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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

5 Ways to Motivate Yourself (and Everyone Around You)

To be seen as a leader at work, you’ll need the drive to consistently deliver superior results, the energy reserves to give a your colleagues a boost when they have a tough day, and the mental agility to be at the top of your game when you interact with senior leaders—so that they know you’re up for bigger challenges.

But, when you face the same ups and downs as everyone else in the office, it’s easier said than done. So what can be done to motivate the motivator?

One thing’s for sure: There’s no shortage of advice columns filled with tips that are less than realistic and far from sustainable. Researchers have found that an afternoon nap improves productivity, for example, but unless you work in a mattress showroom, that’s not exactly realistic. Neither is it especially helpful to know that athletes perform best after 10 hours of sleep or that Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer gets so much done because she needs only four hours of sleep. Let’s be honest: Not many of us are able to pull off either extreme.

So for the rest of us—those who want to maintain a high performance and be a role model to others without resorting to caffeine pills, cattle prods, and other unsustainable gimmicks—here are five research-backed ways to keep yourself at peak performance.

1. Arrive at Work in a Good Mood

Researchers Nancy Rothbard and Steffanie Wilk found that call center representatives in a Fortune 500 company who started the day in a good mood delivered superior results and felt more positive after their calls. Their colleagues who arrived in a bad mood, on the other hand, suffered a dip in productivity of up to 10%.

A positive mood lifts your brain’s dopamine levels, resulting in improved cognitive performance. So, build a mood-lifter into your commute, whether it’s listening to music, calling a friend for a virtual coffee chat, watching an uplifting TED talk, or catching a highlight from your favorite late night show, and enjoy the resulting boost in brainpower as you arrive at your desk.

2. Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time

When McKinsey & Company studied the characteristics that drive and sustain top female leaders, energy management was discovered to be a common element of their success. Those leaders understood exactly what drained and sustained them, and I recommend you do the same.

Keep a log of your energetic peaks and valleys for at least a week, and from those insights, build a new routine. By paying close attention, you may learn to avoid the carb-heavy lunches that make you sleepy by 2 PM or to connect with a chatty team member early in the day, when you still have the energy to wrangle his or her whimsy.

3. Expand Your Capacity Like Athletes

Once you know your energy sources, you can “expand your capacity like elite athletes do,” a strategy advised by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz in The Power of Full Engagement. They recommend approaching a typical workday like an interval training workout by arranging tasks into bursts of intense activity interspersed with breaks or lower-intensity activities.

What interval works best? K. Anders Ericsson, a psychology professor at Florida State University, found that high performing professionals—like elite athletes and musicians—maximize their performance with 90-minute bursts of activity. So, start there: Work, for example, on that PowerPoint presentation for a frenzied 90 minutes, then shake things up with a stretch break or walking meeting.

4. Be an Energizer

And once you have all that energy, don’t be stingy with it. Sharing it with others will motivate your team and boost your performance, too. According to The Hidden Power of Social Networks by Rob Cross and Andrew Parker, people who energize others are much higher performers, and they’re more likely to be heard and to have their ideas acted upon.

Just remember, being an energizer is a more subtle skill than being a cheerleading extrovert. Cross and Parker note that “energizers are not entertainers, or even necessarily very charismatic or intense. Rather, they bring themselves fully into an interaction.”

How exactly do you do that? Communications analytics company Quantified Impressions reported that simply making eye contact establishes an emotional connection with the person you’re speaking with. Want someone to know he or she has your undivided attention? Put away your cell phone, lean toward him or her, and make eye contact.

5. Understand Your Goal Orientation

According to the article “A Social-Cognitive Approach to Motivation and Personality” by Carol Dweck and Ellen Leggett, there are two types of goal orientation. People with mastery orientation are motivated by the challenge of learning something new, while people with performance orientation do better when striving for excellence by using their existing skills.

For example, a mastery-oriented individual who is tasked with improving her help desk metrics might motivate herself with a goal to re-engineer the process for incoming requests and achieve that goal by delving into the latest research and speaking to experts in other organizations. Someone who is performance-oriented, on the other hand, would do better with a goal of lifting metrics 15% above last quarter, working toward that by reviewing individual metrics from prior months, identifying when he performed at his peak, and then replicating those successes while striving to push the bar higher.

Which type are you? Whichever it is, tailor your goals and how you achieve them to suit the style that best motivates you.

Once you’ve found your personal formula for self-motivation and rejuvenation, you’ll be better prepared to pay it forward and go beyond being a solo star performer who motivates only him or herself. Now you can begin lifting up others as you climb. Ask yourself: How will you motivate those around you?

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