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We don’t all chase our passion, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have passion for what we do. The daily grind is filled with process, red tape, negative people, political pettiness, and at worst, a complete sacrifice of where we wish our time was being spent. If we’re not careful, this will drive us to a zombie-like trance through our day, void of any meaningful incentive outside of the 15th and 30th of each month. The glimmer of hope lies in the fact that we don’t have to be rockstars, actors, or athletes to alter the way we value our work and seize each day. Everyone has different internal mechanisms, consciously or subconsciously, that guide us through daily challenges. I’ve resorted to many over the years, but here are 5 that I use today to keep me moving when I feel stuck…
1. Shift your reward system from the outcome to the process
No matter the work, there are mission-critical things about the job that are unsexy, tedious, and uninspiring. Nobody likes these things, except as a means to getting what they want. If that’s the case, moving your reward system a step or two earlier in the process can work wonders in keeping you engaged and focused. It will also help you learn what works and what doesn’t simply by paying more attention. What does this look like?
- If you’re in sales, keep score on the pitch before the sale
- If you’re a writer, keep score on your content creation before your number of followers or major publications
- If you’re an athlete, keep score on your measurable improvements in training before the actual game
- If you’re a parent, keep score on the support you provide your children before celebrating when they don’t need therapy as adults
When you value the inputs of success just as much as success itself, you WILL care more. That means tracking and holding yourself accountable to those inputs just as diligently as you do for the end results.
2. Offer your time, even when you don’t have any
In Kelly McGonigal’s The Upside of Stress, she frequently touches upon the importance of being gracious with your time. Sounds great but McGonigal’s view, backed by research, that makes this point so much more useful than simply uplifting is that it’s not just for the altruism of helping others but rather for helping YOU attach yourself to meaning and purpose, an inherently social endeavor. Stress indirectly makes you social because stress likes company.
Another reason this is such a valuable point is that many of us, myself included, have often reverted inward in stressful situations, buckling down in isolation to get work done with minimal distraction. Sometimes that may be warranted, but the counterintuitive approach of applying the gratitude of time mentality specifically when your time is at a premium is an extremely valuable practice. When you’re stressed, chances are that others around you are as well. People feel you making yourself available and empathetic during these strenuous times, and their psychological vulnerability (as well as your own) creates a powerful bond and sense of trust that propagates any affected group of people. The more stressful the situation the faster and more intensely this bond grows, and as a result, pushes you out of an otherwise apathetic mindset because it’s not just about you anymore.
3. Do the things you hate within the times and environments you hate them the least
Powerpoint decks at home in the evening with a glass of wine? TPS reports at a coffee shop in the afternoon? You know better than anyone when you are best equipped to do the “dirty work”. Design your day to make it so. If your boss or other authority prevents you from doing so, tell them respectfully why and how it allows you to optimally add value to THEM. If they still don’t agree, do it anyway. Seriously – this one is really important. There are a bajillion and a half things to do, and if after multiple attempts you can’t structure your deliverables to the times and places that maximize your quantity and quality of production, it’s time for a change.
4. Use a familiar motivator when you feel stressed or stuck
There is an endless list of things about work bring us stress, anxiety, and panic. All of these things over time make us feel like we are working relentlessly just to tread water. Perhaps the biggest source of this stress is fear of how our output will be received, either internally or externally, depending on the work. As someone who has followed and somewhat unhealthily aggrandized sports over the years, I use that discipline (which is completely unrelated to any of my work) as a device to ground myself. For example, there are plenty of athletes, many of whom are in their early 20s, or even younger, who have their output seen and judged my millions every time they compete. If they can do that, am I really going to get stressed about pitching an idea to executives in a meeting? It’s nonsense.
Put the fear aside – sometimes you’re going to bomb and just have to deal with it. Nobody will remember it for nearly as long as you will. Take the mental exercise of framing stress in something bigger, something that is familiar to you, to make your problems feel smaller than your brain has been interpreting them. Odds are that’s the reality anyway.
5. Limit your escape mechanisms, but keep them consistent and choose wisely
If you’ve come across any productivity experts or studied how highly effective people operate, you know it’s something to the tune of “take 10-15 minute breaks for every 60-90 minutes of intense work. Rinse and repeat to get into a sense of flow while avoiding burnout”. I don’t want to belittle or genericize this advice because I actually think it’s completely true and valid, though incomplete. What you DO during these periods of rest is important and habit forming, and the options available to you are not all created equal. If your breaks are largely devoted to social media check-ins, junk food, and gossiping, you’ll not only waste precious time but you’ll also develop a dependency on the dopamine hit of those escape mechanisms, further resenting your time spent WITHOUT them (i.e. the time spent actually doing your job). For a scientific but legitimately interesting and relatable view on habit forming that has directly influenced me, check out The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg.
I have always found the best alternative to be walking. It allows for reflection of the work that was just done and perspective on the work that still needs to be done, all while exerting just enough physical and mental energy to come back with focus and direction. I don’t explicitly schedule time for these short walks, as I know many folks to do, but I make a point of doing it almost daily. I’ve grown to value it so much that I don’t need to schedule it – it’ll just happen.
These practices have helped me immensely, but only once I started using them consciously and consistently. We’ve all seen those few select peers with indescribable energy around something mundane. They’re not faced with easier challenges or more engaging work. They just think in ways that work in their favor, about everything.