New Study Reveals the Simple Secret to being Motivated at Work

New Study Reveals the Simple Secret to being Motivated at Work

If you’re like most, you want to be motivated and happy while you work. And if you sat down and thought about it, you might be able to figure out the ideal conditions that would lead to that.

But would you be right?

Maybe. But there’s a good chance you might end up thinking about it a little too much and overcomplicating it.

A Simple Answer

Happiness and motivation at work, it turns out, can be fairly simple, says Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile and independent researcher Steven Kramer in their new book The Progress Principle.

Amabile and Kramer analyzed nearly 12,000 daily diary reports by 238 professionals in 7 companies from 3 different industries in order to delve into the daily psychological states of employees’ inner work lives. The reports revealed normally hidden or suppressed emotions, reactions, and motivations that people experience over the course of a workday.

Many of the results, unfortunately, were not pretty. In one-third of the diary entries, the workers were unhappy and often unmotivated. These negative psychological states, as you can image, also impacted the workers’ productivity, commitment, and collegiality. In addition, it was found that creativity was boosted on “good” days. Good days were days when the workers found themselves not trying to perform under pressure, but rather, when they felt happily engaged.

Happily Engaged

And so how do you become happily engaged?

Amabile says, “A clear pattern emerged when we analyzed the 64,000 specific workday events reported in the diaries. Of all the events that engage people at work, the single most important — by far — is simply making progress in meaningful work.

“Of all the things that can happen in a workday that can really boost people’s motivation, the single most important is simply making progress in meaningful work, even if that progress is a small win, a relatively incremental step forward, to some meaningful goal.

“We found that all of the things that can happen to dampen motivation in a given workday, the single most important is having setbacks in the work, a feeling that you’re somehow blocked in what you’re trying to do, a feeling that you’re stalled in some way. And unfortunately we found that setbacks are even more powerful in the negative direction than progress is in the positive direction.”

Tips for Making Meaningful Progress

And so small steps forward, little by little, seem to be the key. Below are some tips for achieving these small wins toward meaningful goals on a daily basis.

1. Meaningful Goals

Have meaningful goals to work toward. If you’re not on a track you feel aligned with, it will be much more difficult to ever find motivation. You may have to change your job or your direction in order to achieve this, but if that’s what you have to do, then that’s what you have to do.

2. Small Steps

Create small steps, small goals that you can celebrate and take pleasure in. Often these small goals may pop up naturally.

For example, you think of something that would work well on your site, but you don’t know exactly how you’re going to do it. You search around for a plugin, but none seems made for your task. You keep searching until you finally find one that you can use in a creative way to do what you want to do. You install it, get it working, and presto! – you’ve just achieved a meaningful small goal.

 3. Take Stock

Help yourself along by tracking achievement of what you do every day, of your small goals completed. For some reason, taking stock of what you’ve already accomplished is often much more motivating than looking at a list of what you’d like to accomplish. Perhaps it has something to do with instilling confidence, I can’t say for sure, but many, many people have found this to be the case. Simply writing down what you did during the day can act like magic on your consistency and motivation.

Although this is simple enough to do on your own, there is also a web service that will encourage you. At you can set up an account, and every day they will email you and ask you whatchu done.  Your account will keep a running record of your past days accomplishments for easy perusal and review.


(Thanks for the images to Arkansas ShutterBugcampsnowkoanOliBac.)