How a healthy ability to self-validate will boost your productivity

The key to limitless motivation is having a strong sense of purpose, fuelled by confident decisions. And having confidence in your decisions stems from feeling validated.

Feeling validated is nice. Whether that’s a ‘like’ on a Facebook post, a retweet on Twitter, or a glowing email from your boss — being told we’re great is amazing. It reinforces our belief in ourselves and in our work, which perpetuates a feeling of confidence and motivation. And this is only a good thing…right? Yes, but not always.

What if you only rely on external sources for this validation?

This is risky for two reasons. Firstly, people don’t always have time to tell you what a good job you’ve done. If we all slowed down or stopped every time our stream of validation was drying up, we’d never get anything done.

Secondly, your peers might not actually see the value in what it is you’re doing. People who seek external validation are far more likely to stop and change their route according to the opinions of their peers, which leads down a path that is initially less stressful, but ultimately both unfulfilling and demotivating: when you’re living your life according to someone else’s expectations, you’re not fulfilling your own desires.

Continually self-validating your own work — especially in the face of opposition — is no easy task. But just remember: JK Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was rejected 12 times. Stephen King’s first book Carrie was rejected 30 times. And Walt Disney was told that Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was going to ruin him. Look at how much they achieved when they ignored the naysayers.

Self-validating is crucial for success. But according to the Objective Leader Assessment, 55% of people tie their sense of self-worth to what others think. The good news is, even if you put yourself firmly with the majority, self-validation can be learned. It essentially boils down to gaining an understanding of where you seek validation, then changing your mindset by employing a few psychological tricks.

“Do what you love, and don’t stop until you get what you love. Work as hard as you can, imagine immensities…” – Debbie Millman

Do you have a fixed or growth mindset?

Carol D. Dweck, a Stanford Psychologist, found that how we see our own personalities shapes our belief systems. And she came up with two different models: the fixed mindset, which believes intelligence, ability, and creativity is fixed; and a growth mindset, which believes all the aforementioned qualities are flexible and improvable with effort.

A fixed mindset

People with a fixed mindset believe their intelligence is static. They are consumed by a desire to look smart and prove themselves. As a result, they may reach a plateau and achieve less than their full potential. They generally have a deterministic view of the world and have a tendency to:

  • Avoid challenges for fear of failing or appearing incompetent
  • Avoid obstacles and give up easily
  • See effort as pointless
  • Ignore useful or negative feedback
  • Feel threatened by the success of others

A growth mindset

People with a growth mindset believe their intelligence can be expanded through hard work and practice. They continue achieving and growing throughout their life. They also have a greater sense of purpose and free will, and therefore tend to:

  • Embrace challenges
  • Persist in the face of obstacles or setbacks
  • See effort as the path to progress or mastery
  • Learn from negative criticism
  • See the successes of others as inspiration

It’s totally normal to feel good when other people validate our work. And when you’ve worked hard, you absolutely deserve to bask a little in the warm glow of praise.

But if you find yourself feeling good only when others praise you, rather than getting a sense of affirmation from your own sense of accomplishment, it could mean you have a validation problem.

So how do you change your mindset and set off on a path of fulfilling productivity?

3 Steps to self-validation

1. Know your strengths

Research shows that when you know your strengths, you have better self-esteem, which helps mitigate stress. This, in turn, helps you confidently steer your career with more confidence and conviction.

To work out your strengths, find a quiet place to sit down with a pen and piece of paper (yes, this exercise is best done handwritten.) Take a few minutes to assess your personal qualities. When do you thrive? When do you struggle? What types of situations make you feel most in charge and capable? This is essentially a soul-searching task, so don’t rush it. If you’re struggling, try listing a few common attributes people consider positive off the top of your head and begin assessing yourself against those.

If you’re still at a loss as to how you really feel, then look for some expert outside help via an online survey or book dedicated to helping you articulate your strengths.

2. Address your needs

In order to self-validate your choices and accomplishments, you need to regularly ask yourself, “what do I need right now?”

Many of us are living our lives according to other people’s expectations: from the student studying law because her parents pressured her into it, to the employee who’s burnt out after working 12 hour days because his peers all stay late in the office. Everyone around us — from our parents to our partners to our colleagues — all influence our decisions in life. Sometimes this is helpful. But often, other people’s’ opinions get a little too noisy and drown out what it is we really want.

Listen to your emotions and trust your gut. If something’s making you miserable and unmotivated, it’s probably not the right choice for you. This isn’t the same as something that’s a challenge; when we’re working on something that truly matters to us, then hard work rarely makes us miserable.

3. Inspire yourself

An aversion to trying new things is a trait of those with a fixed mindset. Challenge this mindset by trying a new experience each day. This could be something small like reading a book, watching a movie, going for a walk, or simply going out for lunch instead of eating a sandwich at your desk. Basically, anything that takes you away from your desk and exposes you to new stimuli.

Your brain may be a little reluctant at first, but the more you do it, the more comfortable you’ll feel stepping away from work.

When we stay chained to our desks, life becomes flat and repetitive. When you incorporate hobbies, passions, or side interests into your day, you stimulate your brain in new ways, which has been proven to boost creativity and mood. And because you’re showing yourself that you and your interests matter, your feeling of self-worth will skyrocket, too. This, in turn, will bring fresh energy and creativity to your work, making it easier for you to self-validate.

If you’re really struggling to step away from your work, then get tough: schedule in a set time each day and stick to it. Start small and use your lunch break to do something away from your computer, then build on it from there. And if you still need convincing that less is more when it comes to work, then turn to the experts: it’s scientifically proven that working fewer hours boosts your productivity.

Final thoughts

The key to achieving your goals lies in nurturing a sense of confidence and purpose. You don’t have to completely stop listening to other people, but you do need to see more value in your own choices. And making just a few small adjustments to your mindset has the power to wield a big change over your sense of self-worth.

If you’re a manager, then you should give your team positive feedback as much as possible – whether that’s in person, or just a quick smiley face emoji sent over your team chat app. But remember to encourage a culture of growth-mindset thinking by praising not just a job well done, but the effort and a commitment to embrace new challenges.

This will encourage your team to adopt a passion for learning, rather than fuel a need for approval. And a passionate team is a more productive one — not to mention a happier one!

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