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At Ease with Uncertainty: Cultivating Motivation and Focus at Work

February 10, 2021
At Ease with Uncertainty: Cultivating Motivation and Focus at Work

- By Heather Locke - Workplace Wellness -

Change is constant and uncertainty can be a struggle. Here are five tips for cultivating motivation and focus at work amid this year’s challenges.

When we (finally!) said goodbye to 2020, many of us looked forward to an end to the pandemic. But while hope is ahead, much still remains unchanged. We are trying to hold work, families, and more in balance as uncertainty remains the only constant. As a result, there’s no better time for a renewed interest in our physical and mental well-being. It’s clear the year will bring more change, most of which will be out of our control. The best way to meet whatever comes is with an open mind and our own sense of well-being.

How comfortable are you with uncertainty? Ancient sages the world over advise us to relax into the unknown and to become comfortable with the fact that all things will change, fade and become something else. Here are five key areas to help you cultivate well-being inside and outside your work environment.

  1. Mindfulness: There is possibly nothing more important to your overall well-being than cultivating mindfulness. This is a popular topic from the yoga mat to the locker room, from the boardroom to the breakfast table, and for good reason. Mindfulness is simply being fully in the present moment. It is a tool that allows us to drop wandering thoughts and become aware of this moment, just as it is. Why is this important? Cultivating our mind in this way allows us to drop judgements and have more clarity, awareness and self-reflection. This is helpful in any aspect of our lives, particularly in the workplace. Current research is showing that mindfulness practice is a key to successful leadership.

  2. Gratitude: The practice of gratitude has far-reaching and immediate benefits to the brain and our overall sense of well-being. The act of finding one thing to be grateful for can release dopamine and serotonin in the brain, two neurotransmitters responsible for making us feel good. In the workday, this could be appreciating the way your team handles a problem, or a well-made presentation, or the way the sun angles through your window in the afternoon. People who notice and appreciate details about their lives tend to be happier and have lower rates of depression. Research suggests that the effects of a regular (daily or weekly) practice of gratitude can be long-lasting. Such practices are as simple as writing down three things you are genuinely grateful for each day or writing letters of gratitude to colleagues, friends and family. Even if you don’t deliver the letters, noticing and writing down the things you are grateful for can still boost your overall well-being.

  3. Learn something new at work: Now could be a great time to learn a new programming language, a new software application or look into graduate classes. There may be a company budget for this, especially since in-person conference travel is likely still on hold. You may be able to contribute something directly to your team by learning something new, or you may be able to build leadership skills. Cultivating a new skill set offers a moment to appreciate your work environment as well: your colleagues, your work life, the company’s recognition of your new efforts, your team, and your clients.

  4. Learn on the side: You could also explore an area that you’ve always wanted to try on your own time, in your own way. When you learn something new, your brain chemistry changes positively by stimulating neurons in the brain. Ready to pick up a new language, build a table or cook a new-to-you cuisine? I have a colleague who recently took up woodworking in her spare time. Her delight at building things is inspiring and infectious! Another colleague took up abstract painting. Learning something new provides an outlet to success and creativity in a new endeavor and may help us solve problems we’re having in our work or personal lives by approaching it in a different way.

  5. Walk, walk, walk: Wallace Stevens wrote, “Perhaps the truth depends on a walk around a lake.” There are many reasons why walking is a good idea. It shifts the mind, it moves the body. Fresh air and a break from what we’re working on can be just the thing to help us find the resolution when we get back. Getting up from your computer, getting off the phone, consciously taking time away from your work and out of your day is key to your well-being. So many of us get stuck in our work routines and perhaps a culture of eating lunch at our desks or always being on call throughout the work day. Valuing your well-being, health and need to clear your thoughts is equally important to the work getting done. Consider a regular “appointment” with yourself (or a colleague when that’s feasible) for 30 minutes during the day to refresh, reset and value your overall well-being along with work deadlines and meetings. Walking may be one of the most underrated exercises, especially as it helps clear the mind. 

As we navigate uncertainty in 2021 and beyond, we can lean on both ancient and modern wisdom to attend to our well-being, appreciate the world around us and start to make friends with change. Incorporating some of these practices in the fabric of our day-to-day lives (and calendars!) can bring meaningful ease in a quickly changing world.

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