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5 things to do when hard work and motivation don’t pay off

We all have heard at least once the usual advice: “if you work hard and you have the motivation, you will get there”. And then we suddenly realize:

Hey, it is the beginning of the year ! I have put in the hours and I am fully motivated to succeed…. Yet I still didn’t get that promotion.

Let me tell you something first: Hard work and motivation are NOT KEY FACTORS to climb the ladder in our modern corporate world. Take a breather and think about the last time people you know that got that promotion…. and read again:

Hard work and motivation are NOT KEY FACTORS.

Here are some things to consider:

  • For the same position, there are a bunch of candidates that work as many hours as you do

  • Productivity is not the same as working hard. As Charles Duhigg says: “Productivity, put simply, is the name we give our attempts to figure out the best uses of our energy, intellect, and time as we try to seize the most meaningful rewards with the least wasted effort. It’s a process of learning how to succeed with less stress and struggle.”

  • Our brain is built in a way that our subconscience dominates our acts and no matter how many times your rational brain is repeatedly “motivated” … it is not what will produce the required change to adapt for what matters to get that promotion

Here are some actions that you can start to create your road map to recognition as well as satisfaction in your career:

1. Stop working hard on your tasks – the decision for promotions derives of a collective decision, so if only your boss knows that you work hard and not others; It is insufficient to reach your goal

2. Allocate time to develop networks of influence to get the required visibility to support your career progression – regardless of the seniority level, get a network to know you and be consistent on the frequency of interactions. It doesn’t have to be a long interaction as long as it is recurrent

3. Develop productive habits and remove roadblocks to your productivity. Start by producing a list of the most recurrent tasks for your week, rank them according to the effort required to achieve them, and make it your goal to transform the least productive (choose 3 – you need to start somewhere). Remember, there are not too many ways of taking an action: you ditch, you automatize, you delegate or you innovate

4. Stop thinking about your main goal (that promotion!) – it produces anxiety and a negative mindset. Your brain doesn’t like it, and it limits your agility – which people notice. Replace this main goal with smaller objectives that you can attain in a quicker way; like making time to develop your network. These smaller objectives should be supporting your main goal - focus on them

hard work and motivation don’t pay off

5. Finally and the most important; start designing your own "change" program:

  • Divide your main objectives to achieve your goals into simple activities that will last 1 or 2 weeks; for example “I will start talking to the finance guys during my coffee break”

  • Plan to change or increase the intensity of the activity every 2 weeks

  • When the activity is accomplished, congratulate yourself – give yourself a small reward that will make your brain associate the activity to a positive emotion

  • Create cues to remind you of the activities in your plan (post-its or outlook or anything that will make you think of your commitment)

  • In a nutshell, what you will be doing is creating a new habit (a way for your brain to automatize the processing of a change), making recurrent small steps until your brain digests the information as a reflex, to make change happen in an easier way

Convinced? the change starts with a small action!

Neuroscience is the science of the brain impacting our behaviors and personal motivations – our biology determines how best we can make our brain accept any changes in our lives.


Ivan Palomino

Founder of Bessern

We fast-track behavior change


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