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The Secret to Meaningful Work: It’s All About You!

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The Secret to Meaningful Work: It’s All About You!

“Pursue your passion.”

That’s the way to find meaning in your work, right?

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Well, “pursue your passion”  is the typical phrase thrown around when people talk about finding meaning in one’s work. And that’s not bad advice. Pursuing your passion is one great way of finding meaning and happiness in your work. I did so myself when I decided to become a professor and later the President of Intentional Insights.

Helping people reach their goals using science-based strategies is incredibly motivating for me. I get shivers of pleasure when I get emails from people thanking me for improving their lives. I’m so tempted to stay up long into the night to make more articles and videos to help spread such messages, energized by the vision of how much better the world would be and how much happier people would be with these tools. It’s better than coffee!

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So are you telling me I can’t find meaning in work that does not match my true passion?

No, not at all! The research shows that you actually can make pretty much any work significantly more meaningful. Now that should put a smile on your face!

Studies find that your mental and physical well-being depend on having a rich sense of purpose and meaning in life, so it’s wise to make your work meaningful. I’ll cover one strategy on how to do that here, and two in a subsequent article on this topic.

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Before diving into the strategies, let me clarify that I use the term “work” to refer to any area in which you get paid to bring value to others. For example, the government supports schools because students bring value by becoming educated to make a better society for us all. House-husbands and house-wives bring value by taking care of the home, and are supported by their partners. At Intentional Insights, we create blogs, videos, apps, online classes, books, most available for free, with those who value these products being out there volunteering or offering donations to our nonprofit.

Ok, so I’d like to make my work more meaningful—what’s the first strategy?

First, think about the connection of your everyday work tasks to your personal long-term goals at regular intervals. Being the President of Intentional Insights helps me accomplish my long-term goal of improving the world and helping people have better lives. But that higher purpose tends to be lost in the everyday tasks of writing articles, fundraising, answering emails, etc.

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So every week on Saturday afternoon, I sit down to review what I did that week. I think about how it helped bring about the kind of world where I want to live. I imagine that world, visualizing all the details of how much better off other people are, how they make wiser decisions, how much less suffering and more joy there is in the world. I let myself feel how good it would be to live in that world, and how great it is that my daily work activities help bring that world into reality. I then write my feelings and thoughts in my journal. I want to make sure I have a record I can refer back to any time I get lost in the everyday business of my work activities. Research shows journaling is a great strategy to gain a higher sense of meaning and purpose in life. I also encourage others at Intentional Insights to connect their long-term goals to their daily tasks, and to create an organizational culture that facilitates such meaning-making activities.

While improving people’s lives happens to be my goal, you should think about your own goals. Maybe you think, “I only do my job for the paycheck.” Try to sit down at systematic intervals and think about what your paycheck does for you. Does the money help you accomplish your goal of having financial stability and security? Does it help you have the kind of lifestyle you want? Does it help you support your family? Visualize the specific things that the money does for you. Imagine that world thoroughly, and feel all the positive emotions you get from that world. Then, write down your feelings and thoughts, and refer back to them whenever you’re feeling like you need to recall the reasons you’re doing what you’re doing.

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So what’s the take-away here?

The take-away is that you work for yourself, not anyone else. You do what you do for your own reasons and goals. Always remember that and be intentional. Show agency in getting what you want from your work, including a sense of meaning and purpose in life. Consult resources such as this science-based free workbook about meaningful work, and this web app to measure your sense of meaning and purpose. Consider sharing this article with your co-workers and/or supervisor if you think they would benefit from reading it, and also if you would benefit from them having read it.

Questions to consider:

  • Say your friend asked you how to find meaning and purpose in their workplace. What advice might you offer?
  • Will reading this article lead you to take specific steps to gain greater meaning and purpose from your work? If so, what are those steps? What might be the barriers to such steps, and how will you deal with such barriers?
  • What kind of benefit have you gained from reading this article and how will your life be better off, if in any way?

Featured photo credit: Professional Woman via flickr.com

More by this author

Dr. Gleb Tsipursky

Cognitive neuroscientist and behavioral economist; CEO of Disaster Avoidance Experts; multiple best-selling author

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Last Updated on October 21, 2021

How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

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How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it.

Slowly, your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments. Eventually, time wasters, laziness, and procrastination get the better of you.

The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.

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Program Your Own Algorithms

Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them as computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result.

Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

By forming rituals, you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

How to Form a Ritual

I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles, and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.

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Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

  1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
  2. Commit to following your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
  3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy—the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail—you’ll have to decide.
  4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first 30-day trial can make your ritual more useful.

Ways to Use a Ritual

Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

1. Waking Up

Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterward. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution is to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.

2. Web Usage

How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader, or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly-efficient ritual, I was able to cut off 75% of my web time without losing any communication.

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3. Reading

How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.

4. Friendliness

Rituals can also help with communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.

5. Working

One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.

6. Going to the gym

If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.

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7. Exercise

Even within your workouts, you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.

8. Sleeping

Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning, it will help if you remove insomnia.

8. Weekly Reviews

The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review, I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally, I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now, I narrow my focus toward specific plans, ideas, and measurements.

Final Thoughts

We all want to be productive. But time wasters, procrastination, and laziness sometimes get the better of us. If you’re facing such difficulties, don’t be afraid to make use of these rituals to help you conquer them.

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More Tips to Conquer Time Wasters and Procrastination

 

Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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