IN A STUDY AT at Virginia
Polytechnic Institute and State University, researchers wanted
to find out what motivational techniques work best. They had
the subjects do sit-ups for ninety seconds once each day for
four days. Those who were given the instruction, "do your
best," averaged around 43 sit-ups in the ninety seconds.
But those who were given specific long-term and short-term goals
managed 56 sit-ups per ninety seconds by the last day. For example,
one of the targets given was, "do ten percent more than
you did last time."
Targets improved performance.
Definite purpose does better than indefinite purpose. Better
in the sense that you perform better, but also better for your
health, happiness, and a sense of meaning.
If your purpose is ongoing
or long-term, set landmarks or targets. Slavomir Rawicz was in
a forced labor camp in Siberia. He and six men escaped from the
camp and set a big goal: Make it to India alive. They made the
river Lena as their first objective, and felt great satisfaction
when they achieved it, even though it was not very far compared
to how far they had to go. Next they wanted to reach the northern
end of Lake Baikal because they knew they could follow it south
and it would take them almost out of Siberia. Lake Baikal is
a very long, banana-shaped lake stretching four hundred miles
from the northern end to the southern tip.
In this way, one target
at a time, they kept their concentration strong and their spirits
high as they attempted to reach their impossible goal. Each target
was a win and gave them a feeling of accomplishment, and it kept
their motivation high. They made their way, incredibly enough,
all the way across Siberia, moving south, then across Mongolia
and the infamous Gobi Desert, and then all the way across the
Himalayas and finally to India. They were fugitives being
pursued by the heartless USSR secret police. They did it with
only an ax and a knife. But four of them made it alive to India
(it took them a month to cross the Gobi desert and two
of the men died in the desert).
Use your purposes with
skill. If you feel overwhelmed and stressed, concentrate on the
smallest unit you can: This plate, this piece of paper. Deal
with only this small unit until it is complete. Then choose another
small unit. If you look at your purpose and it seems huge and
discouraging, focus on the small unit task.
Michael Lotito is in the
Guinness Book of World Records for eating an airplane.
He did it by grinding the whole airplane into a fine powder,
and then adding a little to his meals every day. Break something
into small enough units and even a huge task becomes quite easy.
You might think, I can't eat an airplane! but you can
swallow this little teaspoon of grit in a glass of water.
Break your purpose down
into targets. Make a list of targets, put them in order, and
then get to work, accomplishing those targets one after the other
until you have succeeded.