5 top tips for ramping up your work fun and focus
There were once three lazy sons. While their father worked hard on the farm, they lounged, squabbled, ate, and drank. Eventually the father died and left them a will. They were greedily delighted when they saw what it read:
"Buried somewhere on our land is a huge treasure. Dig and you shall find it to share three ways."
So keen were they to get their hands on the treasure, the overjoyed and now-motivated sons began to dig - the first real effort they'd ever applied.
A year passed. They had dug up an enormous field, but no treasure! They reasoned they might as well plant seeds, now the land was dug anyway.
They continued digging, always seeking the treasure. Another year - no gold or diamonds, no sparkling valuables did they find; and so they decided to plant more seeds. A third year passed. Still no buried riches - but something else was happening.
By now they'd become accustomed to hard work; to farming, digging, and planting. They barely thought about the 'treasure' until the land was, through the efforts of the 'lazy' sons, transformed into the most productive of farms.
The father hadn't lied to them; they had discovered a 'huge treasure' by digging the land. He had bequeathed to them something of the highest value - motivation to work to make things happen through their own efforts. The work started as a 'means to an end', but soon become its own satisfaction. What about your work? How can you get motivated?
Want to be happier at work? Get motivated.
Donald Trump once said, "Money was never a big motivation for me, except as a way to keep score. The real excitement is playing the game."
We might scoff: "Oh yeah, that's easy for you to say; you're rich anyway!" But being motivated is its own reward. If it leads to other rewards, all the better, but the main motivation needs to be the work itself. Without motivation, life feels meaningless. Having meaning in life is vital for mental, even physical health. (1)
Working passionately on what you love isn't stressful (even when you are putting in the hours), but boredom is. Not caring about what you do, feeling that you've 'lost your mojo' or that your work has little point to it, can leave you depressed, listless, and sapped of creativity.
I can still recall the way I felt as a kid on waking up on the first morning of the summer holidays:
- The spark of excitement - that lighter-than-air feeling of upcoming adventure; what infinite promise the day held for me!
- Springing out of bed (long before teenage hangovers made their weary entrance).
The joy is, I still get this feeling - but now it's focused on work. Sure, not all the time, but there is a background buzz and kid-like energy and pull toward doing what I do.
Here is some of what I find useful when it comes to maximizing work motivation.
1) Find your love and pursue it with ardour
I worked with a world famous rock guitarist, and we spoke about his career. He laughed when I used the word.
"Playing wasn't a 'career move'; it's just that I couldn't have done anything else!"
He didn't mean that literally. Of course he could have done other jobs, but he loved his music so much he just had to do it and...well, it just happened to make him millions as well. The point is, he didn't start playing to make money. He played because he loved it and he still loves it.
What do you love? And can you turn it into your job? It doesn't matter if it's not exciting to others - if you like it, then do it. Bill Gates had no idea that his passion (for computer programming) would lead to billions; he wasn't even sure it would lead to paid work, but he loved it for its own sake.
I repeat: What do you love? Is what you do for money just a job to pay bills, a career to follow upward, or a calling that irresistibly compels you? And how can you turn what you love into what you do? Money can be a motivator for work, but it is rarely enough on its own to sustain the long-term motivation needed to truly succeed.
2) Being grateful feeds back into motivation
The ugly duckling (really a misplaced swan) needed its dissatisfaction because it was in the wrong environment - a round peg in a square hole (to mingle metaphors). If you are 'in the wrong field', then focus on the tip above. But if you are doing what, basically, you enjoy, then 'mindful gratitude' can transform the way you work and live. (2)
If I ever feel tired or a little bogged down or feel my mojo wilting, I focus on how lucky I am to be working with fantastic people, training people, writing about what has always fascinated me (and always will), and (crucially for me) not having to be in an office from 9 to 5. I've always loved psychology and been fascinated by hypnosis - it could have remained just a side passion whilst working on a 'day job', but I wanted to combine the two. I didn't want to be married to an acquaintance whilst living next door to the love of my life.
Societies exist in which people have absolutely no say in what jobs they are forced to work for their entire lives. Take five minutes a day just to 'count your work blessings'.
3) Use past work success memories to motivate you for the future
Another way to use gratitude as a motivation-boosting strategy is to reminisce. It's easy to get bogged down with daily work 'stuff' and forget why you went into what you are doing in the first place. That's why it's good to remember. I can still vividly remember the first person I helped overcome a phobia, the first time I could stand up and connect with an audience. Take a few moments to close your eyes and get the excitement back. Let a time that sums up your early passion float into your mind and really get into it. The more you do this, the more you'll recapture and harness your current and future work life motivation.
Or let me give you a flavour of this by clicking on this free audio download.
4) Keep challenging yourself – motivation needs to be stretched
Imagine you're a tightrope walker. The challenge of it! Well, not if you've done it 'forever'. Sarah was a rope walker, but it got 'stale' for her. So she started juggling with beanbags, then fire! Last I heard she was using a unicycle.
Motivation is fuelled by challenge. If you've become too good at your job - if it feels too easy - then you need to make it harder to make it feel meaningful to you again.
Set new challenges. Ask yourself: How can I transform what I do, take it up a level, reach new people, seek new horizons? If you're totally satisfied in what you do, then you don't need to do this. But if not, then find ways to keep your work challenging. If you work for other people, tell them you need challenges. Suggest what you'd like to do - because "if you don't ask, you don't get!"
5) Keep on moving
Update your skills. If you're stuck doing data input (and are not one of the people who are happy just to do this), then do some extra training - in your own time, if necessary. One client of mine did just that. She inputted data for five years for a large car company. In her own time, she did an engineering degree! Then she learned to use design software and eventually she moved from data to being one of her company's top designers. When you have the skills, satisfying work has a way of finding you.
We spend so much of our lives working, the more meaningful it is to us, the more meaningful our lives become. We need energy to do meaningful work but I think meaningful work gives us extra levels of energy in return.
In summary, many people struggle with motivation at work when the initial buzz of a new job or pay raise wears off. Finding the parts of your job you really enjoy can make motivation irrelevant – you'll be compelled to work hard for its own sake.