Friday, August 5, 2016

Burning Your Way to the Top

Personally I am skeptical of motivational speakers for the same reason I am skeptical of sellers of energy bracelets or any other magical solution.  In general, they get people all fired up about success in their personal or business lives and then send them back to the same old routine with the same old co-workers or family, who are not fired up.  Soon the enthusiasm wears off.  I have seen this over and over.

When the entire team is sent to one of these events to climb rope ladders and swing from trees, for example, forced to work together to solve some artificial and usually physical problem, they experience the same sort of half-life of enthusiasm.  They return to work to face the same business problems that are totally unrelated, except by a major stretch of the imagination, to those artificial problems encountered during the “field trip.”  With these more typical problems in more familiar surroundings and no one accountable for continued reinforcement, the spirit from the outdoor exercise quickly wanes. 

These types of events usually rely heavily on hype and endorsements from selected feedback forms filled out immediately afterward when the feelings are still fresh.

It didn’t surprise me at all then when I saw the headline back in June:  “More than 30 burned during famous motivational speaker's hot coal walk.”  Ambulances took five of the participants who were more seriously burned to Parkland Hospital Burn Center in Dallas.  “Members of Dallas Fire-Rescue also asked that a Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) bus be used as a staging-area for between 30 and 40 people who were less seriously hurt.”

The theory is that doing what you think is impossible, that is, walking across a bed of hot coals, leads you to face other challenges that seem impossible or, as they put it, to “conquer the other fires of your life with ease."  The organization’s statement says that there were only a few minor injuries out of 7,000 firewalkers.

Of course anyone who thinks walking across hot coals is impossible needs to do just a little research. This site tells about the history and science of fire walking.  Fire walking is really “no more impossible than putting your hand in a hot oven without getting burned.  It has to do with the heat capacity of the coals and the temporary insulation provided by the soles of the feet especially if the soles of the feet are wet from sweat, which they may be from the nervous energy of facing such a challenge.  “Thus, even if the coals are very hot (1,000 to 1,200 degrees), a person with ‘normal’ soles won't get burned as long as he or she doesn't take too long to walk across the coals and as long as the coals used do not have a very high heat capacity.”

“Nevertheless, some people do get burned walking across hot coals, not because they lack faith or willpower, but because the coals are too hot or have a relatively high heat capacity, or because the firewalker's soles are thin or he doesn't move quickly enough.”  In other words, the motivation is about getting moving and keeping moving, not about whether or not you get burned.

But doing a little research is critical thinking, and most people these days tend to skip it.  So the practice continues with people spending their own time and hard-earned dollars ($4995) to get this (often temporary) psychological boost.  This speaker, just one of many confidence builders available, has over 2.8 million followers on Twitter.  But wait!  If this stuff works, why do you need to be a follower?  I guess the effect really is temporary and you need a booster shot for continuing to do what you think is impossible.  Or perhaps followers must check to see if the guru has come up with another secret or magic formula since you last attended, a secret that you can’t miss out on for fear of losing your edge!

These rah-rah gatherings might very well work for some people, probably the few that stick with it.  But I believe long-term motivation comes not from a seminar, but from within.  So one week of your time plus $5000 and the possibility of burned feet seems like a big investment for a questionable reward.  Needless to say, I’m still skeptical.

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