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How To Create Purpose In Your Work

How To Create Purpose In Your Work

Jerome is desperate. He drags himself to his office job every day, the one he’s had for 4 years now. He clocks in at 9 and starts doing client calls until 12. He then takes a half-hour lunch break, followed by a team meeting, and then more client calls until 5. The same old job, the same routine, and an overwhelming feeling of emptiness deep inside. He doesn’t know why he’s doing what he’s doing, he just feels no sense of meaning to it all. It’s a good job, pays the bills, but he’s just so unhappy. He increasingly finds himself zoning out instead of doing his work, and his performance reviews suffer. He is worried about being laid off! So, he decides to research strategies for bringing a sense of meaning and purpose to the workplace. He learns about science-based strategies for doing so, and starts applying them to his workplace. So, what are these strategies?

Build community spirit and social bonds through your work.

Plenty of studies indicate that community and social bonds contribute strongly to a sense of meaning and purpose in life. The scientific literature shows this applies to work as to any other sphere of life.

I will use myself as an example. In my own role at Intentional Insights (InIn), I strive to create opportunities to engage with fellow participants on projects together and to collaborate in a positive and supportive manner. Collaborating around mutually exciting projects in a positive manner is one way to build social bonds in the workplace.

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Moreover, I make sure to regularly meet with InIn participants to talk about topics not directly related to our mutual work, but to other things going on in our lives. Doing so helps enrich the professional relationship and turn it into a deeper and more meaningful one, where both people feel supported by the other. Likewise, I occasionally organize social events where all InIn participants can gather to socialize, especially to celebrate important organizational accomplishments.

You can do some of the same in your own work. Most types of work provide opportunities to work with others on mutual projects, and you can do your part to be a great team player who supports and encourages others.

Likewise, set up meetings with coworkers and talk about things related not only to work, but also to life as a whole. While an increasing number of people work from home, video-conference calls can provide an opportunity to both collaborate on work projects and talk about non-work topics.

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Serve others through your work.

Social service to others is one of the keystones of greater meaning and purpose in life, as numerous studies reveal. Research specifically on the workplace has found that the same concept applies to work as well as to anything else. So I and my fellow InIn participants are lucky ducks, as the organization by its very nature is oriented toward helping our audience have better lives. Furthermore, one of our key principles is to coach and mentor each other, which both builds social bonds and serves others.

It is important, however, to reflect occasionally on how I specifically help others have a better life. To do so, I and other Intentional Insights participants collect quotes from emails, blog comments, and other sources where people express gratitude to the organization for helping them, and share these with each other. I encourage a work culture where we highlight and celebrate mutual accomplishments in helping our audience members improve their lives.

Let’s say you have a 9-5 job that does not explicitly serve others, what then? No worries! Every job helps somebody somehow. Think about the social value you provide. What is it about what you do that helps others have better lives? Journal about it and collect any positive feedback provided from others about your work. Take steps to solicit such feedback, since some workplaces don’t have optimal systems to provide it. Don’t ask for direct compliments, but ask people for their frank assessment of how you are doing, both your strengths and your weaknesses. Look for both formal and informal opportunities to support and coach others in your workplace.

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Likewise, see if your workplace has service projects, like building homes through Habitat for Humanity or volunteering in a soup kitchen. Also, remember that the salary you earn at your work can be donated to charity, and many employers offer matching contributions. Effective Altruism identifies the most effective charities by using well-reasoned, evidence-based evaluations. Such civic engagement can help you find greater meaning and purpose in your work  by serving others outside the direct context of your work. Again, to cultivate the deepest sense of life purpose, keep a journal and reflect on the positive impact you’ve had on others.

How do I know if these strategies are working for me?

Great question! Use the Meaning and Purpose Questionnaire (MPQ), a research-informed tool used to quantify your own sense of purpose in every area. Take that questionnaire with a focus on your work activities, and work on any areas that you might find are lacking.

What if my supervisor doesn’t want me to do meaning-making activities at work?

I hear you. Some supervisors don’t yet realize the benefits for employee mental and physical health and wellbeing that come from a greater sense of meaning and purpose in their work. First off, I’d suggest you talk to them about the research on this topic. If the argument about the mental and physical wellbeing of employees doesn’t satisfy them, I suggest you bring up research about how creating a meaningful workplace contributes to the bottom line of well-known companies such as Hewlett-Packard, Southwest Airlines, Tom’s of Maine, Ben & Jerry’s Homemade, and many others. Also consider bringing this research to the attention of the HR department and upper-level administrators if your direct supervisor is not flexible.

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Still, regardless of what your supervisor might think, a great deal of these activities are under your own control. Remember, you’re working for yourself, not for anyone else. 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:

  • Do you already practice any of the meaning-making workplace activities described above? If so, what do you do, and how have they worked out for you in gaining a greater sense of meaning and purpose? If not, which of these do you think are the lowest-hanging fruits for you?
  • How has reading this article caused you to think differently about finding meaning and purpose in the workplace? What’s your main takeaway?
  • Do you intend to take specific steps to gain greater meaning and purpose from your work after reading this article? If so, what do you intend to do?
  • What kind of benefit have you gained from reading this article, and how might this information improve your life?

Featured photo credit: Happy businesswoman via flickr.com

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Dr. Gleb Tsipursky

President and Co-Founder at Intentional Insights; Disaster Avoidance Consultant

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Last Updated on November 15, 2019

How Do You Change a Habit (According to Psychology)

How Do You Change a Habit (According to Psychology)

Habits are hard to kill, and rightly so. They are a part and parcel of your personality traits and mold your character.

However, habits are not always something over-the-top and quirky enough to get noticed. Think of subtle habits like tapping fingers when you are nervous and humming songs while you drive. These are nothing but ingrained habits that you may not realize easily.

Just take a few minutes and think of something specific that you do all the time. You will notice how it has become a habit for you without any explicit realization. Everything you do on a daily basis starting with your morning routine, lunch preferences to exercise routines are all habits.

Habits mostly form from life experiences and certain observed behaviors, not all of them are healthy. Habitual smoking can be dangerous to your health. Similarly, a habit could also make you lose out on enjoying something to its best – like how some people just cannot stop swaying their bodies when delivering a speech.

Thus, there could be a few habits that you would want to change about yourself. But changing habits is not as easy as it seems, why?

What Makes It Hard To Change A Habit?

To want to change a particular habit means to change something very fundamental about your behavior.[1] Hence, it’s necessary to understand how habits actually form and why they are so difficult to actually get out of.

The Biology

Habits form in a place what we call the subconscious mind in our brain.[2]

Our brains have two modes of operation. The first one is an automatic pilot kind of system that is fast and works on reflexes often. It is what we call the subconscious part. This is the part that is associated with everything that comes naturally to you.

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The second mode is the conscious mode where every action and decision is well thought out and follows a controlled way of thinking.

A fine example to distinguish both would be to consider yourself learning to drive or play an instrument. For the first time you try learning, you think before every movement you make. But once you have got the hang of it, you might drive without applying much thought into it.

Both systems work together in our brains at all times. When a habit is formed, it moves from the conscious part to the subconscious making it difficult to control.

So, the key idea in deconstructing a habit is to go from the subconscious to the conscious.

Another thing you have to understand about habits is that they can be conscious or hidden.

Conscious habits are those that require active input from your side. For instance, if you stop setting your alarm in the morning, you will stop waking up at the same time.

Hidden habits, on the other hand, are habits that we do without realizing. These make up the majority of our habits and we wouldn’t even know them until someone pointed them out. So the first difficulty in breaking these habits is to actually identify them. As they are internalized, they need a lot of attention to detail for self-identification. That’s not all.

Habits can be physical, social, and mental, energy-based and even be particular to productivity. Understanding them is necessary to know why they are difficult to break and what can be done about them.

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The Psychology

Habits get engraved into our memories depending on the way we think, feel and act over a particular period of time. The procedural part of memory deals with habit formation and studies have observed that various types of conditioning of behavior could affect your habit formations.

Classical conditioning or pavlovian conditioning is when you start associating a memory with reality.[3] A dog that associates ringing bell to food will start salivating. The same external stimuli such as the sound of church bells can make a person want to pray.

Operant conditioning is when experience and the feelings associated with it form a habit.[4] By encouraging or discouraging an act, individuals could either make it a habit or stop doing it.

Observational learning is another way habits could take form. A child may start walking the same way their parent does.

What Can You Do To Change a Habit?

Sure, habits are hard to control but it is not impossible. With a few tips and hard-driven dedication, you can surely get over your nasty habits.

Here are some ways that make use of psychological findings to help you:

1. Identify Your Habits

As mentioned earlier, habits can be quite subtle and hidden from your view. You have to bring your subconscious habits to an aware state of mind. You could do it by self-observation or by asking your friends or family to point out the habit for your sake.

2. Find out the Impact of Your Habit

Every habit produces an effect – either physical or mental. Find out what exactly it is doing to you. Does it help you relieve stress or does it give you some pain relief?

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It could be anything simple. Sometimes biting your nails could be calming your nerves. Understanding the effect of a habit is necessary to control it.

3. Apply Logic

You don’t need to be force-fed with wisdom and advice to know what an unhealthy habit could do to you.

Late-night binge-watching just before an important presentation is not going to help you. Take a moment and apply your own wisdom and logic to control your seemingly nastily habits.

4. Choose an Alternative

As I said, every habit induces some feeling. So, it could be quite difficult to get over it unless you find something else that can replace it. It can be a simple non-harming new habit that you can cultivate to get over a bad habit.

Say you have the habit of banging your head hard when you are angry. That’s going to be bad for you. Instead, the next time you are angry, just take a deep breath and count to 10. Or maybe start imagining yourself on a luxury yacht. Just think of something that will work for you.

5. Remove Triggers

Get rid of items and situations that can trigger your bad habit.

Stay away from smoke breaks if you are trying to quit it. Remove all those candy bars from the fridge if you want to control your sweet cravings.

6. Visualize Change

Our brains can be trained to forget a habit if we start visualizing the change. Serious visualization is retained and helps as a motivator in breaking the habit loop.

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For instance, to replace your habit of waking up late, visualize yourself waking up early and enjoying the early morning jog every day. By continuing this, you would naturally feel better to wake up early and do your new hobby.

7. Avoid Negative Talks and Thinking

Just as how our brain is trained to accept a change in habit, continuous negative talk and thinking could hamper your efforts put into breaking a habit.

Believe you can get out of it and assert yourself the same.

Final Thoughts

Changing habits isn’t easy, so do not expect an overnight change!

Habits took a long time to form. It could take a while to completely break out of it. You will have to accept that sometimes you may falter in your efforts. Don’t let negativity seep in when it seems hard. Keep going at it slowly and steadily.

More About Changing Habits

Featured photo credit: Mel via unsplash.com

Reference

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