- There are days when nothing seems to motivate you, and you view upcoming tasks as stifling and routine.
- New research on innovative behavior shows how to turn dread into positive anticipation of daily plans.
- The 3-2-1 approach that builds on your strengths can help fulfilling days turn into fulfilling lives.
You’ve got a big day ahead of you, and normally you’d be all fired up and ready to get going. However, you didn’t sleep quite as well as you would have liked, and something just seems “off.” You’ve spilled your coffee, it’s raining heavily, and you know that at some point, you’ll have no choice but to get out the door.
When people feel as though they’ve got no energy, or that there’s just too much to deal with, it can be emotionally draining. On the other hand, when everything is lined up just right, there’s no stopping you. How, then, can you convert what seems like it might be a bad day into one that allows you to soar?
Use Your Strengths to Get Your Best Day
According to Southwest Jiaotong University’s Tao Liu and colleagues (2023), your best days are the ones in which you can fully engage your strengths, but there’s a proviso involved: Having the strength to go through your day is definitely beneficial, but the Liu et al team proposed that relying on strengths alone could become a problem. The so-called “strength-based” approach in research on workplace performance suggests that digging into those reserves may paradoxically keep people stuck in a rut rather than be willing to explore more creative options. You know what works, so you fail to engage your imagination in ways that could help you look at problems in a new light.
Engaging your strength to its max without any relief can potentially lower your creativity; it can also be draining. Perhaps one of the reasons you’re not looking forward to your day is that you know that by its end, you’ll be exhausted. Fatigued before you even begin, you dread sapping all of your strength by pouring it into your work. Maybe you’d be more excited if you thought there would be at least some variation in what’s to come.
There is a way out of this dilemma. Citing the theory of the late Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the Chinese researchers propose that if you can direct your strengths to the activities that engage you both emotionally and intellectually, your creativity need not suffer. In this state, called “flow,” people become almost unaware of their surroundings as they become increasingly drawn into their work. You may have experienced this state yourself the last time you threw yourself into a home project that, before you realized it, took your entire day. Rather than being exhausted, you felt elated.
Yet another mitigating factor that can prevent you from becoming stale, Liu et al propose, is gratitude. The more you appreciate the people you work for, the more likely it is that you’ll find value in what you do on a daily basis. Gratitude toward the organization (GTO), the authors suggest, helps you enter more readily into the state of flow. You might not feel this way every day, but on those days when you do, it’s much more likely that you’ll be able to avoid feeling that everything is just the same old same old.
Testing This New Model of Innovation
To test their model predicting innovation from a combination of GTO, use of strengths, and flow, Liu and the research team recruited workers from a top Chinese engineering construction company whose focus is on developing innovative, sustainable, products. The research team reports that the employees in this company are encouraged to think as creatively as possible. It’s also a company that seeks input from employees to find ways to create ideas that are both innovative and sustainable.
Using a daily diary design covering a 3-week period (15 working days), the Chinese research team was able to track daily variations in GTO as an influence on daily variations in strengths use, flow, innovative behavior, and, ultimately, job satisfaction. Their sample of 204 employees (average age 28 years old) completed 4 assessments per day: Daily strengths use (e.g. “Today, I have conducted tasks that have suited my strengths well,”); daily innovative behavior (“Today, I searched out new working methods, techniques, and instruments at work”); daily flow (“Today, when I engaged in my work, I felt optimal enjoyment”); and daily GTO (“Today, I am grateful to my organization for many reasons”).
As the authors predicted, on the days when workers reported that they experienced flow as well as GTO, they were more likely to say that they applied their strengths to engaging in innovative behavior. They were also more satisfied with their job on those days. Supporting what other psychologists have called the “broaden and build” theory, the findings suggest that becoming immersed in what you’re doing generates even more positive approaches to work, resulting in a greater willingness to experiment with new ideas. Because the company they worked for valued rather than discouraged innovation, it’s likely that an overall sense of gratitude for allowing this freedom of thought provided that important extra push.
A 1-2-3 Way to Energize Your Day
The workers in this study looked back on their day, but what if you flipped the questions around to think about the day that’s about to come? Being able to innovate should, based on these findings, help mobilize and motivate you. To get there, the three elements of strengths use plus flow plus gratitude could become those energizing factors:
1. Imagine yourself being as creative as possible. Put yourself into the frame of mind of looking at what you hope to accomplish and then see if there is a way to change it up a little bit from the routine day-to-day grind.
2. Put yourself into a state that can generate flow. Viewing your daily activities, see them as a way to become engrossed rather than bored. Come up with inspiring phrases that seem to work for you.
3. Think as positively as you can about what your organization does to help you. There may be days when you feel they’re not on your side, but at least start your day by looking optimistically at what they do offer you. If it's not an organization you work for, perhaps it's the effort you put into your family.
To sum up, your strengths will always be your strengths, but putting them to their best use may take a conscious set of efforts. By starting each day on as positive a footing as possible, fulfilling days could become fulfilling lives.
Liu, T., Lu, S., Ma, J., & Mao, Y. (2023). Apply your strengths to enjoy flow at work: A diary study on the relationship between strengths use and innovative behavior. Journal of Happiness Studies: An Interdisciplinary Forum on Subjective Well-Being. DOI:10.1007/s10902-023-00696-6