Do you perform better at tasks you find both interesting and meaningful? You are not alone. Recounting her research in The New York Times (http://nyti.ms/1tWZtQh) Paula A. O’Keefe, assistant professor of psychology at Yale-NUS College in Singapore, describes an experiment where she and a colleague asked a group of undergraduates to work on word puzzles. “Before they began, we had them tell us how exciting and enjoyable they thought the task would be. Then they read a statement that framed the task as either personally valuable or of neutral value.”
Those who read the first statement, and who also thought the task would be enjoyable, solved the most problems. It wasn’t simply because their interest made them want to work longer. Their engagement was more efficient because they were focused and “in the zone.” A follow-up study showed that this group was also the least “mentally exhausted”(as measured by their ability to squeeze a hand-grip after the task was done). By contrast, those who were uninterested in the task not only performed worse, but also were mentally fatigued.
The lesson: liking our work matters! Leaders of any sort (managers, teachers, parents) should do all they can to frame work in a meaningful context—not only in terms of its immediate end but also its broader impact. Why is this work significant? What part does it play in achieving a greater goal? And—because related research shows that social engagement can foster interest—whom will it help?
We want to hear. Does your performance improve when you enjoy what you do? How do you motivate others to see work as interesting and meaningful? Join the conversation: click "comments" below.
Image Credit: Sebastaan ter Burg https://www.flickr.com/photos/ter-burg/