What are the 10 Commandments of Email communication?

 Finally, thou shalt not post company business on Facebook or Twitter, unless authorized in writing!

  • Thou shalt include a clear and specific subject
  • Thou shalt edit any quoted text down to the minimum thou needest.
  • Thou shalt read thine own message thrice before thou sendest it.
  • Thou shalt ponder how thy recipient might react to thy message
  • Thou shalt check thy spelling and thy grammar
  • Thou shalt not curse, flame, spam or USE ALL CAPS.
  • Thou shalt not forward any chain letter or internet meme.
  • Thou shalt not use e-mail for any illegal or unethical purpose.
  • Thou shalt not rely on the privacy of e-mail, especially from work.
  • When in doubt, save thy message overnight and reread it in the light of the dawn. 

5 pitfalls to understanding people’s motives

While watching the evening news a few weeks back, I encountered a fascinating example of why detecting and analyzing the behavior of others is so challenging. The newscasters were debating the motivation of Bernie Madoff, who was sentenced to 150 years in federal prison for perpetrating a multi-billion dollar Ponzi scheme that many believe is the most sinister white-collar crime in the history of mankind. The broadcasters had some intriguing ideas as to why Madoff would sacrifice his career, destroy his family, and risk the savings of thousands of investors for his own selfish gain.

The broadcasters concluded that Madoff’s motive was indisputably avarice and greed – a logical conclusion that is entirely wrong, at least based upon what Madoff told me, and what we know from research.  Read more

What are five motivational strategies that all successful leaders use?

As the story of Motivation for Learning and Performance unfolded, I was privileged to meet and interview a culturally eclectic and demographically diverse group of people.  My travels across continents introduced me to individuals that excelled in their chosen profession. Each person is what I like to call a “motivational leader,” reaching the pinnacle of performance in their domain, but also demonstrating the unique ability to inspire others, often without conscious deliberation or behavioral intent.   

Despite the vocational and cultural differences among the leaders, five consistent leadership strategies emerged during my interviews.  First, leaders frequently approached incredibly different challenges in similar ways, demonstrating patterns of behavior based upon a well-defined set of personal beliefs. A consistent linkage was observed between the beliefs they espoused and the behaviors they exhibited. Each leader indicated that to inspire trust in followers there must be uniformity between what we say and what we do.

Second, each person had an intentional and well-defined plan of action based upon personal commitment to one or more goals. Nothing was left to chance or happenstance. In essence, and in the language of psychologists, each person demonstrated an internal locus of control, taking full responsibility for successes AND failures.  Each person discounted luck and the unscripted nature of life as the cause of their behaviors and corresponding personal and professional development.

Third, each person credited a specific personal or spiritual inspiration that was instrumental in helping them form or clarify their goals. Each incredibly successful individual had a coach or an advisor that assisted them in becoming who they are, regardless of their existing level of prominence, skill, or knowledge. Spiritual did not necessarily mean the belief in a higher power, but a belief that wisdom cannot be gained from personal experience alone.

Fourth, inspirational leaders indicated that one key measure of their personal success was treating others with care and respect.  Leaders were both empathic and altruistic and decisively not egoistic. In other words, each leader felt that helping others was an integral part of their being.  Altruism was exhibited not for a separable payoff, such as feeling good about the self, but instead their behavior was motivated by a genuine need to help others.    

Fifth, motivational leaders expected to succeed, but also expected to fail. Surprisingly, each highly successful individual acknowledged failing many, many times. The reaction to failure was not one of discouragement, but instead failure was a catalyst allowing the person to understand what went wrong and to provide an opportunity to do things differently next time. In total, each individual communicated an optimistic outlook on life expecting to succeed, but realizing that obstacles and setbacks are an inevitable reality of life. 

Is too much confidence a motivational problem?

Having confidence is indisputably an attribute for success.  Actually, after accounting for ability, no other single quality is more influential on mediating performance outcomes than our belief in success to orchestrate desired results (Bandura, 1997).  But is having too much confidence a problem? YES, it is

Some practical examples of being overly confident include arriving late for an appointment because you underestimated your travel time, or overestimated your driving abilities. Perhaps, you are like some people who think they can complete a project quickly, only to wind up missing deadlines, because you ran out of time due to overly optimistic projections. Frequently, over confidence results in minimal exertion during task engagement, under the false belief that a task is easy or can be quickly completed. These common consequences of over-confidence may be damaging to your ego and possibly your reputation, but can be corrected with good planning skills and time management strategies.  However, it’s not always that easy.

Over-confidence can have more devastating implications too, just remember what happened after General Custer yelled “Charge” at the battle of Big Horn before many of his troops were massacred, or recall the misinformed ship Captain who proclaimed “it’s only a little ice” after hitting an iceberg that sank the unsinkable Titanic.  As we can see, over-confidence can have tragic consequences.  Since you likely won’t be engaged in tribal battles or piloting a 1912 cruise ship, instead let’s examine some other practical ramifications of our confidence beliefs.

Each one of us has personal theories about the way the world works.  You may have a view of the importance of education, or have beliefs about how humans should treat animals. You even have world views about the proper way to drive.  Have you ever been on a road trip, traveling down the lonesome highway when someone zooms past you at 80 mph?  How did you react?  If you are like some people, you probably have a pet name for that person that sped past you, something unflattering, such as idiot or moron!  How about when you are cruising along in the left lane, jamming to your favorite Justin Bieber tune, only to get stuck behind someone driving the speed limit, and much slower than you.  You probably have a derogatory name for that person too.  So it seems that both faster or slower drivers than you have the potential to provoke negative reactions. In other works, only your speed is the “right” speed, regardless of how fast you are driving!

So what does this have to do with confidence? We usually believe that our opinions, values, and worldviews are justified and appropriate compared to other people, and we are generally pretty darn confident about our perspectives.  The average person is quite comfortable with not only their way of driving, but their way of parenting, dressing, speaking, and yes, even their level of motivation and effort devoted to a task.  During one of my recent courses on motivation I asked my students to compare their motivation for learning and performance to a highly motivated fictional character. Twenty-six out of twenty-seven students proclaimed their motives were superior and more appropriate than the character!  Yes, it boils down to the general impression that we believe our way is best way, which in turn impacts our confidence because we are positively biased about our own skills and abilities.

There are plenty of expressions and terms to describe the psychological phenomena of personal bias that accounts for our preferential thinking.  Adjectives such as egotistical and narcissistic quickly come to mind.  Motivational scientists call the process of being overly confident about our personal perspectives and demonstrating myopic thinking patterns as demonstrating myside bias”. The phenomena occurs “when people evaluate evidence, generate evidence, and test hypotheses in a manner biased toward their own prior opinions and attitudes.” (Stanovich, West, & Toplak, 2013, p. 213). Consequences of myside bias predispose us to believe that our “way” is superior.  At best, myside bias usually means not being able to see the potential drawbacks of your own personal beliefs and perspectives. In the worst case, bias results in poor decisions because we only seek out evidence that confirms our pre-existing beliefs, clouding our analytical skills and interfering with our ability to solve problems correctly.

So, the problem is clearly identified. But how is myside bias and resulting over-confidence best approached?   The first step is to be more aware of when we have biased and potentially flawed thinking, by closely monitoring and reflecting upon our overall thinking process. Instead of making snap conclusions, we can wait and think about our thinking. Second, we should critically evaluate the evidence-gathering process, asking ourselves if we have evaluated ALL available evidence, or only information that supports our position.   A third step is openness to alternative conceptions and consideration of opinions that may refute our existing beliefs.

In the end, forestalling over-confidence and myside bias requires accurately calibrating your own abilities, while honestly evaluating task requirements.  If we are uncertain about what it takes to complete a task, we should be more conservative in our tasks judgments.  Similarly, proper calibration of ability must be demonstrated even when we believe we know a task inside and out. Over calibrating ability may result in exerting limited effort because we think a task is easy.  Under calibrating task requirements may result in stress and performance anxiety once we get a clearer picture of what skills are need to successfully complete the task.  Anxiety, in turn, zaps precious cognitive resources otherwise devoted towards task requirements.  As with most motivational factors, the greater your overall self-awareness, the higher the probability you will be able to overcome the psychological traps described.  Realistic and vigilant assessments will ultimately benefit your calibration accuracy and avoid the negative effects of myside bias.



Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. NY: W.H. Freeman.

Stanovich, K. E., West, R. F., & Toplak, M. E. (2013). Myside bias, rational thinking, and intelligence. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 22(4), 259-264.

Cashing in with Alec Torelli

The trip to see the Torelli’s was definitely worth the effort.  However, even armed with only neophyte knowledge of cognitive dissonance theory (Festinger, 1962), which states we seek out confirming post-hoc evidence to support our decisions, did you expect I would travel 10,000 miles to have a conversation and not try to convince you that I made the right choice?

Of course not! Individuals have a need to feel competent and actively try to validate the accuracy of their decisions and the superiority of their beliefs, and you can read about those two topics in Chapter Two of Motivation for Learning & Performance.   For now, let’s try and figure out Alec.

Speaking of beliefs, many of us have stereotyped impressions (otherwise known as implicit cognitions) that guide our interpretations of the world.  You probably have a generalized “theory” as to why Alec would spend most of his waking hours since the age of 16 thinking about playing poker.  So what do YOU visualize when you think about a poker player, or what I like to call a professional risk analyst?  If you watch any of the numerous poker tournaments on television you might envision a gregarious, mysterious, flamboyant mind manipulator, constantly focused on deceiving others to gain an upper hand and score piles of cash.  Well, if that’s what you think about Alec, you are completely wrong.

Alec is an anomaly, and clearly not a media hack looking for lucrative endorsements.  Sure, he wants to win cash, because money is the metric of success.  However, he values privacy, spirituality, and personal growth.  His cerebral qualities are demonstrated by his introspective and insightful nature.  A master of mathematics and probability, he is a boss of patience and self-regulation, despite the emotional turbulence and unpredictable outcomes that are built into to the game of poker.

Alec can have a miserable financial day, but still be a resounding success when he reflects on his performance.  Winning IS important, but managing yourself effectively is a critical skill that Alec has refined. Good hands or bad, win or lose, the personal metric of success for Alec is making the right decisions.  He approaches the game, and life in general, with a well-thought out plan.  He sets both short-term and long-term goals.  Each successive hand brings him closer to what he values most; his family and independence. 

During play he follows a routine, or in motivational terms a “strategic heuristic”, a formula designed to maintain an even keel and outwit his opponents.  Like an engaged classroom learner he monitors his thoughts and emotions, controlling his motivation with unwavering attention to the task at hand. He uses a variety of tools to regulate his body and mind before, during, an after play.

Most importantly he knows himself, his vulnerabilities and his strengths, and isn't afraid to acknowledge that he doesn't always make the best decisions.  It’s quite ironic that his greatest strength is his ability to regulate his emotions, because he rarely shows anyone how he really feels, regardless of size of the pot or the cards on the table.

At the end of the day he doesn't ruminate or complain to his lovely wife Ambra, it’s just another day and another lesson, bringing him closer to his ultimate goal.  Alec Torelli has found his MO, and he always looks forward, waiting and planning for the next golden opportunity to demonstrate that strength of mind and body can overcome any hand he is dealt.

Festinger, L. (1962). A theory of cognitive dissonance (Vol. 2). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Would you travel 10,000 miles for a single conversation?

Yes, the journey has begun.  Right now it’s taking me to Milan, Italy, via Zurich, Switzerland, seeking to find some motivation. Actually, the journey began quite some time ago.  It started when a graduate student lamented to me about not wanting to read complicated journal articles that seemed to be sinisterly crafted to confuse students and impress fellow PhDs.  I couldn’t offer much of a rebuttal to the rather straightforward idea that a motivation text that had practical and applied value was sorely needed. In the spirit of Berliner (1992), and countless other scholars who have advocated that the most reliable evidence-based findings are useless unless embraced by practitioners, the idea for Motivation for Learning and Performance was spawned.

Personally, I was disenchanted about the usual narrative style of traditional textbooks that presented countless descriptions of esoteric theory, devoid of what Mayer (2002) calls meaningful learning, the type of knowledge that people find valuable and useful.  Surely, a basic principle of promoting interest in learners is to make the material personally relevant.   Lacking relevance the probability of retention or application of the knowledge is nominal at best. 

But the publishing gap was wider.  A review of existing texts revealed that most books were generally written to address either maladaptive classroom behavior, or crafted for aspiring experimental psychologists, typically studying animal behavior.   There wasn’t much in between, and no text used the latest scientific evidence to address the fundamental principles of motivation from a multi-disciplinary perspective. Nothing existed to show learners how to maintain performance momentum in the face of obstacles, regardless of the context.  The gap needed to be filled.

So, you may be wondering why go across the globe to find motivation?  When conceiving the idea for the book I thought, what could be a better way to diagnosis, assess, and mediate issues of motivation than by talking to people about how they deal with their own motivational challenges.  Most people when motivating themselves or others look at the clues at hand and try to make sense of the evidence, using strategies of one kind or another that ultimately either accelerate success or impede their personal progress. 

I also thought what if I could talk to people from all walks of life, the type we encounter daily at work, school, or even in our own living room. I vetted the idea to a few colleagues and received positive feedback, but as they say on late night infomercials, “but wait there’s more.”  What if I spoke to people that have reached the pinnacle of success, or the depths of failure in their own disciplines and lives? Surely this approach would engage the reader and create some personal relevance.  Simultaneously, I could discuss researched-based practices, but instead of using fabricated case studies, I elected to use real people to bridge the research to practice link. The premise of the book was solidified, and the journey began.

The reason for going to Milan was to speak with what I call a “motivational leader”, an individual who has demonstrated many of the adaptive motivational strategies revealed by scientific evidence to be helpful to accelerate learning or performance.  One such leader is Mr. Alec Torelli, a professional poker play, who has twice played at the final table of the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas.  For the uninformed, the payout to the winner at the final table in Las Vegas is in excess of $2,000,000! When I asked my former Italian language instructor and Alec’s wife Ambra, “Why should I interview Alec?” she responded “he travels the globe in seek of high-stakes action.”  Ambra added, “We never know where we will be, Macau, Cannes, Monte Carlo, it changes day to day.”

Clearly I was intrigued, wondering what exactly might motivate someone to dedicate their waking hours to playing poker, risking fortunes, but for what purpose?  Money alone, fame, fortune, or none of the above? I quickly concluded that figuring out Alec was simple, he likely was driven by money, also known as being highly extrinsically motivated.  However, a brief phone screen with Alec revealed something very, very different.  Now you know my motivation to travel 10,000 miles to conduct a 45-minute interview.

Stay tuned for the details to find out why Alec is such an intriguing guy and learn why his story was certainly worth the trip.



Berliner, D. C. (1992). Telling the stories of educational psychology. Educational Psychologist27(2), 143-161.

Mayer, R. E. (2002). Rote versus meaningful learning. Theory into Practice, 41(4), 226-232.

The Journey Begins

Welcome to the FindingMO.com blog!

Over the course of 2014 we invite you to journey with us as we embark on the adventure of creative development of MOtivation for Learning and Performance: Lessons from Leaders. Our website will chronicle the development of the forthcoming book as well as provide resources for discovering what this phenomena is that we call Motivation.

Information about the upcoming book from Dr. Hoffman

The new book will use the latest scientific evidence to explain key principles of motivational science. In addition, the book will also feature vignettes of individuals across diverse cultures and disciplines telling their stories of challenge and success. An authentic humanistic approach will be employed using descriptive narrative developed through extensive interviews with “real” people, along with featured profiles of public individuals in sports, music, politics, and business.

The goal of the book is to provide a practical, applied, and multi-disciplinary resource for students and practitioners in fields such as applied learning, business, hospitality, administration, sports management, and those taught in military science. Additionally, the anecdotal and eclectic nature of the book should appeal to readers of non-fiction, who might use the book for self-help or motivational inspiration.

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