For someone who has no objective, nothing is relevant. (Confucius)
After the incubation stage

The knowledge that you are motivated, have achieved a sense of competency, purpose, and respect from your peers, and that you have become dedicated to maintaining your motivation is overwhelmingly powerful. Once aligned with your child-like mind, which is absorbent of new information, your commitment helps blow away any negative voices you might experience. You have achieved something new to live for rather than just something to deal with.

You can benefit from setting aside a little time every day to exercise the incubation stage. The idea is to develop the habit of paying attention to your own observations during the day. What kind of negativity hinders you? Hopefully, you will strengthen your motivation, develop greater trust in your own motivation process, and instinctively turn to it when you are confronted with apathy and negativity.

It might also be helpful to exchange ideas or discuss your incubation stages with a friend or someone you trust. Creating further enthusiasm while discussing or exchanging your ideas can be astounding. Powerful incubation stages might provide you with some of the most emotionally charged and richest moments of your life.

We strongly suggest that you keep a journal for analyzing and reflecting on the small incubation processes. Writing about your experiences during the incubation stage increases the likelihood that you’ll be able to recapture them. As you start paying more attention to your own motivation process, it tends to become a beneficial habit. You will create a general awareness that will lead to greater enjoyment of your life and the people in it—a motivating spirit that can improve collaboration and communication with others. This is based on a simple principle: motivation increases as you become more aware of your own motivating spirit. The more you can experience your own motivating spirit and the more confidence you gain, the greater the probability that you’ll be more motivated.

Continue tapping into your Flair for something.

We believe that when you were a kid, you had a flair for something, a talent. If your parents were supportive of that talent, you would be an expert in it. Talent is the natural propensity to be able to produce great work in a particular domain. There was something Mozart had from the start that made it easy for him to listen to music, to understand it, and to be able to produce so much, so well, at such an early age.

But without parental support, even the most promising talent will languish. And with proper skill development, even an average talent can become the basis for motivation and creativity. Inside these little incubation stages, you need to tap into this flair again and again; you need to be able to develop skills to imagine a diverse range of possibilities and an ability to turn things over in your mind.

Many of these skills have to do with being willing to take risks and having the courage to find that flair and that passion and/or to try something you’ve never done before. The psychological term is intrinsic motivation, the urge to do something for the sheer pleasure of doing it rather than for any prize or compensation. The opposite kind of motivation, extrinsic motivation, makes you do something not because you want to but because you have to. Extrinsically motivated is when you do something for a reward, to please someone, or to get a good evaluation. Real Motivation starts forming when people are motivated by the pure enjoyment of what they are doing. A Nobel Prize-winning physicist was asked what he thought made the difference between creative and uncreative scientists. He said it was whether or not their work was “a labor of love.”

Competency is one of the main components of satisfaction in life. No one can achieve lasting self-esteem without competency. Competency was high on the list in research at the University of Missouri to identify the satisfying elements of life.

Talents, however, are not really required, but Passion is.

The most motivated and accomplished scientists are not always the most gifted, but the ones who are impelled by a driving childlike curiosity and passion. To some degree, a strong passion can make up for a lack of raw talent. Passion is like the fire underneath. Passion is your motivation boiling over and over again.

To develop a true sense of competency, we don’t believe you need to be the best, the world’s greatest teacher, or the most gifted architect, manager, or engineer; you just have to feel that you’re good at what you do and do it with passion. Perhaps the result is that, while you are doing it, you will teach someone what it means to have passion. It could be your child. Your child does not know how good you are at what you are doing. He is just a child. You might be Martha Stewart or just a simple housewife when you cook. But your child learns your passion from you.

Obviously, if you feel competent at something, you’re more likely to stick to it and perhaps even excel at it. You may then get more praise and feel even better about your abilities. But from the point of view of healing your apathy and getting to motivation, any “objective” scale of excellence is irrelevant. Happiness depends on being able to do things that make you feel competent.

Professor Ellen Langer, in her excellent book called On Becoming An Artist, says:

Would Mozart have been able to compose great music if he had been born and raised in China, where atonal sounds are appreciated? If Picasso had been born in Bali, would there have been a point to his art? To be talented in art means what? Consider Picasso, Matisse, Pollock, Miro, Mondrian, and Rembrandt. They are all thought to be very talented, but their work has little in common. When we say we have no talent for art, with whom are we comparing ourselves? John Donne was a very cerebral poet; E. E. Cummings was wonderfully playful; and Emily Dickinson was mostly emotional. When we say we can’t write poetry, with which of these talents are we comparing ourselves? The music of John Cage is quite different from that of Mozart, whose music bears hardly any resemblance to Chinese opera. Tiger Woods, Serena Williams, and the jockey Jose Santos use different muscles in different ways, yet they are all great athletes. Each of these domains—art, poetry, music, and sport—is multidimensional. To our detriment, we tend to reduce them to a single understanding when we speak of the talent they require.


That authenticity is all I seek in my painting. If I am authentic, I am necessarily original. Will there be an audience that appreciates the originality? Yes or no, but that question doesn’t speak to whether there is talent operating. Even those who today we are certain were talented—for instance, Manet, van Gogh, or Pollock—had no audience at first. In fact, each new movement in art—or, for that matter, the beginning of any paradigm shift in any discipline—is at first rejected. Would we want to say these artists were not talented because they lacked audience appreciation? Of course not, yet many of us consider their works inferior by comparison. As we will learn, we now see their talent because of the ways we were taught to see it, not because it is a foregone conclusion that they were talented or, more precisely, that we are not.

Let me make an extreme assertion: Everybody has equal talent for everything. We may differ in the particulars that suit our unique experiences and in the degree of appreciation we earn from our audiences. If we look beyond mere talent, it is interesting to consider that even the theories of most geniuses were rejected in their day. Did they not have any talent when they were unappreciated? Audience appreciation, after all, is psychologically determined in large part. It is one part conformity, one part a willingness to engage the stimulus, one part the context in which the work is viewed, one part the mindfulness of the viewer, and finally, of course, some aspect of the work itself.

A study shows how believing can be seen.

Scientists have found a link between what we expect to see and what our brain tells us we actually saw. The study, published February 15 in the open-access journal PLoS Computational Biology, reveals that the context surrounding what we see is all important, sometimes overriding the evidence gathered by our eyes and even causing us to imagine things that aren’t really there.

Using a mathematical model, researchers Li Zhaoping and Li Jingling at University College London determined that a vague background context is more influential and helps us fill in more blanks than a bright, well-defined context. This may explain why we are prone to seeing imaginary shapes in the shadows when the light is poor.

Eighteen observers were asked to concentrate on the center of a black computer screen. Every time a buzzer sounded, they pressed one of two buttons to record whether or not they had just seen a small, dim, gray “target” rectangle in the middle of the screen. It did not appear every time, but when it did appear, it was displayed for just 80 milliseconds.

“People saw the target much more often if it appeared in the middle of a vertical line of similar-looking gray rectangles, compared to when it appeared in the middle of a pattern of bright white rectangles,” said Zhaoping. “They even registered ‘seeing’ the target when it wasn’t actually there. This is because people are mentally better prepared to see something vague when the surrounding context is also vague. It made sense for them to see it, so that’s what happened. When the target didn’t match the expectations set by the surrounding context, they saw it much less often.

“Mathematical modeling suggests that visual inference through context is processed in the brain beyond the primary visual cortex. By starting with a relatively simple experiment such as this, where visual input can be more easily and systematically manipulated, we are gaining a better understanding of how context influences what we see. Further studies along these lines can hopefully enable us to dissect the workings behind more complex and wondrous illusions.”

Filling-in and suppression of visual perception from context: A Bayesian account of perceptual biases by contextual influences
Zhaoping L., Jingling L.
PLoS Comput Biol 4(2): e14. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.0040014
Please click here to view the article online.

About PLoS Computational Biology

PLoS Computational Biology features works of exceptional significance that further our understanding of living systems at all scales through the application of computational methods. All works published in PLoS Computational Biology are open access. Everything is immediately available, subject only to the condition that the original authorship and source are properly attributed. Copyright is retained by the authors. The Public Library of Science uses the Creative Commons Attribution License.

PLoS Computational Biology

About the Public Library of Science

The Public Library of Science (PLoS) is a non-profit organization of scientists and physicians committed to making the world’s scientific and medical literature a freely available public resource.

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