Can I change my attitude towards my work?

Marguerite MacRobert

Times are difficult economically, so many people who are stuck in jobs they don’t enjoy, need upliftment and hope but don’t feel brave enough just yet to drop everything and live the dream life of a social media influencer travelling the world…

Based on what psychological research says really helps, you could try one of these tricks:

Attitude of gratitude

Really materially improves people’s sense of happiness and well-being, according to this article from Harvard Medical School. Oprah says she keeps a gratitude journal that she writes in every day, so why not give it a try. Even if you don’t like your current job, thinking of all that you are grateful for at the start or end of each day should improve your sense of happiness and well-being. At the very worst, you can be grateful to your job for providing you with enough money to live off. Second place might be being grateful that you are building your character on your journey somewhere better.

See yourself as on the hero’s journey.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (one of the most effective therapies according to acclaimed psychology author Jonathan Haidt) focuses on what you can do about your situation rather than on endlessly talking about your problems and your mother. Therapists and coaches using this approach sometimes get you to write down what is wrong in your life and then to see if you can reframe it in a more productive way. One way of doing this is to see yourself as on the classic hero’s journey. You are the hero of the movie, who is currently in a low point in the tale, but you will continue to strive, and make it through, until you emerge triumphant and… visualise the end of your journey, where you’d like to be. You’re the star of the movie of your life, and you get to write the script. This helps you see that you are on a positive trajectory rather than just stuck in a rut.

See what you can do to improve and take control of your work environment

Life is made up of all the ‘right now’ moments you experience, so you need to live in the now, not just in your dreams of the future. Some ways you can improve your work attitude can be as simple as changing your space. Check out this article for some inspiration or try Pinterest boards on this topic.

If American teenagers can turn even their high school lockers into works of art, what could you do to make even a tiny space more uplifting to you personally? Think of colours you love, images that make you smile, and even scents that bring on positive emotions, like a vase of fresh flowers or a jar with scent sticks. Can you put headphones in and create a Spotify playlist of music you love to get you through the toughest days? Do it!

This isn’t just superficial stuff. Studies have shown that even with the elderly and ill, in old age homes where people had plants and were given choices and a sense of control over which plants they were given, where they were put and when they were watered, the wellness rate shot up and the death rate dropped dramatically. This research is cited in the Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt, as well as similar studies reporting on control over placement of furniture in nursing homes.

Giving yourself a sense of ownership and control of your work environment is as important as what little touches you put in it to lift your spirits and express your personality. Even Google and Windows offices, among others, have introduced interestingly playful changes into their workspaces to improve everyone’s lives, and the company’s productivity. Other research-driven changes you could make include bringing in nature in some way to improve concentration, happiness and productivity. Try a pot plant and a large photo or painting of a forest, river or the sea, for instance). 

Start with why: Try to give yourself a sense of meaning and purpose

You can apply what successful business gurus know (and build your skills set for your brighter future) by reading up on how to get inspired and find a sense of purpose in what you do. So if the hero’s journey is too head-shrinking for you, try this summary of Start with Why (and then perhaps buy the book), and, while you’re at it, get hold of some other great recent books like The Power of Habit by Charles Duhugg.

Sure, you don’t want to file other people’s documents for the rest of your life, but while you are here, why not think about what your company’s ‘why’ is, and why your filing is important to your company, and make yourself the best filer ever? Watch youtube filing hacks and see if you can up your game. When I’ve done jobs I have known were not my life’s purpose, I’ve made it my mission to learn what I can and get good at whatever I’m doing, and I’ve never regretted it. Knowing how to file well, for example, or handle difficult switchboard calls and deal with customer complaints? It’s all turned out to be super useful in the more glamorous and better paid jobs I later got hired for.

See everything you’re doing as part of the School of Life teaching you valuable life skills, and you will soon catch someone’s eye for promotion, or at the very least get a glowing reference when you depart for something better.

Tell people what you are passionate about

You should be careful how you put this, and avoid: ‘I really hate this job because what I really want to be is a blogger working with cheetahs.’ On the other hand, it doesn’t hurt to occasionally ask people what they thought they’d end up being one day, and then swap your own story, or put up pictures of what you are aiming for, as talking points. You never know, someone might spot an opportunity and tell you about it one day, or at least if an opportunity related to what you love comes up, they might recommend you for the project, so you get one step closer to your ultimate goal.

In the meantime, at least you get to be yourself, even if your job feels like it’s not the right fit for now. I know a woman who started her working life in a clothes factory working on sewing machines. One day a colleague had a party to celebrate her 20th year on the job. She suddenly burst into tears at the thought of 20 years doing this work and apologised for spoiling the party. The older ladies gathered round and kindly asked her what she really wanted to do as they could see she didn’t really belong there. She said she had always wanted to be a teacher, but could’t afford the university fees or even a loan. So they asked around until relatives told them about a scholarship programme run by the government, and she ended up on a full scholarship as one of my favourite education students at Stellenbosch University, and one day came to travel the world teaching English. People will often help you look for what you are dreaming of, if only you let them know.

If you show willing to be a hard worker, and a cheerful office mate who shows initiative, you’re bound to get where you want to go. Many people will realise that your passion for your current job could well be, as the memes put it so well, a passion to pay your rent and eat, but that doesn’t mean you need to be arrogant and look bored at it.

All work is important in some way, at the end of the day, even if it isn’t glamorous or what you studied towards. Make a good impression wherever you go, make your space your own, find meaning in your work, however humble, and you’ll not only increase your chances of a better future, you’ll enjoy the ride there so much more.

Speaking of making a good impression, don’t miss our post on What to wear when speaking at a conference.

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