It’s easy to lose interest in work you once enjoyed. Five strategies can help you rekindle your passion.

I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was six years old and borrowed my parents’ old typewriter. (To my chagrin, I wasn’t yet permitted to use the family computer.) I was immediately hooked as I saw my ideas take shape on the blank page.

As an author and journalist, I recognise how fortunate I am to be pursuing these childhood dreams, but I would be lying if I said there aren’t times when my enthusiasm wanes. This is especially true in London in January, when my mood is already low and the repetition of weekly deadlines can become exhausting. I feel like I’m on an endless treadmill, and I want to get off.

I’m not alone: Many people are losing interest in the jobs they once loved, as evidenced by the recent ‘quiet quitting’ trend. You may have done everything in your power to get the perfect job, but the daily grind can sap your enthusiasm.

“In my experience with coaching clients, I would say that is a big issue, and that this problem is growing,” says Anna K Schaffner, a life coach in the United Kingdom who specialises in exhaustion, burnout, and resilience, and author of The Art of Self-Improvement.

A loss of passion may indicate that you need to change careers for some, but such a drastic change is not always possible. Recent research indicates that some people naturally use “cultivation strategies” to reignite their passion and motivation – and there are numerous ways we can all use these techniques. 

A matter of mindset

Patricia Chen, a psychology professor at the University of Texas at Austin in the United States, conducted the first study.

Chen’s previous research looked at the impact of two different mindsets on passion. • I believe that there is a perfect job fit for everyone, and that finding the right line of work will determine one’s happiness and success at work.

In contrast, “develop theorists” are more likely to agree with statements like: • I believe that passion is developed through a learning process within any chosen field of work. The better one becomes at one’s job, the more one comes to appreciate it. Chen discovered that these beliefs become self-fulfilling prophecies using detailed questionnaires that measure people’s mindsets and various workplace outcomes. Fit theorists will struggle to find fulfilment in a job that does not meet their specific requirements. In contrast, develop theorists can learn to find enjoyment and interest in various tasks, so that their satisfaction grows over time, even if the job did not initially tick all of the desired boxes.
  • Chen’s new paper will look into how development theorists manage their passion in this way. What strategies do they use to keep their motivation high at work?
  • To find out, she first polled 316 undergraduates from various academic disciplines about how their enthusiasm for their subject had changed over time. This included an open-ended question about what had caused this shift in passion.
  • The researchers identified five common strategies that the students claimed had increased their motivation from hundreds of responses. They were as follows:
  • • Recognizing personal relevance: A student studying business, for example, could consider how theoretical knowledge could help them start a business.
  • • Recognizing societal relevance: A student may ask themselves how the subject can help them understand the world, and how that knowledge can eventually benefit others.
  • • Increasing familiarity: Acquiring new knowledge can pique someone’s interest in learning more as they identify new areas of interest, and the mere fact of making progress and mastering difficult tasks can be a reward in and of itself. So, if you’re feeling unmotivated, look for new ways to expand your skill set.
  • • Getting hands-on experience: Many students discovered that work placements and internships boosted their enthusiasm for their academic studies.

• Finding mentors and changing the environment: Students could actively seek teachers who inspired them or friends who could assist in making the work more enjoyable.

Overall, Chen confirmed that students with the develop mindset were more likely to see positive increases in their passion for their subject over time, and that change was correlated with the number of passion cultivation strategies that they had used. Students with the fit mindset, on the other hand, did not appear to be using those strategies as effectively.

Making motivation

Chen’s findings are consistent with broader psychological research on how people regulate their interest and motivation in their work. These studies, in addition to confirming the use of Chen’s identified strategies, such as identifying the personal or societal relevance of the work, suggest a few other ways of reviving your mojo.

“Proximal goal setting” and “self-consequating” are two of the most useful techniques. These are especially useful when you’re feeling overwhelmed with a new project, where the challenge is so great and the reward so far away that you’re struggling to get started.

Two of the most useful techniques are ‘proximal goal setting’ and ‘self-consequating’

To use proximal goal setting, divide the project into bite-size tasks that are much easier to complete, allowing you to enjoy the warm feeling of accomplishment when you cross them off your list. “This can be especially effective if you use small rewards for achieving those goals, such as watching Netflix after completing an assignment,” says Maike Trautner, a post-doctoral researcher at Germany’s University of Münster. That’s the self-contained part.

Once again, mindset is important. Trautner surveyed more than 700 students on their motivational strategies in a recent study with Malte Schwinger, a professor at Philipps University of Marburg in Germany. As Chen discovered in her work on passion, They discovered that some students believe task motivation is fixed and unchangeable, whereas others believe it can be cultivated. Those with the latter mindset will then seek out practical strategies to boost their motivation, whereas those who believed their motivation was beyond their control were less proactive.

Taking action

These strategies may appear obvious to people who already have the develop mindset. However, Chen’s research indicates that they are in the minority: in her samples, most people had the fit mindset and could benefit from being reminded of their potential to build motivation and passion.

Taking some time to consider our overall goals, looking for the benefits our work provides to others, reaching out to inspiring colleagues, and devising a plan with small rewards are all simple strategies that we could all use to boost our enthusiasm.

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