How to enjoy your work

How's work? Boring, you say? Going nowhere?

We all know the feeling.  When work becomes a four letter word.  What can we do when paying the bills becomes a daily grind?

It might be time to think about considering a new career path.If, after reading this article, you are still feeling dissatisfied with your job, consider using the future self journal method to start moving yourself in a new direction.  But often, the difference between satisfying work and drudgery comes down to our attitude.  Just ask Mary Poppins:The 1964 musical fantasy film Mary Poppins tells the story of a mysterious but benevolent sorceress who becomes a nanny for a wealthy family in London in the early 20th century and solves several problems for the family.

In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun and - snap! - the job's a game.

This isn't going to be a technical article.  I have reviewed various theories of motivation but I've decided not to cite them here.  Let me simply mention that many of them have several characteristics in common: choice, control, purpose, and connection with others.  Let's talk about something that has a direct connection to motivation: benefits.

Look at the benefits

Just for a moment, think about why you've enjoyed some jobs more than others.  We are reward driven creatures.  Think about a job you loved.  Why did you enjoy it?  Was it challenging?  Did it provide opportunities for advancement? Did it let you showcase your skills?  In all likelihood, you felt appreciated by your employer or manager.  This is one of the main reasons people stay in a job.While I won't cover the evidence in this post, if you're interested in why people quit jobs, here's an article that cites studies to tell the answers.

Unfortunately, our brains tend to focus on rewards rather than benefits. By focusing on the benefits and not just the rewards, we can adjust our outlook greatly.

If your work is paying you, it is providing something you need. Focus on the fact that you have a way to take care of yourself (and your family) rather than on what you do not have (more money). Many people lack employment. Be grateful.

You have choices

This may not be immediately obvious.  You feel trapped in a job you don't like, and you don't have much autonomy.  But this doesn't mean you don't have choices.

Mary Poppins' above-quoted words contain hidden wisdom.  Remember that games include goals, rules, obstacles, feedback, and voluntary participation.  Do you see how this can also describe work?  If you lack some of these elements in your current job, why not try adding them yourself?

Goals: Make the work your own. Can you do more than you are required to do? Is it possible to increase your performance beyond what is expected?  If you set incremental, attainable goals, you'll take advantage of your brain's craving for variable rewards.  Don't be concerned with whether or not your employer deserves this level of engagement. Do it for yourself instead.According to Teresa M. Amabile and Steven J. Kramer, "the single most important" thing that made the difference between good and bad days at work is a sense of being able to make progress.

Rules: Try coming up with rules for yourself (but not co-workers) that do not conflict with what your employer wants.  Try to accomplish a task in a certain way.  Even though adding more rules can seem counterintuitive when you feel already hemmed in by the job's requirements, this is an effective way to make the job feel more like a game.

Feedback: If your employer is critical, you may want less, not more, feedback.  But you can learn to view criticism in a positive light. Find ways to get more feedback.  If your job is physical in nature, how can you measure progress?  When you interact with customers, ask them how you can improve.  

Voluntary participation:  This is completely up to you.  You can come to work grudgingly, or you can pretend this job is a rare privilege that few people can do, and you are one of the chosen few.  This is referred to as the Tom Sawyer effect.

Control your mindset

Sometimes our attitude toward work can be caused by factors other than the work itself.  Ego depletion basically means we lose the energy to keep pursuing our intentions.  Our aim, for example, may be to enjoy our work.  Apart from the suggestions above, learning self-regulation and getting enough nutrition and sleep can make a big difference.  A short break that doesn't involve checking social media can also be helpful.

Develop a positive mindset and avoid self-pity.  If at all possible, avoid people who complain about work since they can have an impact on your attitude.

If you can't find ways to make your work more enjoyable, plan a way to reward yourself at the end of the week.  Consider a quiet dinner out with your partner on Friday night.

There was one element of gameplay I did not mention above - obstacles.  Although every job entails some obstacles, perhaps the biggest obstacle to enjoyment is identifying hidden resources in yourself. 

The following words from Timothy Gallwey's excellent book The Inner Game of Tennis describe an athlete, but they could just as easily apply to your quest to find enjoyment in your work:

The more challenging the obstacle he faces, the greater the opportunity ... to discover and extend his true potential. ... He directly experiences his own resources and thereby increases his self-knowledge.

Reaching the goal itself may not be as valuable as the experience that can come in making a supreme effort to overcome the obstacles involved. The process can be more rewarding than the victory itself.

Focus on the purpose

You are improving a useful skill every time you show up for work, even if that skill is finding joy in what others would consider drudgery.

You are accomplishing something.  If no one did your job, what would happen?  Someone in the world would suffer somehow.  Remember that, and realize you're making a difference.

Focus on your self-respect. You are working instead of being lazy.  You are doing your part.  Even if you aren't receiving what you consider adequate compensation for your work, you are still providing value.  Consider what the world would be like if everyone in it focused on what they can give rather than what they can get.  Wouldn't it be a much better place?  It's got to start somewhere, and it's starting with you.  Take pride in your role. Besides, it makes you a more well-rounded person, and that has many benefits in all areas of life.

Take it away, Mary Poppins

During my childhood, I watched Mary Poppins several times, but I never imagined that I would be recommending her advice about work (magic or no magic).  Now that nearly 60 years have passed since the release of the movie, the song is a bit cringeworthy, but the concept of gamification is becoming increasingly popular.  We don't need magic or technology to enhance our enjoyment of life by making it a game.

The honey bees that fetch the nectar From the flowers to the comb

Never tire of ever buzzing to and fro Because they take a little nip From every flower that they sip

And hence They find Their task is not a grind...