Back when he was in the NBA, Kobe Bryant would wake up at 6 in the morning, get to the Laker’s practice facilities and start jacking up shots. One shot,two shots, 3 shots would turn into 100 shots. And those 100 shots would turn into 1000 shots and by the time he was dripping in sweat, the rest of the team would walk in to begin their morning practice.
How did he develop his legendary work ethic?
Where did all this energy come from?
Why was he so driven to achieve?
The answer lies in intrinsic motivation. But it’s so much bigger than what Dan Pink discusses in DRiVE.
The Shocking Truth Behind Motivation
You’ve probably heard of the shocking truth behind motivation by now. Intrinsic motivation dominates extrinsic motivation. Factors such as:
- competancy ie. Can I do it?
- autonomy ie. Can I do how I want to do it?
- mastery ie. Can I get better at it?
are much more effective at motivation in the long-term as opposed to extrinsic rewards such as cash. There’s a reason for that. It’s because intrinsic motivation hits us where it hurts.
Pride is our lifelong partner. Do right by pride and you’ll feel like you’re on top of the world. Do wrong, however, and you’ll do whatever it takes to get back on pride’s good side.
Nobody knows this better than Kobe Bryant.
Kobe Bryant’s Muse
The biggest dreams aren’t fueled by belief. They’re fueled by doubt.
Before the back-to-back-to-back championships, All-Star teams, and All-NBA accolades, Kobe was a wide-eyed spring chicken.
Picture this, May 12th, 1997, the Western Conference Semi-Finals on the brink of elimination. The biggest stage a young Kobe had experienced up to that point. In the last minute of a 53 minute game, 18 year old Kobe Bryant shot 3 airballs to close it out.
It is still known today as perhaps the least clutch moments in basketball history, a stark contrast to the rain of game-winners Kobe is known for today.
It was a gut check and the list of players who would’ve attempted what Kobe attempted is few. In a game of that magnitude, most players would hesitate to shoot after one airball. Two airballs? Out of the question.
But what was even more amazing was what he did afterwards.
He went to a local high school, found somebody to open it for him, and shot jump shots till the sun went down.
That became his routine for the rest of the summer.
The Underdog’s Advantage
A recent experiment researched the link between pride and achievement. They hypothesized high-achievers (measured by test scores) would be more likely to push themselves to keep performing at a high level. It makes sense right? If you do something well, you’re more likely to engage in that activity again.
But what they found was it was that the not so high-achievers who were more motivated to push themselves. It was the consequence of low performance, the absence of pride, that pushed them to work even harder for the next exam.
Their lack of pride told them that something was wrong, and things needed to change if they wanted to feel good about themselves. This absence of pride, and the corresponding desire to beef up that experience, pushed these students to study harder for their next exam, and this change in behavior resulted in improved subsequent performance.
Jessica Tracy, Ph.D.
This absence of pride, this itch, is the underdog’s advantage. This is what drove Kobe to adopt his legendary work ethic. Had Kobe made those shots and had less to prove, do you think he would have pushed himself to the edge that summer?
No. It was the shocking realization that he was not as good as he thought he was, that he needed to be better, that drove him each and every day after missing those shots.
Perhaps you can relate. Perhaps you too felt the sting of not living up to your expectations which drove you to work harder. And perhaps you too felt the contentedness of your position and stopped being as hungry as you were for success.
Using that as a weapon, using it as a form of offense. It’s a scar. It’s pain. It’s a bad memory. Some people are scared to tap into that side of them, but it’s such a powerful thing. Once they own it then the sky is the limit.
You have to understand where Kobe came from to understand how he got his energy. He grew up in America, moved to Italy where he didn’t even speak the language, bounced from city to city there. About age 13, he moved back to America and it was a complete culture shock. He didn’t fit in.
He was the outcast everywhere he went.
All that accumulated into a tight ball of of anger and resentment. Negative emotions that translated into energy on the floor. You have the story of him not only disappointing himself, but his team and millions of fans. You have the 2004 fiasco where his life was flipped upside down with the court case, impeding doom on his life as he knew it, and a miscarriage.
And he took all those negative emotions, emotions that had been dormant inside him since he was just a boy, emotions that fans and pundits and the court case and the miscarriage took to new depths, and he took all those emotions and used them to utterly destroy everybody on the court.
There is nothing scarier than a lion backed into a corner.
[Shooting those airballs] helped shape me. A lot of times as a young player, you don’t see how a situation like that can pay off in the end. But if you use it to drive you, use it to motivate you, then, you can stand where I’m standing now and look back at it with a lot of fond memories.
Negative emotions are signals of something gone awry, of something not right. Like a thorn in your foot, the pain doesn’t start to go away until you locate the source of the pain and then attack it.
Missing those key shots in 1997 created a chasm in Kobe that he filled with hours of sweat and blood. The opening night of the next season, the Lakers played against the Jazz again and he torched them for 23 points.
The 2004 fiasco made Kobe realize he had to become a better person for his teammates, his wife, and his children. And he has. Phil Jackson noted in his book Eleven Rings documenting the maturity of Kobe and attests to his evolution into a family man.
Disappointment, anger, frustration, these are energies that we can warp and shape into our liking. In recent times, society at large has painted these emotions with demonic colors, as things to avoid. Instead we should all just be happy.
But happy people don’t change with the intensity of people who are dissatisfied. People who are dissatisfied with their shortcomings, dissatisfied with their lives, dissatisfied with who’ve they become. These are the people who create change.
All you have to do is…
Don’t run. Negative emotions are your friend. They warn you of icebergs ahead. You can do all types of happiness exercises, and you should for a healthy mental state. But your problems are still going to be your problems until you take care of them.
Some people opt of the race completely. They decide apathy is the solution. What they don’t care about can’t hurt them. That is like solving the problem of the thorn in your foot by lying down. It is impossible to go through your whole life without caring. Even if it was, is that a life worth living?
Attack the source. Some people mask their dissatisfaction with life by buying new toys or dressing in new clothes. But lasting change can’t be bought with cash. Find out what bothers you through meditation and create a plan of action.
Have high standards for yourself. Kobe could have had all the excuses in the world. He was only 18. It was only his rookie season. He was a bench player. But his pride wouldn’t allow him to accept those excuses as reasons. The only acceptable reason for him was “I need more practice.”
It’s easy to be satisfied with yourself when you give yourself easy A’s. But that isn’t what drives growth. What drives growth is shooting for what lies beyond the moon.
Start right now.
We’re not all Kobe Bryants. Some of us succumb to the pressure and give up. I would know. But it’s all in how we bounce back.
You’re under no obligation to be the same person you were 5 minutes ago.
No matter what mistakes you’ve made.
No matter who you were in the past.
No matter if you’ve broken your New Year’s Resolution in January and it’s a couple months till the next one.
You can start becoming who you want to become today. If you’re looking to be productive, confident, disciplined or what have you, all you have to do is start right now.
It doesn’t matter if you were never those adjectives in the past. All you have to do is start right now.
The fury of your emotions will be unmatched by men engulfed in ennui, your desire greater. Remember the underdog’s advantage.