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Make Fear a Nine Day Wonder - Motivate Yourself with Fun!

By Cliff Kuhn, M.D.

Have you heard something referred to as a "nine day wonder"? The phrase refers to something that causes a sensation for a brief period of time and then fades into obscurity. The origin of this phrase is usually tied to the nine-day reign of Lady Jane Grey (1537-1554) as Queen of England. This reluctant queen met an untimely fate. More on that later...

I added a new Fun Commandment recently to address a very pesky and persistent nine day wonder we all face - fear as a motivator. Fear is a great motivator...for a brief period. Then it does worse than fade into obscurity; fear adds to our load of stress and pressure. So I'm calling for an end to this nine day wonder's reign with my Fun Commandment, Motivate Yourself with Fun Rather than Fear.

Motivating yourself with fun rather than fear pays big dividends in myriad ways. Making this choice accelerates your ability to communicate, rests your brain, lowers your stress, increases your tolerance for pain, among other things. In this article, however, I am focusing on one incredibly important and impactful side effect of this Commandment - using fun to motivate yourself increases your creativity.

Creativity is an ability highly sought by businesses and employees alike. Creativity is trumpeted in every mission statement and praised by every CEO for good reason - we know that creativity brings breakthroughs! Since the ability to create breakthroughs is both a highly sought after and also a highly marketable skill, creativity gets a lot of deserved attention.

Yet there are still many myths to dispel about creativity. One of the biggest myths is that creativity is fueled by time pressure. Time pressure is an example of fear-based motivation because it involves trying to escape a negative consequence rather than moving toward a positive outcome. Deadlines are a reality, but using fear to fuel our creative juices has the opposite effect.

The alternative is to use fun as our motivator. Theresa Amabile, head of the Entrepreneurial Management Unit at Harvard Business School, has been studying creativity for 30 years. For the past 8 years she has collected nearly 12,000 daily journal entries from 238 people working on creative projects in seven large corporations. She and her team scoured journals for moments when people struggled with a problem or came up with a new idea. The following rules for using fun to motivate creativity are inspired directly from Amabile's research.

  1. Deadlines are fear-based; if you want to be creative you must give yourself an "incubation period." Deadlines create distractions that rob your attention, the research indicates. Even with a deadline looming, to get creative you should focus on your work in an environment protected from distractions.

  2. Competition is fear-based; collaboration is fun-based. If you want to amplify your creativity, the research tells you to foster the confidence to share your ideas with others. Be open to debate with collaborators and create a noncompetitive environment. You'll hit new heights of creativity!

  3. Catching people doing things right, rather than punishing them for doing things wrong, is fun-based. Public celebrations, according to the research, of accomplishments are a boon for creativity. If you want to spark creativity, publicly recognize someone's work or contributions!

  4. Sparking intrinsic motivation is what fun accomplishes when you use it as a motivator. Intrinsic motivation, the research proves, is critical to creativity. Anyone, it turns out, can be highly creative - when they become intrinsically motivated! Motivating yourself with fun clears away barriers and allows your experience, knowledge, and skills to foster new, creative ways of thinking.

  5. You are more likely to have a creative breakthrough if you were happy the day before. When you're happy, which usually happens as a byproduct of fun-based motivation, the research clearly indicates a great chance of your happiness "incubating" overnight to show up as a creative idea the following day.

How about that? I couldn't have asked for more compelling evidence that fun is a better personal and professional motivator than fear. Amabile's 8-year study clearly shows that today's happiness predicts tomorrow's creativity! So start getting happy today by motivating yourself with fun and then re-create your world tomorrow!

By the way, Lady Jane Grey was reluctant to take the throne of England because she was only 15 years old and she held unpopular Protestant beliefs. Her reluctance was well-founded; the young Queen relinquished the crown after just 9 days, plead guilty to treason, and was eventually beheaded.

Let's give fear, as our motivator, the same fate. Fear becomes a nine day wonder when we replace it with fun today!

About The Author
How to turbo-charge your health, success, and vitality! Clifford Kuhn, M.D., America's Laugh Doctor, teaches people and organizations to be more healthy and successful through the use of fun and humor. A psychiatrist, and the former associate chairperson of the University of Louisville's renowned Department of Psychiatry.


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