David McRaney over at the You Are Not So Smart blog, wrote a fascinating post about the nature of how to deal with haters, AND how to deal with motivation. It’s seriously in depth and I highly encourage you to read the whole thing. It blew my mind.

The Misconception: You do nice things for the people you like and bad things to the people you hate.

The Truth: You grow to like people for whom you do nice things and hate people you harm.

In a nutshell: Ben Franklin had a guy he wanted to convince to like him. He asked to borrow a book from this guy, and then the guy lent him the book, and afterwards was his staunchest ally. Why? Because in this guy’s mind, he didn’t like Ben Franklin, but then he did something nice for him, so it created the cognitive dissonance that made him think, “okay, I did something nice for Ben Franklin, I must like him.” It’s crazy I know, but that’s how it works.

According to David McRaney,

“That’s the cycle of cognitive dissonance, a painful confusion about who you are gets resolved by seeing the world in a more satisfying way. As Festinger said, you make “your view of the world fit with how you feel or what you’ve done.” When you feel anxiety over your actions, you will seek to lower the anxiety by creating a fantasy world in which your anxiety can’t exist, and then you come to believe the fantasy is reality just as Benjamin Franklin’s rival did. He couldn’t possibly have lent a rare book to a guy he didn’t like, so he must actually like him. Problem solved.”

Believe it or not, this leads to a larger point which is that your personality is not fixed. It’s mutable. That means that you believe how you act is who you are, not the other way around. Let me say it a different way.

maxfield parrishWhen you are nice to people, over and over again, that becomes how you identify.
When you are mean to people, over and over again, that becomes who you are.

So your behavior creates your personality, not the other way around.

This is how people who have drank and smoked for the last 10 years can and do turn it around and drop the bad habits and decide to start running marathons and eating salads every day.

Let’s take another, more complex example. Me. I started out being kind of a fey teenager who liked to sing songs in the woods and run around in a poet’s shirt, pressing flowers, writing in her journal, dancing ballet, reading poetry and fantasy. I also liked playing the piano. I had no idea what I wanted to do when I grew up but I definitely knew I wanted to have a loft with big sunny windows and hardwood floors and talk with my friends on the phone. After college I started casting around for something to do. I didn’t have a model to fit into, and I felt aimless, drifting with no model to follow. I temped, and did a variety of jobs in America and overseas.

When I came back to America I started working in the nonprofit world. It was not terribly rewarding. I knew so little. I started studying and getting gigs and then jobs in the sector. My persona became fundraising professional. That meant I was the money person. I had to be the one with the answers. I had to be type A and organized. Goodbye Poet, Hello Capitalist!

Career-FairLinkedin1Then after I got fired from a nonprofit job, I had to re-evaluate how much I was identified with the job, or how much I was identified with fundraising, and maybe… how much I wanted to stay in the sector at all. I did think, “Well, it would be a shame to let all of this fundraising knowledge I’ve collected go to waste, so I think I’ll put it all in this book.” And I did start to blog to promote my book, because some agents at a writer’s conference told me that was what I had to do if I wanted to be considered by a publisher.

So in 2009 I became a fundraising blogger, and because I like to eat, I became an entrepreneur as well. My new activities and mindset dictated my personality again. I became…different. Since it’s still happening it’s hard to explain but I don’t identify as a fundraising executive anymore. I don’t feel loyalty to any one nonprofit. I feel like someone who values freedom over a paycheck because that’s what I’ve done for so long.

fundraising meetup

Fundraising Meetup was a blast!

I’ve become a freedom lover. I do help other people get jobs and don’t try to talk them out of going to look for work, because I know entrepreneurship is not for everyone. And I’ve realized that I like to be around people who have that entrepreneurial spark in them (which is most fundraising people!). I like people who have a rich inner world, who love freedom too. And I love to make things with them.

I’ve also become much more principled, because as I’ve blogged, I’ve been able to clarify my values much more, and because I have multiple streams of income, not had to compromise my values for any particular client.

I’ve become an avid experimenter. As I’ve become a product creator, marketer and entrepreneur. So because of this, I work til I drop, and deal with conditions I would never take from a job, because I find it rewarding to be so resourceful, to make a living with my hands and my brain, since not everything I do works out. But when it does, I’m excited enough by this success to keep working at it.

I’ve become a know-it-all. Or, if you like, a public intellectual. I’ve channelled my voracious reading into helping others. Now I read a lot of fundraising books, business books, marketing books, neuroscience books, and write about it here, to show people new ideas that might help them.


So suddenly I’m a public intellectual and nonprofit journalist, without ever really setting out to be that.

McRaney continues, The Benjamin Franklin Effect is the result of your concept of self coming under attack. Every person develops a persona, and that persona persists because inconsistencies in your personal narrative get rewritten, redacted and misinterpreted.

So when you start to be that person that gets up every morning for a jog, and then you keep doing it, and start to hang out with people who jog as well, over time, you become a jogger, and your personality grows to fit this. It’s difficult, but you have to create in your mind reasons why you do this. And the reason becomes, “Because I’m a jogger and I want to be healthy” or “Because if I wasn’t a jogger, I wouldn’t know who I was.”

This can also work in the negative sense, of course.

McRaney says, “Notice when a painful initiation leads to irrational devotion, or when unsatisfying jobs start to seem worthwhile. Remind yourself pledges and promises have power, as do uniforms and parades.

This means that when frats have long, painful initiation periods, they become identified with their frat and will do just about anything to fit in and be a part of it. Which leads to good corporate drones, who give away their moral autonomy for the good of the larger group. Corporations like to recruit people right out of frats. And indeed, one of my brothers was so identified with his frat that he went back year after year, after college, to go to the commencement of his frat brothers, and he had a long-term girlfriend after college from his frat.

McRaney concludes: “Remember in the absence of extrinsic rewards you will seek out or create intrinsic ones. Take into account the higher the price you pay for your decisions the more you value them. See that ambivalence becomes certainty with time. Realize lukewarm feelings become stronger once you commit to a group, club or product. Be wary of the roles you play and the acts you put on, because you tend to fulfill the labels you accept. Above all, remember …the more kindness you deal into the world the more you come to love the people you help.”

My nonprofit work certainly had a painful initiation, and I had lots of unsatisfying jobs. I did not have extrinsic rewards, and I definitely sought out intrinsic rewards. I did pay a high price in less salary when I started working at nonprofits, but I do value this decision. Because I value helping others over, say, making $100K a year at a corporation doing press releases.

How You Can Use This Knowledge When Motivating Volunteers

Your volunteers have to create intrinsic rewards for the often boring, unsatisfying work they do. And it may be a sincere devotion to your cause, reminding themselves over and over how much this work you do is needed. No wonder your volunteers give 10x as much as non-volunteers! They MUST be dedicated to your cause, or else why would they be spending all of their time helping you? That’s right, volunteering creates a cognitive dissonance that they resolve by being even more dedicated to your nonprofit or your cause. Of course, having a satisfying volunteer experience helps too, if you can thank them and make them feel like a valued part of your team, but in the end, they are going to have to motivate themselves on the inside. Isn’t that wild? This is why you should really take your volunteer manager aside and thank them all the time for helping you create more loyal donors to your nonprofit. In fact, maybe the volunteer program and the fundraising program should merge! WHOA.

And this applies to me too. I’ve got a label now, as nonprofit author, and consultant. I’ve become someone dedicated to serving others. As far as I’m concerned, even if I’m not working at one nonprofit, I still get to help LOTS of nonprofit people! I help people all the time, with my products, my services, my meetups, my speaking engagements, and my blog posts! This is SO important to me. Why? Because I’ve been doing it a long time? Or because that’s the kind of knowledge I have? Research says both, according to David McRaney. McRaney says, “the more kindness you deal into the world, the more you love the people you come to help.”

So guess what? I love you guys.