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When Stefan Falk was 14, he was told his poor grades would put a ceiling on his college prospects. But studying was dull, particularly next to a ready alternative: playing and composing music, which he loved. Given that the probability of a successful career as a musician was low, however, he realized he had to identify what made playing the piano so enjoyable and apply that to his regular studies.

Today he’s an executive coach, often helping people unenthusiastic about their work, and shares the five ingredients of loving music that he identified and can be adapted to your job:

  • He was passionate about creating a beautiful end product: Whether practising on his own or playing before an audience, he was outcome-focused, fantasizing about the expressions he wanted to see on people’s faces as he played.
  • He was consistently challenged and competing with himself. He was always mindful of the skills he needed and wanted to improve. He had a plan when he practised and set goals that were demanding and concrete.
  • He cultivated deliberate expectations of the emotional experience he wanted while playing. When he wasn’t playing the piano, he imagined what he would feel if he was. If he was in a bad mood, he would think of what he could play to cheer himself up and give himself positive energy.
  • He could always monitor his progress. “That not only secured but elevated my intrinsic motivation; knowing you are progressing and becoming better at what you do is a rush and highly addictive. I wanted to relive that feeling over and over,” he writes in Intrinsic Motivation.
  • He viewed fellow musicians as a source of inspiration. He cherished sharing ideas, experiences and advice, fuelling his ambition and motivation and that of his colleagues.

He believes you must love what you do at work. You must never go to work running on autopilot. You must have an explicit goal and outcome for every task, as well as a set of tactics to achieve it. You must never stop challenging and competing with yourself. You must consciously create emotional expectations for your experiences at work and psyche yourself to meet or beat them. You must review your work every day to make sure you are making meaningful progress. And you must cultivate peers who share your excitement and positivity.

In doing that, you are cultivating positivity and excitement. “Loving what you do makes life worth living, but most important, it is the secret sauce for success and well-being,” he writes.

He advises you to set expectations every day and bring home something exciting and interesting to tell your kids. “If you have no expectations for your workday, chances are you will experience nothing more than a typical dull day. If you expect negative things, chances are you will experience those. The same goes if you expect positive things,” he says.

Define your most important goals for every workday. To avoid boredom, see how you can stretch yourself, doing it better or perhaps in a different way. As well, set weekly or monthly stretch goals for skill development and effectiveness. That’s a short time period – you might instinctively prefer annual goals – but he believes the shorter time frame makes it easier to devise a plan. Tie your daily goals into those more ambitious weekly or monthly targets.

As you seek excitement and stoke your inner motivation at work, he also stresses the importance of not participating in negativity. He finds negativity the default setting in most organizations. “Participating in negative talk at work will only distract you from your journey to becoming the superstar you can be. Furthermore, it will make you feel like a bad person. Deep down, we all know that complaining, gossiping and bad mouthing are wrong,” he says.

Quick hits

  • Bitterness is never-ending, notes entrepreneur Seth Godin: “It lacks nuance or surprise. It’s simply a wall you can lean against, whenever you choose. Consistency is all it has to offer, actually.”
  • Advertising consultant Roy H. Williams says careers fall into one of four categories: Numbers, facts, words or hands. Here’s two examples for each: Numbers – data scientist and structural engineer; facts – teacher and police officer; words – stand-up comedian and marketer; hands – carpenter and plumber. No career relies on the use of a single category exclusively, but it does heavily favour one category.
  • A new study finds people are more alert in the morning if they were more physically active the previous day, slept for longer or ate a breakfast high in carbohydrates rather than high-protein food or, as you already know, high in sugar.
  • Microsoft Word expert Allen Wyatt says that to quickly cycle between workbook windows in Excel use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+F6 (to move forward through the windows) or Shift+Ctrl+F6 (to move backward). Alternative: Ctrl+Tab (to cycle forward) and Shift+Ctrl+Tab (to cycle backward).

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston-based writer specializing in management issues. He, along with Sheelagh Whittaker, former CEO of both EDS Canada and Cancom, are the authors of When Harvey Didn’t Meet Sheelagh: Emails on Leadership.

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