When I lived in Japan, I was amazed by the pride that workers took in even the most “unglamorous” tasks. Garbage trucks were virtually spotless, thanks to their drivers’ concerted efforts, and it was not unusual to see city employees carefully wiping down the public trash cans out on the street as if they were a Rolls Royce.
Some people, however, seem to have an internal mechanism that calibrates their enthusiasm and attention according to whether they “feel” like doing something – whether they think what they’re doing (or who they’re talking to) is worthwhile, interesting or important. What they don’t seem to realize is their approach in any one instance is a reflection of their approach in every instance.
In fact, thanks to the power of individual perception and context, nothing is inherently interesting or dull. There are factory workers on noisy assembly lines who enjoy their work and brain surgeons who are bored with theirs. An actress who was thrilled about attending her first few movie premieres on the red carpet might, years later, view them as routine and time-consuming. It isn’t the nature of the activity that has changed, just her perception of its significance.
Good new and bad news
So the bad news is: there’s no set of given circumstances that is guaranteed to be exciting. The good news is: there’s no set of given circumstances that is guaranteed to be tedious if you can create a context that will give it more meaning (e.g. if it’s something you’ve done a thousand times, find a way to learn something new, recall a time when you were excited to be doing it or make it into a game).
But, wait a minute. Doesn’t applying the same degree of enthusiasm and effort into everything require a lot more time and energy? Not necessarily – here’s what actually happens:
- Get done quicker. It takes time to determine how much you feel like doing something. Once you’re in the land of inevitability, why not skip the internal debate and simply default to giving your all regardless of what you’re doing.
- Energy begets energy. Whining and grumbling sap your energy and slow you down. On the other hand, if you throw yourself with enthusiasm and a sense of fun into a dreaded task – I imagine I’m in a TV commercial when cleaning the kitchen – you may just find yourself enjoying it, and having more energy than when you started!
- Transform the result. Have you ever seen that commercial for Volkswagen that illustrates the chain reaction of kindness? One person sees a VW Bug, smiles happily at a passerby, who smiles back and stops to pick up something someone dropped, who then pays the parking meter for someone else, and the chain continues. Every human contact, no matter how mundane, creates energy – don’t underestimate the power of your attitude to influence others and start a ripple effect. (Remember this when calling the phone company!)
- Enhance your reputation. Become known for your integrity, for being someone who always gives their all, every time, and the trust and credibility you earn will be priceless. The best teachers and coaches in the world are the least judgmental, they don’t presume to know who will turn out to be the most talented. Cellist Hans Jensen says: “I give everyone everything.”
- Preparation for the big time. “Doing your best” isn’t something that can be turned on as if it’s a faucet. It’s more like priming a muscle; you can’t suddenly lift something heavy if you haven’t been consistently building up strength and stamina. If you’re used to doing the minimum – cutting corners, taking shortcuts – it will be difficult to step it up when there’s actually something at stake and you need to perform your best.
This is not to say you should spend the same amount of time on a casual email as you do on an important client proposal, but once you’re actually committed to doing something, then ditch the disclaimers, dive in wholeheartedly with all your attention and see if that doesn’t change everything.