Most of us want to be superstars at our job – but it’s not always clear where to start. To succeed in the workplace, we need to become intrinsically motivated by our work. You can improve your overall performance and work satisfaction by identifying tasks that you perceive as boring or uninteresting in your day-to-day schedule.
The superstars I’ve worked with across domains such as business, sports, and the military, share one common attribute: They don’t accept boredom.
These individuals know that boredom leads to worse performance, procrastination, task backlogs, and missed deadlines. More importantly, they’ve also learned that there are no tedious tasks, problems, skills, or situations – only boring ways to think about them. These superstars have developed their ability to switch on their intrinsic motivation for whatever they need to do.
Intrinsic motivation is when you do something for its own sake; it comes from loving the experience when you perform the activity. What enables this is that you feel challenged while performing. When you experience this, you are performing at your best.
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Sound simple? It’s not. If it was, we would have many more superstars and many fewer people who struggle with work satisfaction. This is challenging because we are energy-conserving rather than energy-spending creatures, which leads to boredom.
Below are seven real-world examples that illustrate how to unlock your intrinsic motivation.
1. Avoid mindless repetition and embrace exciting outcomes
Because we are energy-conserving creatures, we often stop challenging ourselves and log out intellectually when we think we know how to perform our work. Too often, we engage in activity-based behavior, repeatedly performing tasks out of habit and in the same way.
Activity-based behavior is a primary cause of burnout. Performing tasks out of habit is good from an energy-saving perspective, but it leads to boredom because, over time, the tasks become unchallenging.
Whenever a task feels boring, engage in exciting outcome-focused behavior: Create your own challenges and define an exciting outcome that will challenge you to develop your skills when you perform the task.
The easiest way to define an exciting outcome when you are bored is to decrease the time required to perform the task while still achieving the same – or a better – work result. Aim to spend half the time you usually spend on it, for example.
2. Gather more knowledge
We often feel bored when we know too little about something we should do. Few things are naturally enjoyable or exciting if we haven’t invested time to build some initial mastery.
If your task involves a new topic, spend one hour reading about it. Then write down everything you want to know more about. Set aside time to explore further. If it’s a new problem, ask yourself, “How big is the problem?” Work through questions like: “How frequently does the problem occur?”, “What tangible negative consequences does it cause?”, and “What additional value and benefits can be captured by solving the problem?”
If you do this, you will become engrossed in the new problems, making you more intrinsically motivated to work on them.
If you’re learning a new skill, find someone who excels at it. Ask that person how they developed the skill and became good at it. Remember, the fastest way to learn a new skill is to observe someone good at it – and then practice a lot.
3. Make sure requests always have a defined result
Performing tasks without knowing how well we are doing or whether the result is valuable tends to bore us. We all have a psychological need to feel that our efforts yield valuable results.
For example, it’s unclear why the following requests are important or what their desired result is: “Can you deliver this to me by 1 pm tomorrow?”, “Can you look into this for me?”, or “Can you create materials X and Y and email them to me?”
If you hardwire your brain always to ask the requester what highly valuable work results would be, you will feel intrinsically motivated by the tasks.
4. Proactively seek feedback
Our sense of purpose erodes without feedback on the value we create from our work.
It’s a basic human need to know that what we do is considered valuable to others. Without this knowledge, we cultivate indifference or boredom to protect ourselves psychologically.
Spend energy on mapping the people dependent on your work results and ask for feedback whenever you interact with them. This will help strengthen your sense of purpose and spark ideas for improving what you do.
5. Make it clear that you have influence
When we think we have little influence on decisions, idea generation, prioritization, and planning, our sense of autonomy is weakened, which feeds boredom.
Often you have much more autonomy than you perceive. Simply writing down what you can influence and what you cannot will help give you a balanced view.
6. Avoid workplace negativity
Being surrounded by or participating in negativity at work pollutes the mind to focus on the bad aspects of work, making us perceive even the most interesting task as less attractive.
To actively avoid exposing yourself to negativity in the workplace, be more mindful of who you choose to socialize with at work.
7. Refuse passive participation in meetings
Attending meetings without participating or contributing to the discussion leads to boredom.
That’s particularly true if the meeting has no impact on your work. Focusing on what you can learn in these meetings – for example, what you can learn about the meeting participants, how they think, and what they seem particularly good at – will make the meeting more interesting. This will also generate helpful knowledge you can leverage in other workplace situations.
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