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

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

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Dr. Gleb Tsipursky

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

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

More on Building Habits

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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