8 reasons why happiness at work is like a failed attempt at exercise.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, I have a lot of failed attempts at getting in shape. Maybe you can relate. With the failed attempts, there have been some successes along the way. In my 20’s I loved step aerobics, in my early 30’s I was an avid power walker, in my late 30s I was all in on Zumba, when I turned 40 I took up running. Right now, I’m kind of between things, working once again to regain some strength and stamina and find a way to get in shape AND not want to kill myself.
But the progress is never fast enough.
As I was brainstorming this today, I realized that being happy at work is much like being in shape. The tools that I have learned and used to accomplish a sense of peace and satisfaction at work, regardless of the circumstances, are the same that I need to apply to my physical fitness. Since I think we can all agree that physical fitness is 100% attainable if we take the necessary steps, it can be very reassuring if we apply this same approach to happiness at work and have the same success rate.
Let me explain.
We all know how to get in shape, it’s not rocket science. If we follow the necessary algorithm, fitness is inevitable.
What is less well known is that the same holds true for happiness at work. If we follow the necessary steps, peace and satisfaction are inevitable.
I know you’re doubtful, I was where you are and I know how dire the circumstances can be.
So let me tell you the 8 truths common to being happy at work and getting in shape.
Truth #1 You have to want it and be willing to do the work.
This one may sound obvious, but it is crucial and often skipped. It’s not a wonder why this happens. In order to want to be happy to work, we have to be willing to stop telling ourselves how awful work is. If we say it is awful, how can we get our heads around wanting to be happy? Why would we be happy doing something awful? It’s too much cognitive dissonance in our brains, the ultimate mixed message. We have to be willing to give up complaining. Successful exercisers don’t complain the whole time. Complaining is just an activity, an activity that we can let go.
Truth #2: Establish a solid why.
Why DO you want to be happy at work? If you don’t know why you are doing something you are less likely to do it, and yes, feeling good is a good enough reason. Why do runners run? Sure, there are some who probably enjoy the whole experience, but many do it because of how it makes them feel AFTER, how it makes them feel for the rest of the day. Doing the work to feel better at work is the same. It might not feel great in the moment, but the effects can be long lasting: better sleep, more energy for your family, less physiologic stress on your body, and the personal satisfaction of doing a good job.
Truth #3: Set an intention and make a plan.
This isn’t magic, it takes some strategizing just like planning when you are going to exercise. How are you going to work on building the “muscle” required to feel better at work? Are you willing to dedicate a little time every day to this? Can you learn boxed breathing and do it before you take report or go into a difficult meeting? Do you need to spend 30 minutes 2 days a week? Do you need an accountability partner? Do you want to use some type of app to remind you? There are lots of approaches, but it will take committing to one to start the ball rolling.
Truth #4: There are many ways to achieve the same goal.
I told you about the different seasons of my life of “fitness.” I left out my brief stint at swimming, spinning, and rowing (I may try some of those again). Sometimes one approach may work and other times you may need to get creative and try something new. Maybe you love journaling and gratitude lists. Maybe the idea of that makes you roll your eyes. Just like exercise, there are many paths to the same end. Try one and see how it works. If you really want it (as discussed in the first 2 steps) then you will be willing to give it a try.
Here are some ideas:
Make a gratitude list of 10 things every day.
Start believing your own sarcasm: If you say you’re sooo happy that you’re seeing so many patients today, can you actually ponder that for a moment and find reasons why that may actually be true?
Evaluate the stories you have about your coworkers: could you tell yourself different ones?
Focus on your patients (and not the drama): don’t underestimate the value of focusing on why you are there.
Get enough sleep, even if you start with only one day a week. It’s harder to be happy when you’re tired.
Post an uplifting reminder somewhere that you will see it during the day: I am helping someone today by decreasing their suffering.
Try meditating: If I can do it, you can do it. It’s not “emptying your brain”, it’s directing your brain. Nurses are good at directing people to do things, so this comes naturally if you think of it like that. I love the Ten Percent Happier app but there are tons of free ones too.
Choose compassion. When aggravation is pushing for your attention, can you try to find some way to feel compassion for the person aggravating you?
Focus on what you are doing and not what everyone around you is doing. You are going to do a good job whether the person next to you is slacking or not so stop worrying about it. That’s just the kind of badass that you are.
Truth #5 Perfection is a pipe dream.
You aren’t going to be perfect at this right away or even ever. Like missed days at the gym, there are going to be days that you forget all about your strategy for feeling better at work, days that the best laid plans get thrown out the window. There are going to be days that after weeks of not complaining, you find yourself slipping back into the old habits. IT'S TOTALLY FINE! This is a process, and like any process, there are going to be setbacks. Maybe this is the time to recommit or try a new strategy. Maybe this is the time when you re-evaluate and see if you can find something that will make it easier or more enjoyable. We are nurses, we can figure this out.
Truth #6 Starting small works best and 1% changes 100% count.
There is plenty of research in habit building that people are more likely to stick with a change if the change is very small and not perceived as hard to do. When I turned 40 and trained for a half marathon my very first step was to go to physical therapy for an old back injury. I knew I would show up if I had appointments and I knew that then I could take 1 big excuse off the table when it came time to start running. Full disclosure, I had no idea if I was going to be able to run. Second step, I read a book on running (80/20 Running by Matt…. If you’re interested). Easy step, not overwhelming. THEN and only then, did I go out for my first run. It was to the corner of my street, 3 doors down. I walked the rest of the mile. I kept this up for at least a week and then started slowly running for very, very short distances within that mile. 8 months later I ran the Philly Rock and Roll half marathon with my dad and my sisters. I will never forget the feeling of crossing that finish line.
We can have that same sense of accomplishment when it comes to overcoming the emotional challenge of work. I know because I have done it. It may take 8 months and it will definitely require continued attention if we want to maintain that success. But it is soooo worth it.
What is the first tiny step you can take? Admittedly, when I started this in my own life, giving up complaining was not the first step for me. That seemed too monumental. The first step for me was actually to get enough sleep, to stop staying up watching Netflix with popcorn and wine in an effort to forget about the pain of work. And even that I started by just giving it up on Monday and Tuesday. I realized that if I started the week exhausted, it only went downhill from there. This was the result of my strategizing (see Truth #3).
I had to work up to letting go of complaining. That being said, it did change my life.
Truth #7 It always works if you do the work.
Full disclosure, I didn’t always believe this one. I had no idea if I could actually be happier at work without changing the job that I had worked so hard for. I had no idea if success was inevitable. But I was desperate to try anything, and I had seen success in other parts of my life using these approaches, so I went for it. The human body will always respond to exercise. Small, consistent changes will produce results and the interest on the results will compound as you keep going. It is impossible to not feel better at work if you are determined to be happier there.
I am going to say that again. It is IMPOSSIBLE to NOT feel better at work if you are determined to be happier there.
The progress may be slow, but it is inevitable.
Truth #8 No one can do the work for you.
I wish someone could do this for you, that you could just hire the happiness people and they could take over the necessary tasks. But it doesn’t work that way. We have all tried to buy our way to fitness, the new sneakers, the fancy app, the beautiful gym membership. But unless we actually use these things, fitness isn’t achieved. The same is true at work. We have to take responsibility for doing the work ourselves. The good news is, this means it is totally in our control, it relies on NO ONE ELSE.
Feeling better is like staying in shape. It’s not a one and done deal. It’s something that has to be integrated into your life with daily intention and commitment to your own happiness.
It’s a commitment to yourself, not to your job or your employer. It’s you, committing to you:
committing to doing whatever it takes to be in control of your own experience, your own happiness and your own life.
If you are willing to try it, and stick with it, happiness at work is guaranteed.
Do you need some help figuring out what this would look like in your specific job, with your personal obstacles and obligations? Does it seem impossible to believe that this can be true for you with the way your life is right now? You don’t have to figure it out alone. Send me a message and we can schedule a time to figure it out together. I don’t want you to suffer the way I did.