Time passes in the blink of an eye. Before you know it, you are in your 30s, wondering where the last decade went. Or, you might be even in your forties or fifties, asking yourself the same questions like “Why am I stuck in this boring routine?” and “Is this all there is to life?” Each day, you blindly march to the same metronomic beat.
Research shows that people are quick to feel regret mainly for things we haven’t done, as opposed to something we have done. In their metanalytic review of 11 regret studies, researchers Neal Roese and Amy Summerville discovered the top six domains participants reported experiencing regret (in descending order): education, career, romance, parenting, self, and leisure.
Drastic change is not essential to start basking in new rays of sunshine in your life. You’ll discover that hidden gems are sparkling with excitement in the most unsuspecting places. You just need to learn how to see them more closely through a different lens.
1. Remember You Are Never Too Old to Learn
In 1936, Anne Martindell dropped out of Smith College at the end of her first year, subject to her father’s disapproval of women being educated. In 2002, Martindell returned to Smith College to accomplish both her undergraduate and honorary degrees at the age of 87.
Even after serving a colorful career in politics, including becoming State Senator of New Jersey and Ambassador to New Zealand and Western Samoa, Martindell wanted to go back to school.
While going back to formal schooling might not have you champing at the bit, there is no time like the present to exercise your curiosity. The opportunity to learn about pretty much anything is at your fingertips if you have access to a computer. Even Harvard and Oxford universities offer their courses online!
Is there a piece of Martindell within you? Have you started anything that you didn’t get to finish? Is there something you always wanted to learn about or a skill you wanted to develop?
You get to make this learning adventure as long or short as you want. Most importantly, choose an activity that excites you and tickles you emotionally and mentally in all the right places.
2. Never Take the Same Road Twice
A good friend once whispered a golden rule to me that she always stuck to when she traveled in her 20s and still applies today: “Never go the same route twice.” Some of the most incredible places she discovered in her travels were due to forcing herself to get off the beaten track.
My friend used to stray away from mass tour groups and guides’ conventional recommendations. In return, she met incredible locals who shared the undocumented history of the places she was visiting, including stories that were only passed down through word of mouth, generation to generation.
You don’t have to travel anywhere you haven’t visited to experience that, though. You can make incredible discoveries by becoming an expert tourist in your own hometown or village!
When you walk the dog, for instance, go to a street that you haven’t entered before. Go barista speed-dating and get your morning brew at a different café than your usual haunt. Start taking minor detours and routes to shake up your boring routine. You won’t just discover new places but likely bump into some fascinating people along the way, too.
3. Introduce More’ Play’ at Work
When your workday is flooded with a never-ending to-do list, your pre-frontal cortex is swamped.
With continuous demands to produce something, completing tasks, planning, and critically evaluating how to improve your work, you may become cognitively numb by midday. Continuing down this road may cause you to think of walking entirely away from the job that you used to love. Somehow, you will stop remembering how to enjoy it.
To avoid that, doing fun activities in your workplace can have you tap-dancing your way to work instead of dragging your feet. According to a recent survey, Talent LMS found 89% of respondents reported they felt more productive, and 88% reported feeling happier after using gamified elements at work.
While it takes some planning, creativity, and consultation with colleagues and employees, transforming your work experience is possible. It can reignite and completely change your boring workplace routine.
Gamification doesn’t have to be complicated. The simpler, the better!
For instance, designate an area for small games such as junior-sized skittles, quoits, golf-putting, or darts. For every task that you complete, specify different numbers of tries.
When you achieve successful wins, reward yourself with something that’s equivalent to your efforts. Similarly, you can decide on rewards for a specific number of wins.
If you don’t have time for board games, consider having short-term ‘races’ with colleagues to get things done. Say, you might be working on activities with unique completion targets. Then, you can compete on who manages to reach their goals first or the deadline you have agreed upon among yourselves.
In this case, try setting short time-frame targets. Compare how you both went at the deadline. Review and share your progress or lack thereof. You might work on individual projects, but you still are driving, supporting each other. Thus, you can connect with your colleagues in the process.
Here are more ways to make a routine exciting again: 30 Ways To Add Fun To Your Daily Routine
4. Tap Into Your Creativity
The benefits of having a creative outlet are numerous. You are not only learning something else but also allowing those parts of your brain that churn and burn through your workday to take a breather.
Creating something from scratch can be intensely satisfying and rewarding emotionally and psychologically. You can undergo an emotional journey, igniting your senses in different ways and intensities.
Undertaking a manual labor type of projects such as pottery, woodwork, interior design, or renovation can have you accessing a fuller range of emotions. It can be intensely satisfying to see the pieces of your creative jigsaw puzzle come together.
Even if you don’t feel you have a creative bone in your body, reading creative literature (e.g., poetry, screenplays, or autobiographies) or viewing artworks causes you to feel pleasure. As you read, you subconsciously search for individual connections with what you are reading. The more you search for its value, the more pleasurable reward systems become activated.
In your already full lifestyle, consider planting spots in your schedule that allow you to let your creative juices show.
You may be amazed once you discover the passions and talents you haven’t realized you have.
5. Create Daily Experiential goals
Working through your great bucket list (and continually adding to it) is highly recommended. However, you can also enjoy small-scale tasters (as listed below):
- When you go out, order something you would not usually order.
- Visit a restaurant you wouldn’t usually visit.
- Take a different route to get to a destination that you visit regularly.
- Listen to a different podcast (or parts thereof) each day about something you want to learn or are merely curious about.
- Let your brain breathe and escape by listening to an audiobook.
- Go to lunch with a different colleague.
- Try to have a walk-and-talk meeting instead of conducting them all in the office.
- Discover and listen to new artists on your Spotify account when exercising or wanting some audio company.
- Add a minute of crazy, free-form dancing to the end of your exercise routine before you cool down.
Do one thing every day that is a little left field of your everyday habits and routines. In a short space of time, it may be able to lift your mood.
The great thing is that none of these ideas require you to acquire or purchase any tools to experience them or make them happen. You can also decide to do these activities on a whim, considering they don’t require grand planning or assistance. This article might help you, too: 10 Simple Ways to Add Spontaneity into Your Daily Routine
6. Surprise Someone or Be Surprised
Say goodbye to a boring routine and say hello to spontaneity! Doing so helps reignite not just your personal life but your work life as well.
With your intimate partner or close friends, for instance, write down the things you would love to experience or receive on different pieces of paper and put them in a jar. Allow them to pull one out and surprise you with it at any time! Then, do the same for your friends or partner.
Giving presents and gifts is not the ultimate goal here. Instead, it’s about creating opportunities for unexpected delight. It’s about showing someone how much you appreciate, value, and recognize their presence in your life.
Dr. Gary Chapman described the five love languages: physical touch, words of affirmation, acts of service, giving gifts, and quality time. Even if intimacy is its primary focus, his suggestions help deepen love in all human relationships.
Don’t wait for special occasions to surprise someone. Random acts of kindness often speak louder than words both in your personal and work life.
7. Learn the Art of Giving
Researchers Dr. Tristen Inagaki and Dr. Naomi Eisenberger found that we experience pleasure when we give to others more than when we receive it. In a study, they found the participants providing support to others trying to complete a challenging task had less activation in stress-response areas. Similarly, those who offered support activated parts of the brain associated with caregiving and experiencing intrinsic reward and personal satisfaction.
Quitting your boring routine doesn’t always mean focusing inwardly and crafting grand plans to alter everything. You can improve your life by directing your attention toward supporting and helping someone else.
Giving compliments costs nothing. Neither does making someone a cup of coffee when you’re about to make one yourself. Declutter your home and workspace and post items you no longer need on give-away platforms. If you have incredible skills and knowledge in an area, you can become someone’s mentor.
There can be no better way to feel alive than by building and nurturing positive connections.
8. Shake Up Your Boring Routine Regularly
Quitting your boring routine starts with disrupting it, to the point that it can no longer be called as such. However, be careful not to introduce too much disruption at once. Consider introducing a change in small amounts to test if everything goes well for you. Review your initial experiences but don’t give up too early if you’re not feeling instantly gratified.
Anything outside a boring routine can feel jarring, even if it comes from a healthy and positive change. Instead, give yourself time to adjust and let the new become gradually familiar. In a short period, your routine can be far from boring as you start seeing and experiencing the world through a new lens.
Is It Time to Upgrade Your Image?
Coco Chanel famously said that when a woman cuts her hair, she is about to change her life.
The decision to interpret Chanel’s quote literally or metaphorically is 100% up to you. However, on a more subtle note, you might want to consider doing something different with your image or everyday look all the same.
When you look back pleasantly at a different reflection of yourself in the mirror, you won’t be able to help but feel different. It will reveal another side of you that’s never been unleashed before.
You’re likely to get mixed reactions from the people you see regularly, but that’s okay.
“No matter what happens, always keep your childhood innocence. It’s the most important thing.” — Federico Felini
More on Breaking Boring Routines
Motivation is one of the main reasons we do things — take an action, go to work (and sometimes overwork ourselves), create goals, exercise our willpower. There are two main, universally agreed upon types of motivation — intrinsic motivation (also known as internal motivation) and extrinsic motivation (external motivation).
The intrinsic kind is, by inference, when you do something because it’s internally fulfilling, interesting or enjoyable — without an expectation of a reward or recognition from others. Extrinsic motivation is driven by exactly the opposite — externalities, such as the promise of more money, a good grade, positive feedback, or a promotion.
And of course, we all know about the big debate about money. It’s surely an external driver, but is it possible that it can sometimes make us enjoy what we do more? A meta-analysis that reviewed 120 years of research found a weak link between job satisfaction and money.
And what’s more — there is some evidence to suggest that more money can actually have an adverse effect on your intrinsic motivation.
Regardless of its type, motivation is still important to get you moving, to improve, excel, and put that extra effort when you feel like you don’t have a single drop of energy left to keep going.
So, let’s see some of the best things you can do to keep the fire going, even when you’d rather just indulge in pleasant idleness.
Table of Contents
Why Intrinsic Motivation Tops Extrinsic Motivation
“To be motivated means to be moved to do something.”
Generally speaking, we all need motivation.
An avalanche of research, though, shows that when it comes to finding the lasting drive to “do something,” internal incentives are much more powerful than extrinsic rewards.
Why? It’s simple.
There is a great difference when you engage in something because “I want to,” as opposed to “I must.” Just think about the most obvious example there is: work.
If you go to work every day, dragging your feet and dreading the day ahead of you, how much enjoyment will you get from your job? What about productivity and results? Quality of work?
Yep, that’s right, you definitely won’t be topping the Employee of the Month list anytime soon.
The thing with external motivation is that it doesn’t last. It’s susceptible to something psychologists call Hedonic Adaptation. It’s a fancy way of saying that external rewards are not a sustainable source of happiness and satisfaction.
When you put in 100-hour weeks in order to get promoted, and you finally are, how long does your “high” last? The walking-on-a-cloud feelings wear off quickly, research tells us, making you want more. Therefore, you are stuck on a never-ending “hedonic treadmill,” i.e. you can progressively only become motivated by bigger and shinier things, just to find out that they don’t bring you the satisfaction you hoped for, when you finally get them.
Or, as the journalist and author Oliver Burkeman wonderfully puts it:
“Write every day” won’t work unless you want to write. And no exercise regime will last long if you don’t at least slightly enjoy what you’re doing.
If you want to find out more about the different types of motivation, take a look at this article: 9 Types of Motivation That Make It Possible to Reach Your Dreams
Benefits of Intrinsic Motivation
If you are still unconvinced that doing things solely for kudos and brownie points is not going to keep you going forever, nor make you like what you do, here is some additional proof:
Studies tell us that intrinsic motivation is a generally stronger predictor of job performance over the long run than extrinsic motivation.
One reason is that when we are internally driven to do something, we do it simply for the enjoyment of the activity. So, we keep going, day in and out, because we feel inspired, driven, happy, and satisfied with ourselves.
Another reason has to do with the fact that increasing intrinsic motivation is intertwined with things such as higher purpose, contributing to a cause, or doing things for the sake of something bigger than ourselves or our own benefit. A famous study done by the organizational psychologist Adam Grant is case in point.
By showing university fundraisers how the money donated by alumni can help financially struggling students to graduate from college, their productivity increased by 400% a week! The callers also showed an average increase of 142% in time spent on the phone and 171% increase in money raised.
Internal motivation has been found to be very helpful when it comes to academia, too. Research confirms that the use of external motivators, such as praise, undermine students’ internal motivation, and, in the long-run, it results in “slower acquisition of skills and more errors in the learning process.”
In contrast, when children are internally driven, they are more involved in the task at hand, enjoy it more, and intentionally seek out challenges.
Therefore, all the research seems to allude to one major revelation: intrinsic motivation is a must-have if you want to save yourself the drudgery we all sometimes feel when contemplating the things we should do or must do.
6 Ways to Enhance Your Intrinsic Motivation
So, how does one get more of the good stuff — that is, how do you become internally motivated?
There are many things you can do to become more driven. Here are the ones that top the list.
The theory of self-efficacy was developed by the American-Canadian psychologist Albert Bandura in 1982. Efficacy is our own belief in whether we can achieve the goals we set for ourselves. In other words, it’s whether we think we “got what it takes” to be successful at what we do.
It’s not hard to see the link of self-efficacy to higher self-esteem, better performance, and, of course, enhanced motivation. People with high self-efficacy are more likely to put extra effort in what they do, to self-set more challenging goals, and be more driven to improve their skills.
Therefore, the belief that we can accomplish something serves as a self-fulfilling prophecy — it motivates us to try harder to prove to ourselves that we can do it.
You can learn more about self-efficacy in this article: What Is Self Efficacy and How to Improve Yours
2. Link Your Actions to a Greater Purpose
Finding your “why” in life is incredibly important. This means that you need to be clear with yourself on why you do what you do and what drives you. What is intrinsically rewarding for you?
And no matter how mundane a task may be, it can always be linked to something bigger and better. Psychologists call this “reframing your narrative.”
Remember the famous story of John F. Kennedy visiting NASA in 1961? As it goes, he met a janitor there and asked him what he did at NASA. The answer was:
“I’m helping to put a man on the Moon.”
Inspirational, isn’t it?
Re-phrasing how your actions can help others and leave a mark in the universe can be a powerful driver and a meaning-creator.
Volunteering is a great way to give back to the world. It can also help boost your internal motivation by making you feel important in supporting the less fortunate, learning new skills, feeling good about yourself, or linking to some of your inner values, such as kindness and humanitarianism.
When you remove any external reward expectations and do something for the pure joy and fulfilment of improving others’ lives, then you are truly intrinsically motivated.
4. Don’t Wait Until You “Feel Like It” to Do Something
A great piece in the Harvard Business Review points out that when we say things as “I can’t make myself go to the gym” or “I can’t get up early,” what we actually mean is that we don’t feel like it. There is nothing that psychically prevents us from doing those things, apart from our laziness.
But here’s the thing: You don’t have to “feel like it” in order to take action.
Sometimes, it so happens that you may not want to do something in the beginning, but once you start, you get into the flow and find your intrinsic motivation.
For instance, you don’t feel like going to the gym after a long day at work. Rather than debating in your head for hours “for and against” it, just go. Tell yourself that you will think about it later. Once in the gym, surrounded by similar souls, you suddenly won’t fee that tired or uninspired.
Another way to overcome procrastination is to create routines and follow them. Once the habit sets in, suddenly getting up at 6 am for work or writing for an hour every day won’t be so dreadful.
5. Self-Determination, or the CAR Model (As I Call It)
The Self-Determination theory was created by two professors of psychology from the University of Rochester in the mid-80s—Richard Ryan and Edward Deci. The theory is one of the most popular ones in the field of motivation. It focuses on the different drivers behind our behavior—i.e. the intrinsic and extrinsic motivators.
There are three main needs, the theory further states, that can help us meet our need for growth. These are also the things which Profs. Deci and Ryan believed to be the main ways to enhance our intrinsic motivation—Competence, Autonomy, and Relatedness (CAR).
If our jobs allow us to learn and grow, and if we have enough autonomy to do things our way and be creative, then we will be more driven to give our best, and our performance will soar. In addition, as humans are social beings, we also need to feel connected to others and respected.
All of these sources of intrinsic motivation, separately and in combination, can become powerful instigators to keep us thriving, even when we feel uninspired and unmotivated .
6. Tap Into a Deeper Reason
Some interesting research done in 2016 sought answers to how high-performing employees remain driven when their company can’t or won’t engage in ways to motivate them—intrinsically or extrinsically.
The study tracked workers in a Mexican factory, where they did exactly the same tasks every day, with virtually zero chances for learning new skills, developing professionally, or being promoted. Everyone was paid the same, regardless of performance. So there was no extrinsic motivation at all, other than keeping one’s job.
A third kind of motivation was then discovered, which scientists called “family motivation.” Workers who agreed more with statements such as “I care about supporting my family” or “It is important for me to do good for my family” were more energized and performed better, although they didn’t have any additional external or internal incentive to do so.
The great thing about this kind of driver is that it’s independent of the company one works for or the situation. It taps into something even deeper—if you don’t want to do something for your own sake, then do it for the people you care for.
And this is a powerful motive, as many can probably attest to this.
Frederick Herzberg, the American psychologist who developed what’s perhaps still today the most famous theory of motivation, in his renowned article from 1968 (which sold a modest 1.2 million reprints and it the most requested article from Harvard Business Review One More Time, How Do You Motivate Employees? wrote:
“If I kick my dog, he will move. And when I want him to move again, what must I do? I must kick him again. Similarly, I can charge a person’s battery, and then recharge it, and recharge it again. But it is only when one has a generator of one’s own that we can talk about motivation. One then needs no outside stimulation. One wants to do it.”
Herzberg further explains that the so-called “hygiene factors” (salary, job security, benefits, vacation time, work conditions) don’t lead to fulfillment, nor motivation. What does, though, are the “motivators”—challenging work, opportunities for growth, achievement, greater responsibility, recognition, the work itself.
Herzberg realized it long ago…intrinsic motivation tips the scales when it comes to finding long-term happiness and satisfaction in everything we do, and to improving our overall well-being.
In the end, the next time when you need to give yourself a bit of a kick to get something done, remember to link it to a goal bigger than yourself, and preferably one that has non-material benefit.
And no, don’t say that you tried but it’s just impossible to find internal motivation. Remember the janitor at NASA?
Because once you find your internal generator, you will be truly unstoppable.