It’s rather unromantic, but sometimes a job is simply a paycheck.
Maybe you feel like the work doesn’t play into your skills and strengths; maybe your boss is a bully. Just because you’re miserable doesn’t necessarily mean you can up and leave without another gig lined up.
Fortunately, there are a few simple strategies for making the most of a negative work situation.
That’s according to Dan Pink, the bestselling author of “Drive,” among other books, about the science of motivation in the workplace. Business Insider spoke with Pink at the Wharton People Analytics Conference and asked him what to do if you just don’t feel motivated at work.
Here’s what he told us:
1. Analyze good days.
The idea here is to figure out what you do enjoy about your job – and try to do more of that.
“When you have a particularly good day at work,” Pink said, “try to unpack that. What was it about this day that wasn’t as bad as the others? See if you can unpack that. Was it that you were working with certain people? You were working on certain kinds of things? You were working on some other dimension of your work?”
That way, you can use whatever autonomy you have to restructure your workdays to include more of what makes you happy.
2. Do the ‘three good things’ exercise.
This exercise is used by Martin Seligman, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the founders of the positive psychology movement. The goal here is to improve your general well-being if you feel like your job is dragging you down.
“At the end of the day, write down three good things that happened to you that day, in any dimension of your life,” Pink said. (Seligman and colleagues also suggest writing down an explanation for why the three good things happened.)
Pink noted that, on any given day, your three good things probably won’t be dramatic. Even so, the exercise allows you to get away from the emotions you’re feeling in the moment, to “stop and take a step back.”
Moreover, Pink said, the exercise helps reduce the influence of the focusing illusion, a term coined by the psychologist Daniel Kahneman to describe the idea that nothing is as important as you think it is when you’re thinking about it. According to Pink, “If you’re thinking about how bad your job is, at the moment it seems like the most monumental thing.”
While your terrible job might really be the most important situation in your life, the “three good things” exercise encourages you to take a more holistic look at your experiences, so that suddenly your mean boss isn’t the only thing that matters.
And who knows? You might even remember something positive that happened at work and realize that your job isn’t quite as intolerable as you thought.