Warning – this post includes spoilers for the film Pulp Fiction.
Why is it so hard at times to find your mojo? I know that I’m not the only one of us who has sat looking at a blank page or the commencement of a project, wondering where to start. Even prior to composing this blog I had to take a deep breath – like bracing myself before a dive into an icy pool – and try to summon some determination and enthusiasm to bring up the goods. It’s not that I don’t like writing; it’s just that all of us occasionally have days when it is hard to feel motivated. The root of the problem is friction between what you know you should do and what you actually feel motivated to achieve.
Fortunately, there are things that you can do to help yourself, as both change and action are influenced by attitude:
- Think of a reward that you will enjoy once you have started to break the back of the task – a cup of tea? A phone call that you’ve been wanting to make? A walk? Lunch with a friend? A fresh picked plum from the garden? But be careful to remain aware of your reaction towards short and long-term gain.
|Drinking Tea, Konstantin Makovsky 1839-1915|
- Act as though you are inspired and engaged – research shows that if you pretend to be happy and motivated – smiling, encouraging others and explaining your plans in a positive and uplifting manner – you often begin to feel the way that you are appearing, because the body releases confidence boosting hormones.
- Inspire yourself by looking back on great things that you have done and avoid mistakes by understanding when things have not gone as planned. Think about ways that you have succeeded or failed in completing similar tasks or projects in the past. Can you use the same approach; are there some short cuts to success that might help you or things you should avoid.
- Try positivity – there are a number of viral challenges circulating round Social Media at the moment, that have their roots in psychology – for example #3Goodthings on Twitter, where people list three occurrences that have made their day enjoyable. If you can, make sure that listing small successes, or the ground that you have gained towards achieving a dreaded task, occurs in your record on a regular basis.
- Mix with a different group of people – if those around you are dragging you down, or preventing you from getting on with something important, spend less time with them, so that you don’t become tainted by their attitude and approach. This approach is advocated in sport, but can apply to any aspect of life.
- Frame your thoughts in a different manner – instead of fretting that “I can’t do it”, change the sentence into “I can do it if…” and fill in the blanks – often that can be sufficient to get you started. As Jimmy Cliff once sang “You Can Get It If You Really Want”.
What is it that makes or prevents people from doing that which they know they should?
On Saturday evening our family watched Pulp Fiction. The film is 20 years old this year, but it still has the ability to surprise, shock and make you think. The longer I ponder the plot and its themes the more I get out of it.
A clever film, it is superficially about the apathy and nihilism of our modern, Western culture, however, the more compelling sub-plots are the personal dilemmas and contrasts between the characters. The distinct segmentation of the film hangs together on the threads of care and duty that individuals bear towards one another. Self-interest and personal preservation are strong motivators for all of the characters, but the film is deeper than that. Two of the three core individuals, namely Butch and Jules, are on journeys of self-discovery from moral corruption to compassion and a degree of spiritual awakening. They are in contrast to Vincent, who is unable to appreciate his need to change. Symbolically he is isolated from others at crucial stages in the plot (deliberately removing himself further from those around him by retiring to the toilet, where he pontificates to himself or immerses himself in the fantasy world of a Modesty Blaise comic). It is this self-isolation that ultimately leads to his demise. In contrast to Jules, Vincent refuses to see any greater meaning to his life, indeed he chooses indulge in a trashy existence, even stealing the dance trophy (as announced in the background on the radio when Butch returns to his flat) and only blowing a kiss to Mia, the nearest he gets to a genuine relationship, once she is no longer looking at him and hence he can avoid the emotional connection with another being.
We in the world of work can learn a lot from Pulp Fiction:
- People are inspired to do the right things when they have a sense of purpose. The speech that Jules makes at the end, in the diner, (superbly acted by Samuel L. Jackson), is haunting and in contrast to the recited, pseudo biblical sermon that he ritually makes when killing people as a hit-man. The intensity in his eyes as he says "You are the weak and I am the tyranny of evil men, but I’m tryin’…I’m tryin’ real hard to be the shepherd.” stays with you, and it is this passion that inspires the robbers to depart, leaving the briefcase and thereby enabling Jules to complete his last task for his boss.
- Accidents will happen (witness poor Marvin) and effort usually is required to clear things up – indeed, sometimes, external assistance is the necessary solution to ensure that a job gets done (Winston Wolfe clearly makes a good living as an efficient “cleaner” and some of my best friends are consultants).
- People will do the wrong things when there is friction and discord or if they are frightened (witness the massacre in the flat, especially when Brett’s associate bursts from the bathroom and fires wildly, missing his targets, but creating greater carnage).
- Most individuals are self-seeking, but can be encouraged to rise above their base needs, and contribute towards the greater good, if they have a vision that inspires them. Butch’s decision to rescue Marcellus from the rapists is partially self-seeking, in that it provides him with an opportunity to reduce the longer-term danger to himself and his girlfriend, but he also does decide to help a man, who only a short while earlier was seeking to kill him, after a moment of deliberation, because he knows it is the right thing to do.
- People are inspired by people, Butch needs the motivation provided by thoughts of his father (symbolised by the gold watch) to encourage him to do the right thing.
- There will always be some who are inclined towards anti-social and inappropriate behaviour, be it stealing the office stationary (the equivalent of Mia going through Vince’s pockets to help herself to drugs) or taking advantage of others (clearly the victimisation by the rapists is extreme, but they act as a reminder that bullying and harassment should never be tolerated).
Inspiration can come from almost anywhere – I rediscovered my mojo to write this business-orientated post through what, on the surface, appears to be a film with nothing to do with the world of work. Like in Pulp Fiction, life can appear to be a series of compartmentalised experiences – home, work, time with friends, going to the gym, doing the shopping… but there is always a thread of connection. Traditionally a mojo was attached to its wearer by a thread or cord - a mojo being a small bag, often of red flannel, containing herbs, talismans (such as coins) and charms. It was a common belief, particularly amongst rural African Americans in the 19th century, that a person with a mojo could protect themselves from harm, as well as being able to influence others, for their own advantage. Although the belief in a mojo's supernatural powers has fallen away, the expressed desire for having a mojo remains in common parlance. It is no longer an object of fear, but a phrase that means we feel inspired and energised to do things.
I hope you have your mojo with you today and hence possess the drive and motivation to achieve your goals with ease. Part of the magic of a mojo was created through the mixing together of "magic" ingredients - almost like an ointment. It was a way of using the supernatural to lubricate life and make it an easier ride. In that spirit...may your challenges prove surmountable and slip by easily, instead of you being left to traverse the rough potholes and gulp at friction.