Find Your Greatness

When I was in high school, there were two factions with regard to Nike. In one, you might shoot someone or get shot for a pair of Air Jordans. In the other, you wouldn't touch a pair of Nikes and you wrote letters to headquarters about their overseas labor practices.

There wasn't much in between.

Once we got past that time, Nike got beyond their corporate reputation and focused on their branding. They had some pretty cool ads for a while, but then they did something I love: messaging.

Like in the Michael Jordan failure ad.

Jordan isn't exactly someone we associate with failure.

"Find your greatness" is a no-brainer with the Olympics. Olympic athletes are great, and one of my favorite things about the Olympics is the ability for me to watch sports I don't get to see often. Handball. Water polo. That kind of stuff.

Great athletes play those sports, and while they might be as athletic as Michael Jordan, they'll never reach his level of fame, wealth or just general ubiquity.

With that, though, is a series of ads featuring regular people finding their own greatness. Like an overweight 12-year-old from London, Ohio, trying to drop some pounds getting into jogging.

While I see a lot of athletes in my day-to-day life (pro athletes, people who run marathons and do triathlons for fun like it's their life), more than two-thirds of the people I see are like Nathan.

They're finding their own greatness.

Let's be clear, too, that this isn't just about sport, it's about life. Your greatness is within reach, you just have to find it.

Great job, Nike. I'm digging your campaign.

Intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation: Nike gets it right

"Just Do It," says Nike. Just do it. Just. Fucking. Do. It. It's really all you have to do. It doesn't matter what it is, just get busy living it.

For some people, the most difficult thing they do all day is get out of bed. For some, it's because they don't know what the day will bring. Not getting out of bed allows them to avoid uncertainty. For others, it's because they do know what the day will bring. They don't want to face another 8 or 10 or 12 or 24 hours of whatever-it-is.

Just about all of them, however, do put their feet on the floor, get some shoes on their feet and get out the door. Why? It doesn't matter. They made the choice to just do it.

So, what motivates us to just do it? You'd be surprised, it seems. Dan Pink, in the above video, talks about the science of motivation. Extrinsic rewards (think money and free stuff) don't help. In fact, they hinder most processes.

Pink talks about "the candle problem." I'll spoil it for you.

You are placed at a table surrounded by walls. You are given a box of thumbtacks, a candle and a book of matches. You are assigned the task of attaching the candle to the wall in such a way that no wax drips on the table.

One group is assigned the task with no reward promised. Another group is assigned the task and told that if they finish among the first 20% of people, they'll get $5.

Invariably, the group promised $5 finishes over three minutes slower than everyone else.

The solution to the problem, and it gets more obvious when you see pictures of the setup, is to dump the thumbtacks out of the box, tack the box to the wall, and put the candle in the box, so the wax drips on the box, not the table.

The people promised the money couldn't get the creative part of it; the money made them think too linearly.

Need proof of that linear thinking? When presented with the thumbtacks already out of the box, those with the extrinsic motivation – that is, the money – are able to finish faster, since the solution is right there in front of them.

Let's take it out of the laboratory.

Adonal Foyle (Central New York link: Colgate grad!) played NBA basketball for a while. He made good money (multi-year, multi-million dollar contracts). But his career was short-lived because he had so much trouble maintaining a healthy weight. He even had a personal chef to try to control it.

But he couldn't. He just didn't have the intrinsic motivation to get it done. He didn't just do it.

At some point, you have to make the decision to get up and get back on the horse. Nobody else cares if you succeed. Or fail. You have to.

Let me tell you about Ben. Ben has struggled with his weight for a long time and about six weeks ago, he was watching an episode of "The Biggest Loser" and he said, "OK, I'm going to do something about my weight." Here's the kicker: He got out of bed, went to the gym, and started training.

He still has his struggles. He fell off the horse recently, but recognized that if he just set his mind to it, he could get back on. He had to just do it.

And as long as we're talking exercise, even Richard Simmons can't help you if you don't want to help yourself.

The motivation has to come from you. You have to just do it.

Competition, writes Seth Godin, brings out lowest common denominator. You only run as fast, ride as far, play as hard as you have to in order to win. You don't live up to your full potential. And speaking of full potential, a recent study showed that if you were lied to and told 2% above your best effort was actually your best effort, you could beat that 2% increase – that is, if your best mile is a 10-minute mile but you're paced against a timer that's off, you can beat a 9:48; that's a pretty big drop.

So you have to find that motivation from within. Some tools:

Day Zero Project allows you to create a "101 things to do in 1001 days" list, and track it (hat tip to Amber).
Watch Me Change is an app that works with your cell phone camera to line up before-and-after photos that then overlay so you can watch the shape of your body change as you bulk up or slim down.

It's up to you. "Do or do not, there is no try," Yoda said. So do it. Just. Do. It.