Is motivation at work a problem for you? What’s the difference between motivation, willpower and self discipline? How can they help you to feel happier at work? Why can't you motivate yourself at work any more?
Bear with me while I go in to a little depth on the differences and whether you can develop these characteristics. I’ll then explain how they can help you at work.
For years I thought I struggled with motivation. Or lack of willpower. Turns out it's not motivation or willpower that cause the problems, it's poor self discipline. Once I realised the difference, I started working on developing better self discipline to good effect. So what are the differences? Let’s start with some dictionary definitions
Cause a person to act in a particular way, stimulate the interest of a person in an activity
Motivation can be
Control exercised by deliberate purpose over impulse; self control
The act of or ability to apply oneself, control one’s feelings etc; self control
And a bonus definition…
The power of controlling one’s external reactions, emotions etc
They don’t sound all that different – motivation sounds like things that make us act, so a pull towards, if you like. Willpower or self control sound a bit like the opposite, we have to resist temptation, not do something that’s bad for us.. And self discipline? Both, by the sound of things, the discipline to do something we should, or not do something we shouldn’t.
You can see there are two types of motivation
Extrinsic, like getting paid for your work, not getting in the bosses bad books, meeting the customer’s needs so that they don’t get angry. Or so that they are happy with us, we’re motivated by the approval.
Intrinsic – it comes from within ourselves, we’re able to get on with something that we really want to, just because we want to. This is where I used to fail. I’d want to lose weight, but instead of going to the gym I’d eat cake.
One of my favourite quotes ever is Zig Ziglar on motivation. He said people often complained that motivation doesn’t last, and his reply? Neither does bathing, that’s why we do it every day. I used to wonder what I had to do to motivate myself every day, because as much as I love the quote, it doesn’t really tell me the answer. I wrote more on how much this annoyed me here.
So I read that willpower doesn’t work. We run out of it, it’s a finite resource. A bit like energy, if you use it all up one day, you have to rest and recharge to build up your supplies again. What this means is that if you start your day stressed getting the kids out of the house for school, college or whatever, and making sure they have a decent breakfast before they go, and have got all the kit they need for the day, and having a healthy breakfast yourself, then battling with traffic or the public transport commute, the bus is late again, you have to stand on the way in, and then you’ve got to be nice to your boss and your incompetent colleagues, and not lose your temper with a dissatisfied client, you run out of willpower to make a start on that massive report that you know you should be working on, but it’s ok because it’s not due for a couple of weeks yet. The best thing I’ve read on willpower is actually called ‘Willpower doesn’t work’, written by Benjamin Hardy. You can find my review of this book on You Tube. Spoiler alert – it’s worth a read.
So if will power doesn’t work, is self discipline the answer? I mean, it’s not that different by the sound of things, both require self control. Well, yes and no. It is, but the trick is to develop it. It’s not something you either have or don’t have. It’s like a muscle. Exercise it, build up its strength and it will get stronger. And much like exercise, the way to do this is through a regular habit. Start small – you can’t go into a gym and lift 85kg the first time you go in, if you’ve never lifted weights before. Especially if you’re an unfit overweight middle aged woman like me. Hell, I couldn’t pick up the 20kg kettlebell this time last year. I mean, literally couldn’t lift it from the floor. But I did in fact lift 85kg a couple of months ago, after a programme that built up from what I could do, and now I regularly lift 60-65kg. And look at that, I now have the self discipline required for a regular exercise habit. Pretty amazing considering all my life I’ve struggled with this and never made exercise a regular part of my life.
What's the answer?
And so it is with any habit. Start small. Use tricks to make sure you’re reminded to do what you said you’d do. Make sure your environment supports your new habit, make it easy to do.
And that, there is the answer. You have to practice self discipline, and develop yourself so that you are better at it. How? Are you screaming at me now? Tell me how! I will come to that. But first, you want to know how they can help you be happier at work.
How to be happier at work
Do you often complain about having to go in to work? Do you complain about your boss, your incompetent colleagues who leave everything to you? Do you feel miserable at the prospect of another work week? I’m sorry to break it to you, but you’re doing this to yourself. These feelings and responses are bad habits. If you want to feel happier at work, you have got to put some effort into changing your approach. Look back at that definition of self control – controlling one’s external reactions and emotions. Daniel Goleman found that people who have good emotional intelligence do better at work, and part of this is managing one’s own emotions.
There’s loads of recent findings that suggest that happiness comes before success, and let’s face it, mostly we only want to be successful because we want to be happy. So it makes sense to work on being happy. Aristotle is often quoted as saying that ‘We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit’. (He apparently didn’t, but that doesn’t make the observation less true.) We are what we repeatedly do. If we repeatedly complain, we’re a complainer. If we are repeatedly cheerful and enthusiastic…. well, you can work that out. Being happy, cheerful, optimistic, enthusiastic, motivated… these are all habits we can develop. This is good news! You’re not doomed to this miserable job for the rest of your working life! You can turn it into something you love. You can move on when you’re ready, for the right opportunity, rather than jumping out of the frying pan into the fire.
My favourite mantra at the moment is start small. But I also think it is worth thinking about what will make the biggest difference. In Atomic Habits, Clear talks about habits that have a ripple effect. In the Power of Habits, Charles Duhigg talks about keystone habits. For me, exercise was a keystone habit, exercising has a knock on effect of helping me to eat more healthily too. What you need to do is work out what you could do that would be simple to implement, but would have a similar ripple effect.
Two things that worked really well for me were
Stickk.com is a website where you make your commitment; I committed to exercise three times a week for eight weeks. If I failed on my commitment in any week, I would be fined. I got people to referee and support me, so people checking up that I was following through. Although in fact, it was more the matter of pride that ensured I followed through.
Focusmate.com is a website where you sign up for a 50 minute work session, and it pairs you up with a random person on the internet who wants to do the same thing. At the beginning of the session, you tell each other what you’re working on, and at the end you say how you’ve done. Throughout, you have your computer’s camera and microphone on, so they can see if you’re still sat there working, or hear if you have YouTube videos going. I’m sitting here now with Jasmin, who is working on transcribing interviews for her Masters degree while I finish this article. But the bit that really works for me on this is if I book for a session at 9am the next morning, I have to be at my desk at 9am because someone is depending on me to be there when I said I would. It is also easier to focus on one task for a 50 minute sprint, and not get distracted by Facebook.
So I wholeheartedly recommend starting small, and trying one of these web tools. If you want to understand the process behind how our brains work and how to change your habits, read Willpower doesn’t work, and also read Atomic Habits by James Clear, they give so much useful – and scientifically backed – advice on how to stop habits you don’t want, and start the ones you do.
You can watch my review of Atomic Habits here
The Power of Habit here
And Willpower Doesn't Work here
Clear, James, 2018. Atomic Habits. Random House Business Books, London
Duhigg, Charles 2012.The Power of Habit. Random House Group, London
Hardy, Benjamin, 2018. Willpower Doesn't Work. Piatkus, London
Master your ego – there’s a day of the year dedicated to this; Ego Awareness Day. Saturday 11th May is the second ego awareness day, it began in 2018. Who decides on these days? I went to the website, and it’s a very earnest website, with no individuals credited on there. In fact, one of the descriptions almost made me feel it was a spoof day.
I’ll be honest, I first started getting interested in days of the year as a bit of a running joke with my brother and sister. My brother posted on facebook that it was Penguin Awareness Day, not to be confused with World Penguin Day or African Penguin Awareness Day. Amongst other things, I was staggered that there was even such a thing as African penguins, so clearly the awareness day thing works. Since then, we periodically highlight others that amuse us.
Ego awareness day
So, ego awareness day. As a blogger, we learn to connect to these days so we can hashtag them on social media, and I couldn’t let this one pass. I wondered if there was something in it.
The latest book I reviewed says, among other things, that the biggest obstacle to change in the workplace is the leader. He’s talking about you. The leader who wants to make the change, the reader of his book. His advice? Learn to master your ego.
‘Work to master your ego. Work to quiet your voice. Work to step out of the way. You must become a paragon of trying new things. Starting new loops. Asking big questions. Don’t stay stuck in the habit of evaluating and judging the work of others. Go find something to do.
‘Your new job is to ensure that the conditions for change are in place, not just now but in perpetuity. While you won’t be doing as much “leading” in the traditional sense, you’ll be doing something far more rewarding. You’ll be creating and holding space for change.’
Not sure if that’s an accurate version of the quote, I had to rely on Google, and there are a few variations. But you get the idea. And if it’s good enough for Einstein, I’m pretty sure it’s good enough for the rest of us.
Well, yes. If you view it as a reflection that none of us are perfect, we all need to continue to learn, develop and grow, then of course we need to master the ego. I know I’m guilty of believing I’m always right (ask my husband) and it generally takes proof for me to admit I’m wrong. I also discovered recently how I like to retain control, as I described here. It’s difficult to let go, and as leaders in the workplace it’s so tempting to think that we know best.
Dignan also says that the old practices of scientific management, embodied by Frederick Taylor, separated the thinking from the doing. And it’s disturbing how much this attitude still prevails, with managers telling their teams what to do, and sometimes even what to think. As autonomy is so important to our motivation, no wonder so many people are dissatisfied and disengaged at work.
What can you do to master the ego?
Let me know what you think. Will you work on mastering your ego? Will you try one of these suggestions?
Links here to the book reviews mentioned
Birthdays - a time for reflection. Last year, I was horrified about being 60, it seemed so grown up. In my head, I’m still a teenager. I laugh at fart jokes and swear words, (swear words are funny, ok?) my husband’s dad jokes on Facebook, daft things with my kids and five year old grandson. I still love rock music, including some new (ish) stuff, although I’m hopelessly out of touch with what’s new. I will get up and dance round my handbag at a family do. Yes, I know teenagers don’t do that any more, but that’s what I did, so it counts.
The last few years my birthday has been overshadowed because it is also the date we lost my much loved mother in law. I’m thinking today too about my own mom, who passed away at the age of 60. So I’m relieved to have made it to 61.
Counting my blessings
In the last year I’ve taken up weight training, photography and improvisational comedy. I’ve lost three stones – more than 40 lbs - and can now walk further than the length of my local High St without needing to lie down for a rest.
I’m enjoying working on developing a business, and I think, after all these years, I’ve cured myself of procrastination
I have a wonderful family who I love so much; a husband who loves me and has supported me for 40 years of marriage. A grown up son who’s worked hard to gain his engineering qualifications and I’m immensely proud of. A daughter and son in law, who are lovely parents to two beautiful children, my five year old grandson and his new baby sister.
I’m blessed with lovely extended family and supportive friends. Sisters, brothers, their families, the in laws, with all their aunts, uncles, cousins, first cousins once removed, second cousins…. There are hundreds of them. And we get to see and spend time with a fair few. Not often, but when we do, it’s usually joyous. Friends, old and new, people I worked with years ago, people I’ve met more recently, people who support other solopreneurs and entrepreneurs.
So this year, instead of cursing about my age, I’ve decided to be grateful I’m still here, getting older, loving life. I’ve been talking about gratitude as a great way to improve your mood and positivity for a while now. But something about today just made me properly feel it.
62nd year, bring it on
And then, the universe came knocking
It’s usually my husband who goes in for meaningful reflective posts on Facebook, but today it just seemed right, so I posted something similar to this in my timeline. I was in a great mood, fully happy with life. And then, just when I didn’t need a reminder of how life is short, the universe sent me one anyway.
I’d just got home from a walk, sat down with a cup of fruit tea while deciding what tasks to do next, when there was a knock at the door. A neighbour stood there. He’s lived across the road from me for almost the whole time we’ve been in this house, more than thirty years. His daughter is the same age as my son, we used to walk to school together with her and her mom. He said his wife died on Monday. She was 56 years of age.
They’d had so much to look forward to. Two years earlier, they had sold their house and were planning to move to a village in the countryside. It all fell apart when she collapsed suddenly one night and suffered brain damage. For the past two years, she had needed full time care, unable to speak, eat, walk or do anything for herself. And now she’s gone. Her daughter’s baby girl will never know her nanna growing up. There will be no mother of the bride at the wedding later this year. My neighbour has lost the happy retirement in the countryside they had both planned.
We weren’t close friends – we’d not really spent much time together since those walks to school, somehow our friendship didn’t develop into a close one and we drifted in different directions when there was no reason to spend time together. So in one respect, it won’t leave a hole in my life. But my word, what a shock. Even though I knew her quality of life wasn’t there, even though her husband recognised that, I can’t help but feel for him and his family. Such a personal tragedy.
And I know these things happen all the time, there are countless personal tragedies happening daily. I lost my parents many years ago. We all know people who’ve lost people, fathers to cancer, mothers to strokes, partners to pneumonia, even people who have lost children. But there was something about the way I was feeling yesterday, remembering my mom perhaps, and feeling relieved that I’m still here even though she’d died aged 60, this news hit me like a cold shower. It was the starkest of stark reminders that we don’t know what tomorrow will bring, we need to be grateful for the good things we have in life, and don’t waste it on stuff that doesn’t matter. And definitely, don’t live for retirement. You can’t guarantee that you’ll have one.
It was also a reminder of how much I do have to be thankful for. I probably love my life now more than I ever have. I’ve counted my blessings above, so I won’t go over them again. But I will say one more thing; if there are things in your life you wish were different, don’t waste any more time wishing, take action. Do something. And I’ve said many times before, I know how hard that is, those habits are so ingrained; sometimes we even know we’re doing something from habit, but still carry on despite knowing it’s hurting us.
Start even smaller by leaving me a comment below, tell me what you’re grateful for today.