If you absolutely adore the work you do, have a great boss and feel self-motivated 100% of the time, congratulations! You’re in a rare and sought-after position.
But for most of us, there will be times when work feels like a drag, we lack motivation and can’t figure out how to get out of that negative state.
Someone recently wrote to me with this issue in the extreme. Does any of this sound familiar?
“I’ve been struggling with work. The problem is that I believe I have a lot of potential and a lot that I could bring to my workplace, but I find myself out of energy, and it's all I can do to force myself to work throughout the day. By the end of the day, I've forced myself to work so hard that I'm tired, resentful, and have accomplished little.
I don't connect to the company vision, and I don't find it particularly inspiring.
I don't feel like my work matters – the company is so big that if I don't show up, lots of people can instantly jump to fill in my place.
I want to take ownership of my situation. My manager is not good at any of the things that give me energy and inspire me, and disengagement is high throughout the whole company.
How can I start motivating myself, and stop leaning on my managers and the workplace to motivate me? How can I give myself the energy to actually start acting like this?
I seriously believe there is a way, because a lot of successful people are doing this in one way or another, but I just can't find how.”
It takes courage to admit this.
I would start by saying this to the person who wrote in: First, kudos to you for wanting to become self-motivated and take ownership of your career. Second, I admire your positive belief that there is a way (which there definitely is!) and congratulations for reaching out to find it. Third, you are not alone, so take heart.
7 Ways to Get Motivated at Work
If you also need help in finding your way to being motivated and enjoying your work again, let me share seven ways for doing that.
Start with the ones that most apply to your situation, and then experiment with the rest.
1. Find Meaning
We all need to feel like there’s a purpose in our work – to be part of something bigger. That’s what makes life feel meaningful and worthwhile. Since we spend most of our waking hours at work, it’s especially discouraging if there’s no bigger “why” behind our efforts.
Channel the janitor at Cape Canaveral who told U.S. President John F. Kennedy in the 1960s that he loved his job because he was “helping to put a man on the moon”. That janitor understood the mission and vision of his company and understood his contributions toward the larger goal.
So, for example, if you work for an insurance company, your purpose could be “protecting people from disasters”. A travel and leisure employee might find meaning in “delivering joyful experiences”. And a banker could be “helping businesses flourish”.
Look for the energizing way to describe your company’s purpose.
What’s the energizing meaning behind your work?
2. Focus on Your Best Strengths
It’s motivating when we’re in a flow state – when we’re in our element and everything feels like it comes easily. That usually happens when we’re using our best strengths.
Start by identifying what yours are. The simplest way to do that is to look at what you’re great at doing and love to do. It’s at that intersection where you’ll find your sweet spot.
What you need to watch out for are those tasks that you’re great at but don’t love to do. That’s what will drain you and ultimately make your job a drudgery.
Since it’s hard for other people to tell which of the many things you’re great at doing are also things you love to do, it’s up to you to let them know – in a diplomatic way, of course.
What are your best strengths and how often do you get to use them?
3. Reframe the Task
Most jobs involve repetitive tasks of one kind or another. When there’s a task you have to do “over and over again” such that the novelty has worn off long ago, a useful strategy is to reframe it – to think of it in a different way or take a different approach.
For example, actors in Broadway plays do the same exact show 7-8 times a week for years at a time. Yet those are highly sought-after jobs, and actors seem to enjoy it. They look at their performance as art, and they see it as an opportunity to create an experience for a different audience every time.
Or take Southwest Airlines’ flight attendants who need to make the safety announcement at the start of every flight. They take a creative approach and make it their own, whether that’s turning it into a song, a rap or a comedy routine. That makes it fun for them and also for the passengers – a win-win.
How could you take your repetitive tasks and reframe them into something that’s energizing?
4. Reframe the Situation
When you feel like you’re a replaceable cog in a big machine, that can feel discouraging. But just as you can reframe a repetitive task, you can also reframe the overall situation of being in a big organization.
While it could well be that you’re the kind of person who thrives in a smaller organization – think “speed boat” – that kind of shift requires some longer-term planning. To help in the near-term, consider the power of being on the equivalent of a “super tanker” or aircraft carrier.
How can you harness the benefit of being in an organization that carries clout in the industry? How can you leverage the brand name of the company to build your external profile and personal brand?
And if you’re in the opposite situation of feeling like a big fish in a tiny pond, think about reframing your situation to see the benefits of being in the speed boat.
How can you reframe the situation you’re in to capture its best elements?
5. Associate with Positive People
Moods rub off on us, so if you spend most of your time with unmotivated or even disgruntled colleagues, it’s hard not to be dragged down along with them.
And if you’re isolated in your work or spend most of your time on individual projects, that can affect your motivation too. After all, we humans are pack animals and need to feel we belong.
Look around at who you’re spending time with. As the late Jim Rohn said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” So, surround yourself with people who are self-motivated and you’ll find it’s easier to pursue and reach your higher aspirations.
How could you associate with positive people whose aspirations are similar to yours?
6. Be a Positive Force Yourself
Just as others’ moods can rub off on you, yours can affect theirs too. So, why not be a force for positive energy? Not only will that help others, you’d also be starting a virtuous cycle: by improving the environment around you, that’s one less thing that can demotivate you and your colleagues.
To become that positive force that lifts the mood of the room, start to use positive words, replace negative thoughts with positive ones, and focus on things that spark joy for you.
What can you do to be a positive force in your workplace?
7. Help Others
When I’m feeling low, it often improves my mood and motivation to help others. Whether it’s because I’m spending time with people (rather than focusing on my problems) or experiencing the “feel good” effects of helping a fellow human being, I always feel more motivated and positive after I’ve mentored someone or helped them in some way.
As an added benefit, it can give you a window into another area of the company and possibly lead to future collaborations on new, interesting projects.
Who could you reach out to and help or mentor?
What will you do?
If you’re feeling unmotivated, call a time out and choose one of these actions to take to start the journey toward the self-motivated person you know you can become.
I’ve shared seven possibilities here, but it doesn’t matter so much which step you take. The important thing is to size up your situation and pick an action that gets you moving in the right direction. Then, you can move onto the rest.
And speaking of the rest, stay tuned for more ways to motivate yourself next week.
In the meantime, what about you?
Are you uninspired at work and which of these actions would help motivate you?
Leave a comment below – I’d love to know.