she was just a little younger than most of her peers.
My brother started late so he was always older than most his
peers, and it made a difference. He was always a little more
developed, a little further along in his physical growth than
most of his classmates.
The study of soccer players showed that
most of the players who are good enough to become professionals
started school a little older than most of their peers because
their birthday was in the middle of the school year.
What does this have to do with motivation?
Because they started a little late, they were more physically
developed than their peers. So when they played sports, they
did better than their peers, and the success motivated them.
Success is motivating. Winning is motivating.
One of the most important reasons for making a list
and putting it in order is to break the task into small enough
pieces that you can experience successes. Those little wins boost
your motivation. You can see and feel youre making progress
toward your ultimate goal. Youre winning. And thats
One of the most important reasons for managing
your challenge (so you stay within the just right
range) is so you can experience successes, because that will
spur you on, arouse your interest, and keep you motivated.
This is all fine and well, but weve
got a problem. If you can remember back to when I talked about
the brains negative bias and realitys negative bias, you realize
something: When youre succeeding but make one little mistake,
guess what your mind will fixate on? The mistake, of course.
Thats why you must measure your progress.
Find a way to measure your progress so you can counteract the
negative bias (keeping you from feeling demoralized by mistakes),
and so you can see yourself succeeding (because it raises your
How do you measure progress? Simple. Take
the most important result, mark it on a chart, and post it. For
example, Ive tried several measurements with my writing
and found the best one is simply hours spent writing.
I once measured pages written
because Id learned many famous writers did it that way.
They would set a goal of writing fifty pages a day or something
like that. But when I did it, I would hurry through the task
and be verbose, like I used to do in high school when I didnt
feel like writing but had a word count quota.
Now I measure just the hours I spend, and
it works really well. You might think Id just sit there
and use up time, but I never have. I am motivated to write the
book or article or whatever, so I end up concentrating fully
on the writing. I even found that measuring writing time had
an extra advantage because I would take my time with the editing,
and improve it a lot because I took the time. I could take all
the time I wanted. I was being paid by the hour.
It's the best measurement to chart for me.
So find one result you can measure. Experiment
and see what works best for you, and then put it where you can
see it. It could be how many hours a week, how many cold calls,
how many resumes mailed out per month. Chart it and post it.
Keep it up to date.
Your posted progress becomes a visible
success, and it is motivating. Progress feels good. Progress
Another method I use a lot is keeping a
backward to do list. Its a different way to solve the problem
we talked about before: The feeling that youve worked all
day with nothing to show for it.
How many times have you stayed busy all
day, but at the end of the day, had the disconcerting feeling
that you havent really done anything? This makes your actions
feel futile and pointless. All that work, all day long, and it
feels like you did nothing worthwhile.
How can this even be possible? I wonder
if a hunter-gatherer felt that way? I dont think so. At
the end of the day, shes got a pile of nuts or a dead deer
to show for her efforts. Does a bricklayer ever feel like her
actions are futile? Doubt it. When she started the day, the wall
was only two feet high. Now it is eight feet high.
What Im driving at here is that the
problem is not you. Its the tasks. The modern world is
full of invisible, hard-to-remember activities banking
online, for example. And these activities are not in any way
futile or unimportant. They can be very important. But they arent
visible. Once you finish your banking task, you close your computer,
and what happens? Your desk, your world, looks exactly as it
did before you started as if nothing has happened.
Now that we can start to see what the problem
is, a solution begins to seem obvious: Make a list.
You can make a list of what you will do
ahead of time, or you can make a list of what youve already
done as soon as you finish it, sort of like making a to-do list
So as soon as you finish your banking,
write on a piece of paper, "did the banking." Maybe
even put a checkmark next to it. Do the dishes, then write it
down and checkmark it. Keep this up all day, and then
and this is the most important part before you go to bed,
read your list. It doesnt take very long to do, and it
gives you three positive benefits:
1. You will no longer feel your actions
are futile. You wont be disheartened by the sense that
youre spinning your wheels and getting nowhere.
2. You will feel more motivated. When you
see you are in fact, getting things done, some of which are important
to your goals, you are motivated to do even more.
3. You will find out how you spend your
time. You will improve the way you use your time without even
really trying. At the end of the day youll look at your
list and youll see a lot of things youve spent part
of your day doing were a waste of time. You may be unaware of
just how much time you waste, because those activities have been
as invisible as your productive tasks.
Make a done list every day, adding to it
every time you complete even the smallest task, and at the end
of the day, read it over. This is a simple way to measure your
progress. It helps you stay focused and it gives you a feedback
that you are succeeding, and success is motivating.
This is the fourth of seven principles
of Cultivating Fire.