Work related apathy is a normal and natural part of our working existence. No matter how much you like working, no one is immune from work related apathy.
Where it becomes problematic is when we ignore work related apathy and the warning signs. When we push through the feeling of not wanting to, we may get into a groove later. It’s still not something we should take for granted.
When you work for yourself, there’s usually a lot more riding on the success of your working life than turning up, working and going home. If you are self employed, you may be stuck between needing work for income and that growing sense of dissatisfaction and disinterest. It can influence your approach to clients, your ability to overcome problems and your general desire to work.
Work related apathy leads to burn out, unhappiness with our working life and a drop in productivity. It can even see a drop in the quality of work and the sense of achievement we derive from completing it.
So how do you deal with a case of work related apathy, especially when quitting is not an option? Here are some things that may help.
Have intrinsic motivations as your primary motivator
When we’re looking to motivate ourselves to perform a task, we can look at the intrinsic or extrinsic motivations.
Intrinsic motivations are internal. They are things like the sense of accomplishment we receive from performing a challenging task. It is the idea of doing a task because we enjoy it. The motivation comes from something within us.
Extrinsic motivations are external. They come in the form of rewards, money and outside praise. Much of society is geared towards money as a measure of worth and reward, promotions, celebrity and notoriety for the things we do.
But on a psychological level, it seems extrinsic is not all it’s cracked up to be.
Roland Bénabou and Jean Tirole (2003) published a paper on Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation for The Review of Economic Studies. Benabou and Tirole identified “once a reward is offered, it will be required-and expected- every time the task has to be performed again-perhaps even in increasing amounts.”
This points to a limitation in how far extrinsic motivation can propel us over the longer term.
Indeed, the fading value of the extrinsic motivation can also create situations of ego bashing. The research found “people may often be willing to belittle and criticize others in order to establish dominance”. And that the use of extrinsic motivation is prone to backfiring through placing external reward higher than a sense of accomplishment.
For those of us who run our own businesses, this can often manifest in overtly competitive behaviour. It’s demonstrated as concerns about social media visibility and perceived measurements of fame. And through distilling the meaning of success into earning capacity.
This in turn creates friction with the more intrinsically inclined that prefers to derive satisfaction from less applauded motivations. For example, carving out time for family, side projects, devotion to travel, the management of health conditions and so on. The lack of visibility can be misconstrued as a lack of progress, intent or ability.
Yet intrinsic motivations help us to remain focused and applied in difficult situations. Drawing on the joy of the process instead of a reward acts as the propulsion forward. This is particularly helpful in freelance and self employment where the working life is often quite thankless.
It’s also easier to harness intrinsic motivation because it is not based on the fruits of the labour but the labour itself. Satisfaction is derived from being ‘in the flow’ and creating.
Finally, intrinsic motivation aids in providing a sense of accomplishment along the way. Making it easier to take reward from making progress as opposed to chasing the high of completion.
By focusing on intrinsic motivations, you have a greater ability to realise a more achievable version of your success. And ward off work related apathy by seeing more of this success sooner.
Choose strength based guidance
Work related apathy can often be the sign you need to shift your working practises up a notch. To do so, you may reach a level in your achievements where coaching is a requirement to take you to the next level.
When it comes to any form of guidance, coaching and teaching, looking for the strength based approach is ideal.
The strength based approach identifies and values the capability within the individual. It reminds you of your existing talents, networks and abilities.
It places the individual at the centre of their core strengths. This is particularly useful at a time when they may have been focusing on areas of weakness.
Strength based approach is built on self-directed action. A strength based approach is one where the person seeking coaching sets their own action plan. This is in stark contrast to many business coaches who impart wisdom based on their own experience.
And by setting your own action plan, the participant is far more likely to activate the action plan and reach their version of success.
Setting achievable goals and working with a business coach based on your own strengths and fostering a network is paramount. By doing this, you can collaborate on the next phase of your working life. And do so in a way that encourages you using your existing talents to strength and grow.
By being the expert in your own business life, you create a hope-inducing state that reinvigorates that lost drive and ambition. Work related apathy shrinks in the face of remembering your own strengths.
Allow yourself the freedom to create
Giving yourself time to do what you need to do is important. You cannot function if time and creativity is dictated on someone else’s terms.
Move away from the myth of being always on as a means for making your way in the world. Working too hard impairs your thinking. Take that holiday and screw the weekend work. If that conference really isn’t going to add value, don’t do it.
Make time to play and don’t be afraid of drawing ideas from others.
Hunter S. Thompson used to sit at a clunky typewriter retyping his favourite books all so that he could see every part of the creativity within.
John Cleese advocates for stealing your early style from the people you admire. It’s a case of watching what your heroes do until it no longer has an emotional impact on you, and developing your own style from there.
Care less about what others are doing and as ‘steal like an artist’s’ Austin Kleon says, create art that is a tool of your reinvention. Make a space where your experimentation trumps keeping up with the latest trends, your SEO or what is expected. Own it.
We become so choked by the idea of looking for the next sales funnel and ‘doing business’ that we forget the core driver of excellence. And that is the ability to work on our own terms and produce work that makes us proud.
And that part of that is immersing ourselves in the work of others, not from an envious but from an admiration perspective.
If it is always about working too hard, servicing the clients, and shying away from learning, of course work related apathy will set in!
Redefine success and keep doing it until it sticks
When we forget what it means to derive satisfaction from our work and lose sight of our strengths and abilities, we invite work related apathy. If we forget how to create on our own terms and become blindsided by the directions and achievements of others, we further erode our confidence.
But success is not a one-size-fits-all experience. There is no pin-point on the map where we have to struggle and reach towards.
Allowing ourselves self compassion helps. So too does staying clear in what we want to do.
In a world screaming “you must do this to succeed” can it really be that simple? If it were a colour-by-number path, wouldn’t there be more people who are successful? Humans like new ideas and become cynical of tired concepts. So wouldn’t the effects of the success formula run down as the idea proliferated?
How we spend our days is a deeply personal choice. Spending it feeling fuzzy and unhappy about the things we attempt is not what it should be about. Choosing things that give you a sense of accomplishment and make you feel worthwhile should be the central focus.
So if work related apathy is nipping at your heels, perhaps it’s time to look inside yourself for your motivations. And start reminding yourself of your value while exercising your curiosity.