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Write Down Your Values and Live By 3 Lists

Best-selling author Ben Michaelis reveals how to transform your work attitude.


by Kara Baskin

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It’s easy to fall into a funk at work, even if you love what you do. But you don’t need to throw over your life to jump-start your mojo. As clinical psychologist Ben Michaelis, Ph.D., author of Your Next Big Thing, explains, subtle changes can give you just the boost you need to reframe, refocus, and find fresh purpose.

“I actually believe smaller changes are more sustainable and more useful to create a positive attitude at work than radical changes, because we know from research and certainly evolution that smaller changes end up having a larger impact,” Michaelis says. “Think of it like dieting: If you tell yourself you need to lose 50 pounds, it probably won’t work. If you set out to change one small habit, you have more success.”

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Sounds more manageable than quitting your job and going off the grid, right? Here’s his 7-step program to transform your work attitude

1. Take a cold shower. “They’re extremely good for you health-wise: metabolism, creativity, blood flow. They open the mind to different possibilities. Often, we get into a routine each day and our minds get fixed. A cold shower jolts you out of that rut,” Michaelis says.

2. Think about who benefits from your work. Say you’re a financial executive who oversees retirement plans. Imagine who might profit from your role. “You may not see yourself as part of a larger whole, but take a step back. Think about the teacher who might use the plan and is looking forward to using that money to retire and enjoy her grandchildren,” he urges. When you connect your work to a human cause-and-effect relationship, it’s easier to stay focused.

3. Connect with colleagues in a deeper way. Bringing a layer of multi-dimensionality to your work will reduce the drudgery. Maybe a colleague is going through a health scare or just got married. Check in. We’re all bigger than each of our tasks. 

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4. Give thanks. “Write down what you’re grateful for. When we’re focused on minutiae, we’re not appreciating what our work allows us to do, whether it’s allowing us to make money for our family, have a safe place to live, and so on,” he says.

5. Remember your personal values—and write them down. What matters to you? Philanthropy? Knowing you’re working toward a social cause? Make a list and refer to it often. “When you’re living in line with your personal values, you’re more likely to live with a purpose,” he says.

6. Consider time-management from a holistic perspective. If you feel you’re working too much but not making an impact, don’t think about creating more time—everyone has just 24 hours, after all. Think about repurposing the time you do have. Michaelis suggests closely tracking your daily schedule for a week to see where each hour goes. Analyze it. Prune the extraneous obligations.

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7. Live by 3 lists. B. Michaelis recommends making lists of goals for the short-, mid-, and long-term. “Do one thing each day that benefits each,” he says. For a short-term goal, take a walk during lunch. Mid-term? Network with a friend about a volunteering opportunity. Long-term? Make an appointment with a financial planner to discuss that summer home you’ve always wanted to buy after retirement. “When we’re using these three perspectives, we can feel as though we’re moving forward with purpose,” he says.

Photo Credit: Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images