Here’s the standard formula for achievement in anything you do; lets actually call it the “normal formula.”

Work Harder = More Success = More Happiness

But the way I see it there are three fundamental flaws with this that need to be addressed.

  1. Normal is merely average and I don’t know about you but I have no interest in being average.
  2. It is rooted in us as human beings to want more. When you get a good job what happens? You want a better job. When you make a certain amount of money what happens? You want to make a little more. You lose that 10 pounds you’ve always wanted to lose, you guessed it, you want to lose a little more.
  3. We’re not just trying to be happy. Don’t get me wrong, happiness is totally awesome but I’m in the camp that happiness shouldn’t be our ultimate goal but instead a byproduct of the way we live our lives on a daily basis. Your purpose/career, personal relationships, health, finances, and then some; as a whole make up your happiness and living those things according to your own set of virtues is what should be strived for.

So what if instead of working harder you just started working smarter, and by smarter I mean by a set of principles that you have established for yourself instead of those that have been set for you.

The current formula just isn’t working

Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage gives some wonderful insight in a Tedx talk in which he discusses how your reality is shaped by the way in which your brain sees the world, more specifically how 90% of your happiness is determined by how your brain processes and responds to things like stressors, complaints, competition, work load, and the like. So when troubles hit, you hit back, instead of unbearable obstacles these things become personal challenges that offer you the opportunity to display courage, enthusiasm, and strength.

What makes this process extremely difficult sometimes is that you can feel as if you are surrounded by negativity. It’s awfully difficult to stay positive and optimistic when the it seems the news is full of all the wrong that is going on and everything under the sun gives you cancer.

But you can fight this and for your own sake and happiness you must. This is done through intentional activity or more specifically the things you practice consistently on a daily basis. The tough part is figuring out what to do everyday but luckily some pretty dope psychologists, Sheldon and Lyubomirski have come up with a formula to help you start working smarter in your life versus harder.

You probably notice something every time you try something new, this is never more true than when you have a new project at work or task to complete. The first time or even few times you participate in the activity your energy is high, enthusiasm is up, and willingness to work hard is thriving. Then, the more repetitive the task becomes or the longer you have to work on it the less enjoyable it becomes.

This pattern led Sheldon and Lyubomirski to formulate a hypothesis that states we should be looking for three things before going into any new project, activity, or task.

  • The activity should fit your needs and your personalities. If you don’t get much from the thought of bungee jumping, working on a business plan, or learning a new recipe then these things are unlikely to fit with your needs. It might be a good idea to try them just for the sake of experience but chances are you’ll need some other things to float your boat.
  • The content should vary. Are you doing the same workout? Working on the same projects? Surrounded by the same people? Varying the routine is likely to minimize the effects of adaptation to the activity.
  • Timing should vary. Routines are great but if you find yourself in a rut don’t hesitate to switch it up. Workout at 6PM instead of 6AM, go into work at 6AM instead of 9AM, have chili for breakfast instead of scrambled eggs.

Better make it count. Better have others acknowledge it.

Lets be honest with one another, we all like to be acknowledged for one thing or another, it gives us a little self-worth and generally just feels pretty darn good. Duke professor, psychologist, and author Dan Ariely conducted a few research experiments that measured how “perceived meaning” of a project/task would affect the willingness to do work.

“…In their first experiment, Ariely’s team asked college students to find sets of repeated letters on a sheet of paper. Some of the students’ work was reviewed by a “supervisor” as soon as it was turned in. Other students were told in advance that their work would be collected but not reviewed, and still others watched as their papers were shredded immediately upon completion.

Each of the students was paid 55 cents for completing the first sheet, and five cents less for each sheet thereafter, and allowed to stop working at any point. The research team found that people whose work was reviewed and acknowledged by the “supervisor” were willing to do more work for less pay than those whose work was ignored or shredded.

In a second experiment, participants assembled Bionicles, toy figurines made by Lego. The researchers made the Bionicle project somewhat meaningful for half of the students, whose completed toys were displayed on their desks for the duration of the experiment, while the students assembled as many Bionicles as they wished. “Even though this may not have been especially meaningful work, the students felt productive seeing all of those Bionicles lined up on the desk, and they kept on building them even when the pay was rather low,” Ariely said.

The rest of the participants, whose work was intended to be devoid of meaning, gave their completed Bionicles to supervisors in exchange for another box of parts to assemble. The supervisors immediately disassembled the completed figurines, and returned the box of parts to the students when they were ready for the next round. “These poor individuals were assembling the same two Bionicles over and over. Every time they finished one, it was simply torn apart and given back to them later.” The students in the meaningful and non-meaningful conditions were each paid according to a scale that began at $2.00 for the first Bionicle and decreased by 11 cents for each subsequent figurine assembled.

“Adding to the evidence from the first experiment, this experiment also showed that meaning, even a very small meaning, can matter a lot,” Ariely said. Students who were allowed to collect their assembled Bionicles built an average of 10.2 figurines, while those whose work was disassembled built an average of 7.2. Students whose work was not meaningful required a median level of pay 40 percent higher than students whose work was meaningful.

These experiments clearly demonstrate what many of us have known intuitively for some time. Doing meaningful work is rewarding in itself, and we are willing to do more work for less pay when we feel our work has some sort of purpose, no matter how small,” Ariely said. “But it is also important to point out that when we asked people to estimate the effect of meaning on labor, they dramatically underestimated the effects. This means, that while we recognize the general effect of meaning on motivation, we are not sufficiently appreciating its magnitude and importance…” adapted from Duke University

What these studies tell us are a few things.

  1. Although money does come into play it is meaning behind a task that determines the motivation and willingness to complete or carry on with a given project.
  2. Acknowledgement from someone or something must be prevalent at some point. Even it is a simple good job, nice work, or shake of the hand. Some form of gratitude must be received.
  3. A sense of accomplishment is needed. Some sort of intrinsic reward is needed in order to sustain hard work. This is known as “The Ikea Effect,” you buy decent furniture, at a pretty good price, that takes you a few frustrating hours to assemble yourself, but at completition supplies so much god damn satisfaction. 

Just make it F-ING matter

We’ve discussed motivation a little bit together on this site and I’ve also written a tad over here about it. One of my favorite books (I feel like I say that a lot, there’s just so many) Drive, by Daniel Pink discusses motivation primarily in the work place but the concepts can be applied universally.

Traditionally, motivation is done through a carrot and sticks approach, someone holds a reward in front of you, in the case of the work place a bonus, financial incentives, etc… and dangles it just out of reach; but oh so close that you can almost grab it. The problem is extrinsic motivators only work so much or for so long (1).

If you really want to stay motivated intrinsic motivation is where it’s at and even more importantly simple rules and a clear destination are needed.

  • Simplify the task at hand by removing if/then stipulations. Whether it is diet related, exercise, work, relationships, leave no grey areas. Make it black and white and easy to understand. If you’re doing the Paleo thing you know that grains, legumes, and dairy are off-limits
  • You come up with the plan. You may need some help getting the guidelines set but when it comes down to it, all of us need to feel like we are in control of our own lives.
  • Measure progress. You have to feel like you are continually getting better, results are the most motivating factor of all. Measure them often and in numerous ways. The scale is not the end all be all and neither is the compensation you receive from finishing a project.
  • It has to be bigger than you. Whatever it is you’ve got up your sleeve it has to have purpose. It has to serve a greater purpose than just you alone. You may think losing 15 pounds is a goal of yours but maybe it’s a goal for your family as well. If you lose those 15 you can be more active with your kids, you’re more likely to be around longer, your sex drive goes up…. YOWZAH! The point is it benefits more than just you.

I repeat myself a lot on this site but there’s good reason for it, consistency, repetition, and practice produce results. Saying one thing and then moving on to the next doesn’t do you or me a ton of good. Whatever it is you are striving for is within your reach if you are willing to work for it; but instead of just working harder and hoping for the best, how about you start working smarter and anticipating success?

How are you working smarter these days? Share below, I’d love to hear.

Live limitless,