I wonder, does it? Does achieving goals make us happy?
I wrote last time about new year’s resolutions and how I have an appalling success rate with them, but still somehow love setting them. I delude myself that this time will be different. Although to be fair, I am making progress 😊. In this post I explore some of the reasons why I think it's problematic, and how to make a change for the better.
Resolutions or goals?
Instead of resolutions, maybe we could describe them as goals. So, if we think new year’s resolutions don’t work, if we fall foul of Quitter’s Day, should we just set goals when we need to, when things we want to achieve come up?
Well, I have another confession. I struggle with the standard advice on goal setting too. It’s either, ‘set SMART goals and monitor your progress towards them’, or ‘set big fat hairy audacious massive goals’. Then visualise yourself achieving them. Feel, what will it mean to achieve your goals? What will you see, what will you hear, what will you feel?’ As a serial procrastinator, I can spend ages setting goals, working out plans, and not getting on with them.
I’m certain this works for many people. But I sit there unable to really create that strong feeling of success, achievement of those goals. Maybe I have no imagination? Maybe I don’t want it enough to make the sacrifices necessary to achieve those goals? I dunno, neither of those explanations feel right to me, and they also don’t serve me. I’ve concluded that these ideas are too airy fairy for me, they’re not practical or tangible enough to motivate me. Focusing on these explanations is also demotivating in itself, it feeds into the false belief that I’m inadequate, or don’t deserve to succeed with my goals. So I’ve ditched them as explanations.
I’m also motivated by deadlines, I’m very much a last minute person. Some may say that’s a bad sign, the sign of a procrastinator. Well, yes, there’s certainly some truth in that. But in his book Start Now, Get Perfect Later, Rob Moore introduces the idea of complex planning. Back in prehistoric times, it paid to stop and consider whether taking on that mammoth was a good idea before acting. Scientists have pointed out that without such complex planning, the human species would not have survived beyond prehistoric times. Such complex planning is therefore a useful tactic.
It was a standing joke between me and some friends for a while; we weren’t procrastinating, we were doing some complex planning. But joking apart, if we have a mammoth task in front of us, or a big decision to make, sometimes that thinking time is a crucial part of the process. As a mature student a few years back, I usually completed essays at 3.30 am the day before it was due in. My closest call was standing in line as the 12 noon deadline approached, hoping against hope that they wouldn’t shut the doors before I handed my work in. But I usually started the reading as soon as I knew the assignment. It was just the writing up I left till the last minute. All that reading time – now I know that was complex planning.
Conversely, I remember once at work that a manager asked me to do a task involving Excel spreadsheets at the last minute – as task she was supposed to have done, but had also left till the last minute. Because I didn’t have the complex planning time, I really struggled with getting this done on time, and felt majorly stressed about it. I can’t deny that writing undergraduate assignments at 3.30 am was stressful too, but somehow it didn’t seem as bad as that spreadsheet task. I believe this was because I knew I had it under control, knew that I’d get it done to a good enough standard, when I’d had all the thinking and reading time. I had no such belief when the whole thing had been dropped on me at the last minute.
Getting my degree though, that was a goal. I really wanted to achieve this. I don’t think I visualised what it would mean to me to get it. Maybe I believed that it would improve my career prospects, but that wasn’t the reason I wanted to do it. I just wanted to study for its own sake. I wanted to go to university. Open University study didn’t motivate me in the same way, I wanted the full undergraduate experience. A few years before, I had a job near the university campus, and would watch with envy when the students were flooding in to their classes while I was going to work. When I finally decided to apply and the university told me I’d have to do an access course first, I just ignored that advice and applied anyway, I wasn’t willing to waste any more time. And got in. I may have fantasised a little about swanning about in the cap and gown for the graduation ceremony, but I didn’t really go in for visualising success.
So I was frustrated with myself for such a long time about not being able to visualise success, and not making good progress towards my goals. I thought it was my fault. Maybe I didn’t deserve to achieve success, maybe I didn’t want it enough, maybe I wasn’t trying hard enough.
Achieving success - what then?
The other side of this emphasis on goals is, what happens when you achieve them? Does getting that graduate job make us happy? Does getting that promotion? A new car? The house we want for our family? Maybe. But often, only until the novelty wears off, and then we start asking ourselves what next? I saw an interview with Tyson Fury, the boxer, where he talked about his mental health. I’m not a fan of boxing, and my only prior experience of Tyson Fury was when he checked into a hotel in front of me and my husband. I didn’t recognise him, but my husband did. I had not heard good things about him, but this interview was in the middle of Russell Howard’s show on Sky, which is the only reason I caught it. I was totally surprised by Fury; he was not at all what I expected. But for the purposes of this post, the interesting thing is that he said once he’d achieved his goal of winning the world heavyweight titles, he crashed. He said he’d always been anxious, depressed, but while he had a goal of becoming the heavyweight champion of the world, put it to the back of his mind. Any traumas, losses, he didn’t have time to think about, he was too focused on achieving his goals.
He said his dad asked what was he going to do when he became champion? Fury said he could feel it coming, he’d probably be down for a couple of years. All his eggs were in one basket, to win this fight. He knew that after, he wasn’t going to have a goal any more. With nothing more to strive for, it all came crashing down. Fury felt he had nothing to live for and wanted to die.
Although I’ve never been suicidal, I do recognise that feeling of a crash when the goal is achieved. When I got my degree, when my three years at university were over, I remember being depressed too. I’d identified so strongly with being a student, and now I needed to get back into the world of work, what should I do? What was my identity now?
Achieving goals is not what makes us happy
So sure, goals are important. But achieving goals is not what makes us happy. As Shawn Achor has it, happiness comes before success. It’s about the journey, not the destination. It sounds like a cliché, but clichés only become clichés because they are true. If you’re not enjoying the journey, what makes you think you’ll enjoy the destination? What counts is the mindset, the approach, the little things. As I said in my last post, achieving goals is about implementation. It’s about systems and processes. It’s about monitoring and reviewing progress. It’s about overcoming difficulties and setbacks.
You can visualise success all you like, but if you don’t take action, if you don’t do the things you need to do to reach your goal on a daily basis, then that vision in a cap and gown will never materialise. Tyson Fury would not become world heavyweight champion without his training programme, without watching his diet for months before a fight, and yes, without getting his mindset right. I would not have got my degree without doing the reading, without spending time crafting my arguments into 3000 word essays, without getting them complete and handed in before the deadline. What made me happy was spending that time reading, gaining new information, working out what it meant, putting it together. (And what’s interesting is that now I use that process to write or share videos about what I’m reading and learning these days.)
One thing that works for me now is that I use systems and processes, many learned from the 12 week year by Brian Moran and Michael Lennington. It was a light bulb moment for me when I read about lead indicators and lag indicators. We tend to focus on lag indicators. Have we seen a weight loss on the scale? Have we succeeded in getting a new job? Have we won the world heavyweight championship? But what we need to focus on are the lead indicators. Have we followed our fitness and nutrition programme? Have we applied for enough new jobs? Have we practised our fight techniques every day?
That link between your actions every day and your goal is crucial. I’m sure it sounds obvious to those who have never had problems working towards their goals, who don’t bother with new year resolutions because they don’t need to. But for the rest of us mere mortals who set SMART goals, or even big fat hairy audacious goals, it’s less obvious; it was revelatory to me. By monitoring such lead indicators, we can give ourselves a better chance of reaching the goal. Moran and Lennington reckon about 80% success rate in implementation gives a strong likelihood of reaching the goal. But in the meantime, we also have the satisfaction of knowing that we’re working on them, focus on what we’re doing right, and making ourselves happy on the journey, not just the destination.
If you’re like me and have difficulty working towards your goals, maybe it's time for a rethink about your approach. Instead of agonising and planning and visualising to no avail, strip the process down. The goal is simple - you know if you want to lose weight, get a new job or promotion, be happy at work, have happier relationships. Focus instead on what do you need to do to get there. What is the process, and what systems do you need to put in place to ensure you follow that process? If you want to be happier at work, you need to take daily actions to make yourself happier. More about that next time, or take a look at these videos in the meantime.
Did Quitter's Day get you?
January is over. How are the new year resolutions going after one month? I've made progress on one of mine, struggled a bit with the fitness because of illness, and put one on the back burner for now, to revisit in the spring.
I’ve seen a lot of comments on social media this year from people saying that they don’t believe in making new year resolutions. They prefer to set realistic goals anytime.
Personally, I’ve always loved new year’s resolutions, even though I have an abysmal past record of keeping them. There’s something about the idea of a new start that’s appealing to me, and I’ve developed a theory about this. No scientific research to back me up, just a pet theory based on my own observations and personal experience, but hear me out on this one.
There are two types of people – those who believe in making resolutions, and those who don’t. (Actually, as I’m making this up as I go along, maybe there are three types – those who don’t are subdivided into two types.)
Those who don’t believe in making resolutions
People who prefer to set realistic goals anytime.
My pet theory about these people is that they are the ones who don’t struggle with motivation, are able to deal with setbacks and persevere with working towards their goals, have good systems in place to track their progress and adjust if things aren’t going to plan. They don’t suffer from procrastination. I spoke to one of these creatures a few years back, a guy who said he didn’t suffer from procrastination. I was envious. He gave me some advice, which was to read Eat that Frog by Brian Tracy. Now, I know that people love Brian Tracy, but this turned out to be rubbish advice for me. He said it worked for him. Or rather, I think he just knew this stuff without having to read it in a book. Being the kind of person who didn’t suffer procrastination, he didn’t really understand a procrastinator’s brain. The sum of the advice I took from that book was, do the most difficult thing first, get it out of the way. What this resulted in for me was that I didn’t get anything at all done. I procrastinated. I needed to do the difficult thing, I procrastinated on that, and didn’t do anything else instead.
What that advice doesn’t take into account is that procrastination isn’t a time management problem, it’s an emotional management problem. Better advice is to do some very small, unthreatening thing first. Success breeds success. A procrastinator is more likely to feel that success by doing some small non threatening thing first, not their most difficult thing of the day. There’s lots of scientific studies that back up that this is the way our brains work, but I can’t be bothered to look them all up right now. My task for today is to write this article and I’m in flow. If I have to stop to look up sources then damn, I’ve got to make myself start again! I wrote last year about taking the first step, you can read this article here. I think I might have cited some sources in that one.
Those who do believe in making resolutions
I put myself very firmly in this group. I love the idea of a fresh start, and have set new year’s resolutions probably every year of my life. I’ve set the same (ish) three for probably around the last ten years.
I even wrote about these three aims in one of my very early posts, and considered whether it was feasible to succeed in all three at the same time. The fact of me still working on them after all this time probably gives me the answer. Unless it’s just that I was still looking at it all wrong at that point.
Another popular theory is that what motivates us is big fat hairy audacious massive goals. Whatever adjective you prefer. Or SMART goals, let’s set SMART goals.
Long experience of setting goals – aka new year’s resolutions – have taught me that it’s not about the goals. Not for me, and I suspect many other resolution setters. It’s about implementation. It’s about systems and processes. It’s about monitoring and reviewing progress. It’s about overcoming difficulties and setbacks.
Where I think we’ve been going wrong, us people who love setting resolutions, is that we want something, and we want it badly, but we don’t really know how to go about getting it. So in January (and September) we join Weight Watchers or Slimming World. We join a gym. We start looking for a new job. We wish for things, and think we’re working on them, but really, we’re not sustaining that effort long enough. Or we’re doing the wrong thing, and when that doesn’t work out, we get despondent and give up.
Strava, the fitness app, has analysed its users’ data and found that people give up on the third Friday of January. They’ve called this Quitters Day. Which just goes to show how prevalent this phenomenon is. More about this below.
Those who don’t believe in making resolutions
A sub group who have no ambition or goals at this time in their lives.
I’m making no judgements here. Maybe you’re genuinely happy with your lot. If so, fabulous. If you have more complex needs, I have empathy and sympathy, but I’m not equipped to help you. I mention this just for completeness, and I hope you're able to find the help you need.
If you’ve succumbed to Quitters Day this year, read on
But if you recognise yourself in the resolution setters, this is for you. This is about beliefs. And the things I said above – implementation, systems and processes, monitoring and reviewing progress, overcoming difficulties and setbacks.
If you’ve taken a look at my previous post, you’ll see that I talked about my weight loss progress, and how I’ve finally cracked it after a lifetime of failed diets. Well, I’ve got to confess that it hasn’t gone so well since then. I’ve had some setbacks. Since October last year, I’ve struggled with the exercise programme. A back injury , a wrist injury (neither serious, but enough to disrupt the exercise programme), Christmas, a cold, dental treatment – all got in the way of a regular gym commitment. Add in some wintry weather, and even the daily walking has suffered. This also means I overeat, so not losing weight either.
It's easy to give up in the face of a challenge. And certainly, I have, many times. As I said, a lifetime of failed diets. But now I’m still tracking and monitoring my progress. I’m persevering. I’m going to the gym as soon as I’ve finished writing this article. I’m working on getting my diet back on track, even though it’s more difficult now that I’ve already lost some weight. I haven’t given up. I haven’t put weight back on.
So what’s different? I don’t really like the word ‘mindset’ it sounds like a buzzword to me, but it’s mindset. Anyone who’s read anything about goals or personal development has probably come across the word ‘mindset’. You may well have come across Carol Dweck’s book of the same name. I’d seen this referenced so many times, and figured I got it – fixed mindset, people who think they can’t change, versus growth mindset, those who know they can and love personal growth. I believed I had a growth mindset – after all, I love reading, learning new things, personal development. It wasn’t until I actually read the book that I discovered it was more nuanced. I was horrified to realise that sometimes, in some areas of my life, I had a fixed mindset. I gave up in the face of challenges, instead of dealing with them and overcoming them. You know those people who, when told they can’t do something, respond by ‘showing them’. I usually didn’t do that. I was more likely to agree - oh yeah, I can’t manage that, get despondent and give up ☹. That’s a fixed mindset. Not always, not with everything, depended what it was. But reading the book opened my mind, and that has made the difference. You can watch my review of the book here.
And how can you use the lessons I’ve learned to help you reach your goals? This isn’t meant to be a post about weight loss, but it’s such a useful analogy I can’t help using it. If your goals are work goals, if your new year resolution was to get a new job, or get a promotion, or have better working relationships (Ok, I doubt anyone set that as a resolution, but it’s a great goal to have, right?) how are you feeling about progress one month in? Did you quit on or around Quitters Day? If you have, don’t worry, we’re into a new month. You can have another fresh start for February. If you need a bit of a boost to get you back on track, this is a great book to help you make changes.
In my next post I’m going to talk more about those goals and how useful is it to set them. In the meantime, if you’ve got any questions about how to make changes at work, feel free to contact me or leave a comment, and I’ll be happy to talk to you.
New year’s Eve, when we start thinking about what we’re going to do to be better people, starting tomorrow. Well, soon, anyway. As soon as we’ve finished up the last of the mince pies and other Christmas goodies.
Lose weight or get fit are typically up there with the most popular resolutions. But get a new job or improve my career prospects are also up there. We often start thinking about where we’re going with our careers as we think about getting back to work after the holidays.
With this in mind, I’ve compiled a top ten of my favourite personal development books, focusing on work, productivity, happiness, habits and change.
3. Nine Lies
Why work life balance is a myth and we should learn to fall in love with work. Busts other common beliefs about work too.
5. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
An astonishing account from a survivor of a WW2 concentration camp that has much to teach us about our response when we’re in a situation we don’t like.
6. The 12 Week year by Brian Moran and Michael Lennington
A practical strategy for getting things done
9. Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed
Compares the approach to mistakes and failure in the aviation industry with the healthcare industry. Shows us how a healthy approach to failure is better for everyone, with some things we can learn and take away as individuals
Happy new year!
Can you really learn to be happier at work? Without changing your job? Even if you have a difficult boss?
You hate Mondays....
You're enjoying life at the weekends, but then Sunday afternoon comes around, the evening approaches, and you start to think about Monday. You get that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach. Maybe you can't sleep. Monday morning, you don't want to get out of bed, you start to work out if you can come up with a good excuse not to go in. But you threw a sickie only last week. Perhaps you can say the kids are sick and you’ll work from home? But you know the boss doesn’t like you working from home, so even that’s not without its stresses.
You're bored when you get there...
The work is unfulfilling, you have no control over what you do, you just have to do as you're told. The boss is a control freak and micromanages even the simplest task. She seems to constantly worry that you don’t know how to do your work properly or seems afraid that you might use some initiative and not to the job exactly how she wants. So you feel there’s no point in showing any initiative anyway.
Maybe you're overworked and stressed, and can never get on top of what you have to do. Always firefighting, dealing with the most pressing problem and never planning ahead. So you always feel like there’s things outstanding, no sense of achievement or a job completed well.
You don't like your boss or your colleagues...
Your boss doesn’t have your back, he never gives you any help, just keeps piling it on. He expects you to get through it all and doesn't care if you have to stay late. Then there's your colleagues. Always bitching and gossiping. No-one works as a team, there's no sense of a shared purpose.
How on earth can you learn to be happier in these circumstances?
Mindset. Not ‘think positive’, but mindset.
I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with positive thinking self help books; that skill of always putting a positive spin on things? Sometimes it’s really hard. But by making small adjustments to the way I think about myself, my skills and my situation, I’ve learned so much about mindset and how important it is. Viktor Frankl in a concentration camp experienced at first hand how much difference this makes to survival. Buckingham and Goodall in Nine Lies about Work encourage us to find the ‘red threads’ in our daily lives, and weave more of them into the fabric of our work. Zig Ziglar tells of the woman who complained about how awful her place of work was, but by getting her to focus on gratitude showed how ‘everyone else’ had changed. (It can be found on YouTube, but most have foreign captions. Search for Zig Ziglar and gratitude if you want to watch him.)
I was talking with Michael, who worked for a local authority office. He had hated the work and didn’t get on with his managers. Public expenditure cuts meant the working environment was very negative. One day, in a flash of personal insight, he decided to stop complaining about it and see what he could do to make things better. To look for solutions instead of expecting others to change. He said it took some time, but after a while he found he was enjoying his work more. He discovered a growing respect for his managers, who also started to show him more respect. His managers started to come to him for help, which led to him getting more interesting work, and they started to show him more appreciation.
It’s kind of like when two people fall out, who is going to apologise first? Do you hold on to a grudge and expect the other party to make the first move? If they’re doing exactly the same, no-one does it, and the rift grows. If you want to be shown some appreciation and respect at work, show some to your bosses and your colleagues first. If you want interesting work, demonstrate that you can be trusted to do the simple things well, without complaint, on time. Change your approach, and people will change their behaviour in response.
I’m not saying this will work 100% in every situation. There are some work situations that need more. A bullying manager. A severe micro manager. A ‘rules are rules’ approach. But even in severe situations, acceptance of the situation puts you in a stronger position to act. If you have a bullying manager you do need support, but accepting the situation and not embracing victimhood will mean that you can consider your options – go to HR, go to another manager, look for another job, leave.
In most cases though, it’s not a bullying manager, it’s more that you don’t see eye to eye, you don’t get on, you don’t respect or trust each other. Those things can all be worked on.
And the bottom line is, you can’t control someone else’s behaviour, but you can control your own. You can learn to control your responses and your emotions. If you want to know where to start, download seven things you can do today to be happier at work. These seven simple things can be implemented easily. Make a start on your new habits and new behaviour at work.
Let me know if you’ve tried any of these out, and how you get on.
I was described as a 40 something the other day. I’ll take that, thanks . If you’ve read some of my other posts, you’ll know I left my 40s behind a good while ago.
We were talking about work, and it got me thinking about where I was working in my 40s. It wasn’t a bad job – there were plenty of interesting things to do, I got on well with the boss, and there were only the two of us for most of the time. But there were no prospects, and to be honest I wasn’t using my best skills all that much. The wider organisation – head office, the charity’s trustees – didn’t really know me or my best skills and had no interest in helping me use them or develop and grow. So I got bored. I needed more.
They say 40 is the new 30
50 is the new 40, 60 is… well, you get the idea. And while it’s fun to bask in the glow of being taken for younger than you are, the reality is that we are living longer, are fitter, healthier, have more energy than our grandparents did. We have active brains and expect more from life.
If you’re a 40 or 50 something – you have at least 10 years of your working life in front of you. With pensions the way they are in the UK, it’s probably going to be longer than that.
How does that make you feel? If you’re living your life just counting the clock down until you can retire, you’re doing it wrong. If the thought of another 10, 20 or hell, even more years of turning up for this job fills you with horror, ask yourself, why are you choosing to live like this?
You might be taking issue with me now.
‘I’m not choosing to live this way! I have no choice! I have bills, commitments, family to support!’
There’s always a choice
You might feel trapped in you job. You need the pay, you don’t have the skills, or the confidence to look for something else. You’ve looked, without success. Work sucks anyway, a new job will likely turn out just as bad as this one. Or even worse, and then what?
We may be stuck in a given situation for a time, but we can always choose our response to what happens, how we deal with it.
Even if you haven’t read his account, you’ve probably heard of Viktor Frankl, who wrote about his experiences in Auschwitz, and how those who gave up on life were the first to die. He says
We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.
Man's Search for Meaning
Are you just waiting to be happy?
Your job may be bad, but I’m pretty sure it’s not as bad as Auschwitz. This is such an uplifting read, despite its subject, it gives a great perspective on the resilience of people. (I made a video with my thoughts on the account, you can watch it here.)
Do you want to be one of those people who waits to be happy, waits till a retirement that you might not be able to take, or won’t be able to enjoy because you have no disposable income? Is that what it would take for you to be happy – an absence of work? We hear so much these days about the importance of purpose and meaning in our lives, But Frankl was saying it after the war, after a harrowing experience, and how much it helped those who survived.
Are you asking yourself if there’s more to life than this?
There is. If you want to make a start now and feel happier at work today, I have put together my best tips for making a change. It’s free to download. If you want to find out seven things you can do today to feel happier at work, get it here.
Work life balance – does it matter?
Work – work is hard, it’s no fun, a necessary evil. To be happy, you need balance, your life has to be better, so it evens out the hardship you must endure every day at work.
Really? Is that the work-life balance you want?
I’ve been saying for a long time that work should be fun, motivating, rewarding, meaningful. Fulfilling, purposeful, challenging. Yes, there will be times when the going gets tough, but if you love the purpose of your work, then you can deal with the hard times. But that’s a bit different to believing that work is hard, something you must endure to earn a living.
So is a good work-life balance the answer?
I’ve just finished reading Nine Lies about Work by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall. Lie #8 – work life balance matters most. I’m blown away by this. You might think they’re off their trolley saying this is a lie, of course work life balance matters. But what they say is that it’s more important to be in love with your work.
One of the most moving things I’ve ever read in a business or personal development book is the story they tell of Sergei Polunin. He was a principal dancer at the Royal Ballet who quit at the height of his fame because he was unhappy in his work. I found it particularly tragic that a dancer, surely an artistic form that you can only do if you love your art, had to quit because he was unhappy in his work.
You might know this story, it was big news when it happened in 2012. (I didn’t, I don’t follow ballet.) Buckingham and Goodall then tell us how he fell back in love with his art, which was also big news, there’s been a documentary. It started with a performance on You Tube, and you can see this here. It’s worth watching, even if you’re not a ballet fan. Buckingham and Goodall say...
‘…you’ll recognise it not only as the work of a man at the end of his tether, but also as a pure expression of technical craft and unabashed joy. You see here a man who is taking his loves seriously, interlacing them with craft and discipline, and contributing to us something passionate, rare and pure.’
They talk about red threads, what are the threads in your work that you love? Identify them, and then weave more of them into your work. Fall in love with what you do, and spend more time doing those things at work.
If you’re in full time work, then that’s 35, 40 hours a week – more, if you’re in a stressful job where you’re being taken advantage of - you’re devoting to your employer. Do you want to spend that time resenting what you’re being asked to do? Or do you want to bring your best self, do what you love, bring your contribution to the world? If you’re in a difficult situation, then I get that it’s not a simple fix. A difficult boss or colleagues can be challenging. But if you can find joy in what you’re doing, you’ll feel better about the worst parts of the deal. You'll also be stronger and more able to deal with them.
If you want to know where to start, I’m going to take a leaf out of the book again. Buckingham and Goodall suggest keeping a note for a week of what tasks you love, and what tasks you loathe, as you do them over the course of the week. No need to worry where there's no strong feelings, just the extremes. At the end of a work week, you will have a list of your red threads. There’s no need for all of your threads at work to be red; research found that if they make up 20% or more of what you do, then you are in love with your work. I'm surprised it's such a small proportion, but that gives hope. If you have other issues, such as difficult working relationships, then at least you know you have a solid foundation on which to build.
If you’ve read some of my other articles, you’ll know that I’m a big advocate of starting small with making a change. Does this activity sound like something you could do? If it does, I’ve made it a little easier by preparing a simple checklist you can download and use for the process.
You can also see my review of Nine Lies about Work here. I’d love to know what you think of it.
Get your checklist now and find your red threads
Buckingham, Marcus and Goodall, Ashley, 2019 Nine Lies about Work, Harvard Business Review Press Boston, Massachusetts
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
BUPA’s point with the article seems to be to encourage older employees to feel more confident in recognising symptoms and seeking help. Which is all very admirable.
For me though, as one of those older people (ok, not an employee any longer, but definitely in that age group) the article raises more questions than it answers. Those symptoms – are they an indication that professional help is needed? Continuous low mood – if you’re not happy at work, then yes, you may have a continuous low mood. Is that an indication of a mental health issue, or is it a question of an individual’s mindset?
There’s a line between what is a mental health issue that needs professional support and someone who is unhappy because they have a fixed mindset and, to quote Carol Dweck, think the world needs to change, not them. Or, as Jen Sincero  says, people with bad habits and limiting beliefs, head towards the big snooze – a life of mediocrity. It’s too easy to sleepwalk through life, meeting obligations , family commitments, having to earn a living, and then find that you’re stuck in some boring job that doesn’t inspire you or seem meaningful. That doesn’t translate necessarily into a mental health issue that needs professional help. There are things you can do, take action yourself, make a change. I know, because I’ve done it.
Apparently, many say that mental health simply ‘doesn’t affect me’. Is this because, as a comment on the article suggests, that older employees won’t speak up because they are afraid that if they do, their job is at risk? (Quite possibly.) Or is it because baby boomers are used to just getting on with things, even if they don’t feel like it? I’d say this is a definite characteristic of us baby boomers. Amongst the women, there’s a sense of obligation to our family commitments that mean we struggle on. Many men of this age still feel it is somehow weak to seek help for mental health issues.
And that 54 days before seeking help – so less than two months. You might legitimately feel that things will get better of their own accord without needing help; although, I realise I can’t argue this without proving BUPA’s point! But I’d still say; is less than two months suffering a continuous low mood an inordinately long time to wait before seeking help? Maybe younger people are too quick to say they have a problem that they can’t solve themselves?
One statistic in their findings I do find shocking is that two thirds of people in this age group suffer symptoms like anxiousness, (is anxiousness the same as anxiety? I’d have said anxiety, but the study said anxiousness. Maybe there’s some semantic difference I’m not aware of) continuous low mood, feelings of hopelessness and insomnia. Even if BUPA are overstating the extent of the problem, this is a terrible indictment of the quality of life for working baby boomers. I’ve long believed that work should be meaningful, enjoyable and rewarding. Surely us over 50s have earned the right to be doing something we love with our time, something we find useful and that we look forward to doing? Surely we should not be feeling hopeless, anxious or continuously in a low mood?
What is often not said is that it is work that makes us feel this way. Our lifelong feeling of not being valued in jobs that don’t feel meaningful leads to low self esteem and has a knock on effect on the rest of our lives. We don’t have interesting personal lives, we’re too tired once we get back from work to take part in social activities or hobbies, our family relationships may be suffering, and our health, fitness and diet aren’t ideal, making the tiredness worse.
I don’t want to suggest that you shouldn’t seek professional help if you need it, and if your company is enlightened and supportive enough to offer this, that’s awesome, use it. Or use the NHS. I'm not medically trained in any way, but my own past experience of support from the NHS for mental health issues hasn't really addressed issues of low self esteem and confidence. This has taken a lot of personal effort in self development and informal support instead.
So if it’s that you’re just unhappy at work, take action. Take control, and take back your power. There are some simple things you can do to be happier, and you can start today with these seven things.
Are you stuck in a job you don’t like, and you’d really like to make some changes, but somehow you never seem to get around to doing anything about it other than complain? I just want to say, it’s not your fault. It’s really hard to make that change, and sometimes we don’t even know where to start. To compound the problem, our brains conspire to keep us where we are. This post I wrote some time ago tells you more about how it does this.
I told you in the last post how I’d finally got the diet and exercise habit. What I didn’t say was that this was after more than forty years of failing to adopt healthy diet and fitness habits on a sustainable basis. So yay for me! And that got me thinking about transferring the lessons learned into other areas, and I showed you how you could start small to make some changes in your work situation.
I realised that the reason I’ve now adopted the new habits is because there are consequences to not sticking with it. At first, the consequence was that I’d have to pay a fine and show on a public website that I’d not achieved my goal. But now, several months later, the consequences of not getting in my activity for the day mean that I don’t get to eat so much. To continue losing weight, I must maintain a calorie deficit. If I’m active, I get more calories to eat and can still maintain a deficit on the day. If I don’t maintain a deficit, I won’t continue losing weight, and I now know that the progress motivates me. I don’t like to see a weight gain. I’ve associated the behaviour with the consequences.
There are other things I’d like to achieve though, and I realised that the consequences are not sufficiently associated with the results, so I need to find a way to link them – to ingrain the new habit to work towards other goals.
Which brings me to urgency. I’ve also always been a last minute kind of woman. As a mature student, I was often up until 3.30 am to finish an assignment. Once, I handed something in at one minute to the deadline, and my dissertation involved two consecutive all nighters in order to get it in on time. I did well to do two consecutive all nighters – that involved me planning ahead and doing some work two days before it was due in.
Now that I work alone, I have to create my own urgency, I have no tutor or manager expecting work to be done to a specific time, so you might have noticed that I don’t post an article every week. At the moment, I don’t have readers who expect a weekly post, so there are no immediate or obvious consequences if I miss a week.
You may be in a job you don’t like, you may come home and complain to your family or friends about how awful it is, and you may even look at the job ads online to see if there’s anything else out there. But you’re not really taking action, you feel stuck in your current situation. There’s no urgency to make the change. You need the income your job provides, you’re tired out when you get back with domestic responsibilities, you don’t have time to fill out job applications online. The consequences, remaining fed up, dreading Sunday evenings and Monday mornings – well, that’s how it is, you’ll just continue to whinge about it.
Urgency can be a double edged sword. You may eventually get to the point where you’re desperate, things are so bad that you’ll start to take action. But then your options may be limited, and you could end up in just as bad a position or worse. Like Brenda (not her real name) who left a public sector job because she wasn’t happy there, and took a job with a charity working for a cause she believed in. However, she soon found that the organisation had a toxic work environment. Her new manager was someone who had been promoted but wasn’t capable of her new job, there were no support structures in place to provide the training and coaching that the manager needed, a colleague was being bullied, bitching and gossip were rife. Speaking up got her nowhere.
You don’t want to act out of real urgency and not be able to take a considered action. So how can you create some urgency for yourself - enough to motivate you to take consistent action and start a new habit but not so much that you have to act at all costs?
As I’ve already said, I’m finding the public accountability very helpful, combined with making a commitment to myself. Owain Service and Rory Gallagher in their book, Think Small, support the idea that making yourself publicly accountable is one of the foundations of creating good habits successfully.
And then we come to procrastination. The result of consequences not having a direct link in your mind to your current behaviour, and of not having urgency to act, is procrastination. You know you want to do something – most likely look for another job – but you put it off. There are reasons we do this – it can be too hard to take the action we want to take, it can take up too much time, we don’t give it priority over more immediate things. This article in the New York Times puts a different light on it, and it makes perfect sense to me. It’s not a time management problem, it’s an emotional problem. We don’t procrastinate because we’re lazy or because we don’t have time management skills. It’s a response to a negative mood – the urgency of managing that negative mood takes priority over the longer term consequences. It may just be that the task itself is unpleasant, but it may also relate to deeper feelings of self doubt, low self esteem, anxiety or insecurity.
The article gives some useful tips on dealing with procrastination. I’d like to add one more. Start small. Think about your habits, and what you’d like to do differently in your working life. You may think that finding a new job is what you want – and you may be right in the long term that’s the right course of action – but starting small means exactly that. What else could you do? The last post had a few suggestions. Here’s a few more – they are massive goals, but small actions to make a start.
Be more confident at work
Repeat affirmations to yourself every morning
Be more motivated
Pick a task that you must do daily or weekly at work, where you usually struggle to get it done. Set yourself a target – must have it done by 11.30 am every day, or by Tuesday lunchtime each week, whatever is appropriate for the task. Make a pledge in stickk.com and ask a friend at work to be your referee
Be more creative
Walk to work, or during your lunchbreak. Exercise has so many more benefits than just for your body. The time walking gives your mind the opportunity to wander, enhancing your creativity. Start with three times a week, or even once a week if you’re not active. Walk for 20 – 30 minutes.
Be nicer at work
Smile at people. Set a target – I must smile at five people today You’ll probably find you’ll soon smile at more than five.
Learn a new skill
Block out the time to devote to it. You can’t learn a new skill without practice. So either go to a class, or ensure you block out the time – at work if appropriate, at home if it’s not.
Improve working relationships
Resolve to ask one person each day how they are. And really listen to the response – give them your time and attention. Or even resolve to do this once a week to begin with
Be more organised
Pick one task and work on that. As for motivation, set a target, make a pledge in stickk.com
As well as on stickk.com, make your pledge here in the comments below, and I’ll be sure to support your efforts. Look forward to seeing how you get on.
What’s your new year’s resolution?
Ok, it’s a bit early to be asking that, but bear with me, I have my reasons.
I’ve made the same three resolutions, pretty much, for more years than I’d care to count. Lose weight, be happy at work, and be more organised.
Any of these resonate with you? I have a suggestion that might help with one, maybe even two of these.
I’m pleased to say that this year, I’ve lost 30lbs. About 14 kilos. I exercise regularly. This is a big deal. Previously, the only resolution I’ve actually kept was the one when I was about 13 years old, to not drop litter.
However, I’m not a dietician, personal trainer or fitness expert, so let’s put that one aside. (Although I did learn some very useful things about motivation in the process.)
I work hard to be organised. I do so well at this (sometimes) that people think of me as organised. However, I know there’s so much more I’d like to be better at, hence the frequent resolution.
But the key one, be happy at work. That’s my key motivator. My quest in life, the reason I’ve taken some big decisions about my own working life. This is so important to me, I believe it is one of the fundamental rights. If you believe that too, then I would love to help you make some changes that can make it a reality for you.
I’m working on an exciting new programme to launch in the new year. You can help me to develop this programme by telling me what you would most like help with in the new year, by completing this short survey.