Considering that willpower and procrastination are subject to the whims of how we’re feeling at the moment, it may be no surprise that we feel like doing something other than “work” a lot of the time.
Research shows, however, that hard work can be enjoyable, meaningful, and energizing. It depends on the kind of work it is, of course.
“Sure,” you’re thinking. “If I could follow my passion, I’d be happy to work hard.” Except, we don’t really follow our passion as much as we find it. And we find it through … hard work.
Embrace learned industriousness
In order to persevere to the point of mastery, you have to be interested in doing something in the first place. Starting anything new takes effort, and getting better over time means that effort never really ends.
That’s where learned industriousness comes in, which means the effort itself becomes a positive experience. Learned industriousness brings extrinsic motivation full circle, because we do generally get external rewards from working hard, even though that’s not what motivated us in the first place.
On a biological level, reward-related parts of your brain start firing when you tackle a difficult task, because your brain automatically associates hard work with rewards.
The key to learned industriousness is to do work that’s difficult but doable, so you get, at minimum, the reward of accomplishment. Perhaps not coincidently, that’s the exact type of task that often lead us into a state of flow — the zone where we perform at our very best. It’s also highly enjoyable.
This doesn’t mean the work itself is always enjoyable. It’s the meaning behind the work that ultimately matters, plus the sense of self determination it provides us.
Work can help fulfill basic psychological needs like the desire to feel autonomous (authentic and in control of yourself) and competent. It can also help you live a purposeful life consistent with values like taking care of family or personal growth.
Even better, research finds that when your work provides you with a sense of meaning, your overall well-being increases. So when you’re not exactly feeling it, take a moment to reflect on why you do the work. If you find the meaning, you’ll find the will to get it done.