Always Well Within

Calm Your Mind, Ease Your Heart, Embrace Your Inner Wisdom

Four Steps to Joyful Work

Wildflowers, Joy

I’m delighted to welcome Dan Zandt from Stillmind today.

Everyone has been made for some particular work, and the desire for that work has been put in every heart. ~ Rumi

The word “spirituality” is banded about a lot these days. To be called a “spiritual person” is a compliment. Bookstores have dedicated sections, usually next to the one labelled “New Age.” We talk about spiritual paths, disciplines and teachings without a second thought.

Yet do we really have a clear idea of what the word means?

In his book Seeking Spirituality, Ron Rolheiser writes that human nature is marked by a “fundamental dis-ease, an unquenchable fire that renders us incapable, in this life, of ever coming to full peace.”

We can, I think, see this truth wherever we look.

The ambition may differ – wealth, security, sex, family, truth, insight – but its root remains the same. There is within us a force that endlessly compels us to movement. We are always striving for something. Human life isn’t a peaceful affair scattered with moments of unrest. It is a frantic, fuelled, passionate pursuit, in the midst of which stillness occasionally arises.

Our spirituality, Rolheiser would argue, is our way of handling the fundamental energy that drives us. It comprises the practices and habits we foster to channel it. We can either use this energy to move towards peace and meaning, or to stoke the fires of frustration and boredom.

In this article I’d like to look at some ways we can do the latter, particularly as it relates to our working lives. I’d like to share a handful of exercises and philosophies that have helped me find joy in my own work. I hope you enjoy them.

1. Discover and Align with Your Deepest Values

Our ability to bring our core values to our work doesn’t depend on the activity we’re doing. Maia Duerr, of Liberated Life Project, talks about moulding our job to fit our beliefs, rather than the other way around. If we’re aware of our true convictions, our felt notion of how the world should be and our role in it, we can integrate them into our daily activities, whatever they may be.

When we instill that deeply-enlivening sense of purpose in our work, we instantly feel more satisfied. Yet the change is a relational one. It’s comes from inside us, not from our circumstances. The environment stays the same but we interact with it in a different way.

I’ve had a string of boring jobs. And I mean boring! Things changed, however, when I began to see the mundane tasks as an opportunity to practice mindfulness. As I shifted my attitude, I was no longer aching for the day to finish but saw the work as an opportunity for spiritual growth! So I was stacking shelves whilst at the same time fulfilling what I felt was the real reason I’m here.

Try asking the question, “How can I approach my work in a way that realizes my purpose and passion?” Then see if you can do it.

2. Act With Compassion, Your Direct Link to Happiness

We feel happier when we help others. This is a simple, scientifically-grounded, truth.

Acting with kindness towards others is one of the easiest ways to both contribute to a greater good and feel happier. This doesn’t mean going out of our way to be altruistic. Rather, all we need to do is be aware in our intention to help others where appropriate. Throughout the day, there are so many opportunities for small considerate acts. It might mean offering somebody friendship, helping share a workload or even just a kind word.

When dog-eat-dog defines our environment, I feel it’s all the more important to make space for compassion. Competitiveness is encouraged nowadays. I remember a friend telling me about the giant computer screen in his office that ranked every single employee by their real-time sales figures. He found it so discouraging. The office seemed almost designed to create resentment.

3. Welcome the Pain

Daily we’re presented with difficult people, boring tasks and stress-inducing deadlines. Boredom doesn’t even need mentioning! But when we see these things as blessings, not scenarios to avoid at all costs, their power over us is diminished.

What if we can use those moments as a trigger to cultivate mindfulness? To practice dealing with difficult feelings with awareness and self-compassion?

Rather than shunning or pushing away the pain, we can instead say, “Today I feel melancholic or upset or angry, but that’s OK, I know the territory and I can deal with it without losing my peace of mind.”

In this way, we’re able to keep our stability in spite of our in-the-moment emotional circumstances. We no longer fear the negative.

4. Overcome “Unbridled Busyness”

It’s been remarked that our modern environment is counterproductive to fostering balance. How can we connect with ourselves and our work when so many voices are squalling in our ears? To sit with a single task, to give it our fullest attention and effort, can be hard. Yet with only one commitment in front of us, we can ease into flow that much more effortlessly.

For me, the first step was to stop multitasking. Not only is it completely futile in terms of increasing productivity, it hinders our ability to fully engage with what we’re doing. Before I sit down to work I set the intention of staying only with what I’m doing, consciously “coming back” whenever I notice that I’ve been distracted. Much as we do in meditation, we can develop the habit of “returning.” We can mindfully notice the pull to Twitter or Facebook or our email client and let it pass.

The second step I took was to set myself mindfulness reminders. I began to explore how I could actually use my computer to avoid distractions. I developed mindfulness triggers – switching between a tab in my browser, opening up Gmail, finishing a paragraph – to prompt me back into the present moment. All of these things helped me to stop being pulled to and fro between a hundred little interruptions.

So there it is, my four steps to joyful work.

Do let me know about your own experiences in the comments section below.

Dan Zandt writes at Stillmind, a blog about using simple mind-body practices, like mindfulness and meditation, for peace at work.

Thank you so much for reading. Please help me reach others by sharing this post.  If you’re new, please subscribe for free updates by email.  With love, Sandra

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24 Comments

  1. Jean Sampson

    Distractions are my biggest hindrance to both getting my work done and feeling grounded. I am in an art studio that is open to the public and there are lots of distractions and interruptions. Being mindful in the midst if this distraction might just help me to remember what I was doing. Thanks!

    • Hey Jean,

      So glad you liked the post.

      Are you painting the pictures or looking after them? An art studio has to be up there on the list of the most distracting places on the planet, where you’re surrounded by objects purposefully designed to capture your attention! I’d really recommend cultivating some mindfulness triggers, that was one of the biggest positive changes for me.

    • Fun but challenging, Jean. I hope mindfulness can help you stay away from too many distractions!

  2. Absolutely agree Sandra and Dan.

    I’m currently practicing having a conscious stream of positivity running through my mind from when I get up to when I go to bed. I’m a long way from realizing this yet, but I carry on anyway…I believe good things will come from it! 🙂

    • Hey Elle,

      Sounds fascinating! Do you follow a specific routine to keep the positivity flowing?

      I’m equally trying as much as I can to experience my days (especially the difficult parts) from that place of inner stability. It’s definitely a work in progress! A little more mindfulness and compassion every day…

      • I think it’s simply about mindfulness Dan, and having affirmations that feel good that I can easily turn to!

  3. That’s an amazing aspiration, Elle! May it come to fruition!

  4. Sandra and Dan- excellent post. I so identified with #1. I’ve been a CBS Radio News Contributor for years and there was a time when it became rote and boring for me. A spiritual teacher said to me once ‘Do you know how many millions of people are listening to you….and how just the tone of your voice—if it’s filled with joy—can have an impact on their day?’ Talk about powerful…every single time i sit down to produce the feature, I pretend like I am talking to an individual person. And you know what? I love doing them now. But this is also true whether you walk down a street and smile at someone or just look straight ahead….it’s all about connection and knowing that each breath you take- along with its intention- is having an impact on someone. Great post to start my week. thanks sandra and dan. With gratitude- Fran

    • Hey Fran,

      It’s so true that everything we do…each breath we take…has an impact, whether we realize it or not. Personally, I feel that knowledge becomes such a powerful motivation for doing things, even the most menial tasks, with integrity and compassion. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Fran 🙂

    • This is a powerful story, Fran! Thanks for sharing it. And I’m so happy you feel more joy now when you produce your features. A win-win for you and others.

  5. Thank you for these helpful steps. I think finding joy in the little things and finding peace in them can be really useful. I worked in a kitchen for a while and had to wash a lot of dishes and I found it very peaceful. I agree that overcoming unbridled business is so important. Our lives tell us we always need to be busy and we can always be doing more. Much of the stuff we do is pointless and is a way to calm our angst. Meditation is a great way to pull back and come back to the moment.

    • Hey Sebastian,

      It’s interesting that you raise that point, because I’ve been realizing more and more that many of the distractions I fill my day with are ways of calming that angst, of wanting to move away from negative feelings rather than mindfully letting them pass. Thanks for sharing.

    • This is a powerful statement, Sebastian: “Much of the stuff we do is pointless and is a way to calm our angst.” Like Dan, I find that to be true and am also wanting to move away from that more and more.

  6. Hi Dan,

    Wonderfully inspiring post. I agree that when our actions are aligned with our passion, then peace, happiness and joy will be abundant. Thanks for sharing your insights and experiences!

    Alex

  7. Awesome article, Dan! Every point resonates with me. At one time, I was in a field that was neither fulfilling my purpose or passion but I did continue in that field because it was helping people. I could get through the day. I don’t know if I was so mindful but I focused on compassion and serving others. Getting to work each day was a struggle though – I had so much resistance.

    Since, then, I’ve had a couple job transitions and today a lot closer to living my purpose. I get the benefits of double spiritual growth now – doing my job mindfully and having a great attitude about it. And growing as a person because I feel like I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.

    I guess I have a question about a job that you’re doing that you’re really not that into. Is a shift in perspective in attitude in order or a change in work needed? Or do one until you get to the latter?

    A very well-written, practical, helpful and on point article! Thank you.

    • Vishnu,

      I’m so happy you’re happy having found work that helps you live your purpose. I don’t think the answer to your question is an easy one. It depends on the individual’s situation, doesn’t it? Personally, it makes sense to decide to find work you love. But that’s not always possible right away. So attitude can make a big difference when that’s the case.

      Thanks for sharing your story. It’s inspiring to know that people have successfully found their true purpose or have come closer to it!

    • Hey Vishnu,

      You’ve hit on the big quandary there. I think you’re right, in that it’s best to relate (as best you can) meaningfully through changing your attitude to whatever work you’re doing whilst also pursuing work that inherently fits with you, your “ideal” job.

      I think it’s important to bear in mind that all we’re after as far as our work is concerned, at the end of the day, is happiness in doing our work. That’s just as possible doing a job that’s tiring and boring (I believe) if we relate to it in the right way.

      Hope I’ve answered your question there! 🙂

  8. Oh girl, the multitasking point is sticking strong to me 🙂 I need to work on that and just do one thing and give it my full attention. You are right. it does not increase productivity! The other points are so good. Loving this post… Awesome!

    • I can relate, Melissa! I have a history of trying to do too much and multi-tasking is part of that picture. But no more for me. Good luck! I know you can do it.

    • Hey Melissa,

      Thanks so much. You’re absolutely right about multi-tasking. I remember reading somewhere that the human brain is actually cognitively unable to deal with two information-rich tasks at once. What happens is we flick between them. We feel so much better when we pour all of our energy into a single task.

  9. Great steps that you have shared as I can very much relate to each one. Working alongside your values and with compassion has made me who the person I am today and has also created one of the deepest friendships I have with people I have worked with. Focusing on a specific task and not doing all at the same time has helped me accomplish more and at the same time has lessend the stress I have been experiencing. Thanks for the great post.

    • Thanks Lynne, really appreciate it.

      It’s interesting that you say acting with compassion has meant deeper friendships for you. I think having a good group of people is one of the most important ingredients of enjoying the work you do. Definitely for me anyway!

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