Steve Jobs Believed In the Power of Encouragement. But Science Says This Form of ‘Discouragement’ Can Be Even More Powerful

Steve Jobs was pissed. After just one day in his pocket, the screen on his iPhone prototype was scratched and chipped.

Plastic  clearly wasn’t the answer, so Jobs called Corning Glass CEO Wendell Weeks to ask about using glass. Weeks recalled an extremely durable product, one so tough they called it “gorilla glass,” that company had developed decades earlier but never actually produced. 

Jobs asked for enough gorilla glass to produce millions of iPhones — in less than six months. Weeks said that was impossible.

“Don’t be afraid,” Jobs said. “You can do it.” Weeks said the time period was insufficient to overcome the technical challenges

“Don’t be afraid, ” Jobs repeated. “You can do it.” Weeks described the logistical challenges. The production challenges. The supply chain challenges.

“Don’t be afraid,” Jobs kept saying. “You can do it.”

While Jobs was famous (notorious?) for being a tough taskmaster, that story from Walter Isaacson’s bestselling book Jobs shows the Apple co-founder also understood the power of encouragement — of believing, no matter how impossible the challenge, in other people. 

That’s how great leaders motivate and inspire the people around them to achieve great things.

According to a 2018 Drexel University studyclearly describing the difficulties someone will face in achieving a goal doesn’t discourage or demotivate them. Instead, pointing out the challenges can actually boost their motivation and resolve.

Rather than acting as cheerleaders giving facile encouragement, leaders… might serve their (teams) better by providing a more sobering description of they face.

Questioning the usefulness of building self-control skills… may have bolstered the very capacity it was meant to downplay.

Yep: If I tell you something will be really hard — maybe even so hard you can’t do it — may cause you to try even harder if only just to prove me wrong. (Call it the Michael Jordan Effect.) But there’s a deeper factor at play.

Imagine I tell you about something big I hope to accomplish. You’re a good person. You encourage me. You tell me you believe in me.

You channel your inner Rob Schneider and say, “You can do it!”

After all, that’s what friends do. 

But then I run into the first roadblock. The first major challenge. The moment when I realize that maybe I can’t do it, the painfully hard middle period Seth Godin calls The Dip

And now I have a problem. My misguided belief that accomplishing something difficult would be easy created unrealistic expectations. I thought — you thought, or at least said — it would be easy for me.

I expected things to go differently.

What should you do when I tell you about a huge goal I want to accomplish? 

Tell me that it could require more of me than I expect. Tell me that there will be down moments. Tough moments. Moments that I might want to quit. 

Tell me that doing something hard… will actually be hard. 

Then, when I hit the dip, I’ll know it was coming. “Hard” will be an expected part of the process. 

And I’ll be much more likely to stay the course. 

The next time you encourage someone to do something difficult, don’t sugar-coat the effort involved. Don’t claim it will be easy, or simple, or painless.

Be encouraging, but realistic.

Say, “Wow, that sounds hard.”  Say, “You can do it… but it’s going to take an incredible amount of hard work.” Say, “You can do it… but it’s going to take a ton of willpower and mental toughness.”

And then ask how you can help.

Because helping is the ultimate form of encouragement.

The same holds true when you decide to take on a huge challenge. Don’t try to convince yourself it will be easy. Expect challenges. Expect road blocks. Expect the dip.

That way, when times get tough — as times always do — you won’t get discouraged.

Because you went into it knowing it would be hard, and are mentally prepared to prove to yourself that it won’t be too hard.

The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of

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