Saturday, 8 September 2012

Cathedral Address - 'Be doers not hearers'

Address given to Senior School in Cathedral, Thursday 6th September.
Based on Ecclesiasticus 11

Yesterday I focused on the importance of being, ‘Quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger.’  I said then that I wanted to pick up on another phrase which said, “Be doers of the word, not merely hearers’, and there is a link between that and today’s reading which is the theme of getting things done rather than just thinking about getting things done. 

I hope that you have set yourself some goals for the coming term and year.  Perhaps it is to get into a particular sports team, pass a music exam, achieve one of the Duke of Edinburgh Awards.  Perhaps it is to work harder, to get your prep finished on time or to read more widely.  Whatever it is, goals and target setting are important ways of pushing ourselves forwards.  But whether you achieve your goals or not will come down to whether you find the motivation to turn thought into action.

Motivation is an interesting area of current research and a few months ago I read a book called ‘Drive’ by Daniel Pink.  The central idea he puts forward is that the old approach of carrot and stick is a very limited form of motivation.  This is the pattern of offering rewards for that which is good and punishment for that which is bad.  Pink’s claim is that what makes people tick, the real source of motivation, is not what pulls them forwards from outside but what pushes them forwards from the inside.

In particular he points to three core elements to motivation.  The things which make us want to do something.  I am going to use the Duke of Edinburgh Award to illustrate them but I hope you will apply the same thinking to something you are aiming to achieve and see if you can spot the connection.

The first element is ‘Purpose’ – that there must be some end goal that goes deeper and further than merely completing the task. On the expedition part of DofE you don’t slog up Pen y Fan in the Brecon Beacons purely to expend some calories and appreciate quite how wet and cold Wales can truly be.  It is the sense of achievement, of going outside your comfort and the camaraderie of being part of a team that pushes you on.

The second element is ‘Autonomy’ – the ability to make your own decisions and ultimately to grab the glory or to carry the can.  To succeed in DofE you need to take responsibility on yourself whether it be planning the expedition route or organizing the service component.  Doing something because you are told to can lead to sense of having fulfilled the task but does not bring with it the sense of inner satisfaction of doing something because you decided you wanted to.

The third element is called ‘Mastery’ and this refers to the drive to be really good at something and to truly challenge yourself.  Some of you will have heard of a book called ‘Outliers’ by Malcolm Gladwell in which he tries to identify the factors that contribute to high levels of success. To support his thesis, he looks at a variety of examples including how Bill Gates achieved his extreme wealth and how The Beatles became one of the most successful bands in human history. Gladwell repeatedly mentions the "10,000-Hour Rule", claiming that the key to success in any field is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing a specific task for a total of around 10,000 hours.  We may struggle to devote ourselves to one activity for that length of time but there is no escaping graft and grind if we want to be really good at something.  In DofE terms this can be seen in the requirement to develop a skill or to complete a period of service with increasing numbers of hours expected at the different levels of the award.

It may be useful when thinking about your personal goals to see where the elements of Purpose, Autonomy and Mastery can be found and harness them to drive you on.  In addition to this it may also be helpful to fit individual goals into the wider context of the life you want to lead.  I am sure that you do not want to go through lurching from one thing to the next like a hamster on a wheel or a train on pre-determined tracks.  I expect that you want to be someone who seizes opportunities and makes things happen.  If that is the case then waiting for things to happen is not going to work.  We only have one life, one walkthrough on the planet and in universal terms, our lives are a cosmic sneeze.  This is not a new idea, the Roman poet Horace is credited with the famous command, Carpe Diem – or 'seize the day'.  The metaphysical poet Andrew Marvell memorably wrote, ‘But at my back I always hear, times winged chariot hurrying near.’  And this brings me back to our Bible reading for today and in particular the final words. 

“At the close of one’s life, one’s deeds are revealed.  By how he ends, a person becomes known.”

Or to put it another way, don’t look back later with regret.  Instead take and create the opportunities to make your life worthwhile and fulfilling and, most importantly, don’t put it off.  Do it now.