When we're bummed about our work, we tend to think the problem is the actual tasks we do. Our day-to-day to-do list is boring and repetitive. Our workload is excessive. We're stuck in a rut doing the same things day in and day out.
But research shows that the difference between loving and hating a job is often less about what you do and more about the attitude with which you do it.
One fascinating study of hospital janitors, for instance, found that while many folks hated work most of us would think of as downright dreary, a thoughtful minority found clever ways to see the larger value of their efforts, leverage their unique skills, and take pride in their contribution. The latter enjoyed their jobs far more even though everyone had the identical job description.
A self-administered shot of intense motivation
The difference between dragging yourself to the office and taking pleasure in your work, in other words, often has little to do with your actual work. There are obvious exceptions to this, of course -- the solution to a truly toxic workplace is to run for the door not chastise yourself for your attitude, and moving on to a more stimulating gig can be a great idea.
But if you're pretty sure there is still value to be squeezed from your current job (or your circumstances mean you're stuck there for awhile), why not rethink your perspective for maximum motivation? In an interview with CNBC, psychologist and bestselling author Dan Ariely recently offered a dead simple suggestion to accomplish this -- ask yourself just one question.
"Our understanding of what causes us to be happy is flawed," Ariely explains. "The rational perspective is that we're motivated by money and nothing else matters," but the truth is, while money is certainly nice, "we're motivated by a sense of meaning."
And while you probably would have to go through your boss (or, in the case of entrepreneurs, dip into your less-than-overflowing bank account) to get a raise or switch up your responsibilities, meaning is entirely yours to control. If janitors have scope to rethink their jobs, certainly you do too. Ariely recommends those experiencing flagging motivation ask themselves: "How is the work I'm doing helping someone down road? What meaning can I find here?"
Highlighting how your work benefits others offers a huge boost to motivation and happiness, Ariely contends. He has science on his side.
Another study done by Wharton professor Adam Grant with call center employees (another gig that's generally thought of as pretty depressing), found that simply reminding employees of the downstream benefits of their work -- in this case, by bringing in an employee from another department whose salary was paid by the sales they generated -- boosted performance by a whopping 20 percent, and that's without spending a dime or changing the job in any other way.
So how about it, how is your work helping someone down the road? And when is the last time you took a moment to consider this important question?