How to sustain your enthusiasm at work
A FEW days ago I met a junior doctor from the district hospital in Jempol in Negri Sembilan. He had just finished a 36-hour shift, and had a day off. I saw him at about 3pm on Sunday afternoon.
He had driven back to Kuala Lumpur to see his folks, watch the EFL Cup final, and catch up on sleep.
On Monday, the next day, he had to do the two-hour drive back to Jempol, and be at the hospital by 8am. And, he had just gotten news that he was on a 72-hour call.
I was astounded by his ability to work with little or no sleep. We struck up a conversation, and I wanted to know how he kept up this pace. It was an enlightening chat. He told me that he was not unique as his colleagues worked on the same type of schedule.
As we talked, I realised that he was deeply frustrated with the hours he did, but went about his work diligently, in any case.
He said that sometimes, he wondered why he had become a doctor when confronted with gruelling schedules like this. But, everything felt well worth the efforts when he saw his patients at the hospital.
He also said that he was interested in psychiatry. He felt that the world needed more specialists who were devoted to the diagnosis, prevention, study, and treatment of mental disorders.
And, he felt that he had an aptitude for this. He was looking forward to moving soon to the Seremban General Hospital to continue with his two-year stint in psychiatry.
I was very impressed with him. He was totally fatigued. He looked thoroughly drained. He moaned about the punishing roster he was on. Yet, he looked forward to being a doctor, continuing his education to become a psychiatrist, and felt engaged about helping his patients.
How does someone like this young Dr Tejvinder Singh continue to sustain his motivation to keep growing and contributing?
I reckon that there are three factors that keep such people inspired.
The first is autonomy. We all feel galvanized to carry on when we feel in charge. While this doctor may have been tired, he knows that when he meets his patients, they depend heavily on his diagnosis.
He also knows that his prognosis will give them hope and the required mental strength to heal. In every sense, he is in charge of their health.
In 2006, psychologists Edward L. Deci, Richard M. Ryan, and Arlen C. Moller of the University of Rochester in New York suggested that you gain motivation when you feel in charge. They conducted several experiments and published their findings.
They found that when people are given the opportunity to select a course of action based on their own opinions, they persisted longer in a subsequent puzzlesolving activity, than participants who were either given no choice or pressured to select one side over another.
Motivation also blooms and flourishes when you feel you are doing something of great value.
I have a friend, Noel Maniraj Chelliah, who gave up a corporate job and became a fitness instructor. To call him a fitness instructor does not do him justice. To me, he is more of a fitness “activist”. Not only does he spend time coaching people to wellness through exercise, he also works with them to help them create better lifestyle regimes.
He is only able to inspire and engage hundreds of people towards a better quality of life because he subscribes to the philosophy he teaches. It must be hard work getting people to exercise. But Noel is able to sustain his motivation because the work he does is congruent with his own beliefs and value-system.
The third and final component that will help you stay motivated is competence. As you work on something and dedicate time and energy to it, you will find that your skills will improve, and you gain a sense of competence.
In her book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success”, Professor of Psychology at Stanford University Carol Dweck suggests that competence comes when you recognise your accomplishments.
This week I am writing my column in Chennai. I am here for some meetings and a short break with my wife. When discussing competence, I am reminded of a Chennai-based former business associate, now friend, Ashwin Rajagopalan.
I met Ashwin nearly fifteen years ago, when I started my first business in India. At that time, he ran a boutique PR agency here with a small complement of staff. I selected his agency because I liked him as a person and because he displayed tremendous integrity. Most importantly, I selected him because he had a wonderful way with words. Suffice to say his agency did a sterling job for my business in India.
Today, Ashwin is no longer in the PR business. He has taken his writing skills and leveraged on it. He has become a lifestyle writer. Aside from running Byte Size, a lifestyle blog, Ashwin writes regularly for some of India’s best known publications, like GQ India, The Hindu, The Daily Express, NDTV etc.
As he dedicated time and energy to writing as a PR practitioner, he became accomplished. This sustained his motivation, and today he works for himself, doing what he does best…writing.
Therefore, to sustain motivation, especially in the face of challenges, you need to feel you have autonomy and that you are in charge. Next, you need to feel that what you do adds value and is in-sync with your belief system. Finally, you need to feel that your competency keeps increasing.
Can you sustain your motivation?