3 Ways to Motivate Yourself to Get Better at Your Job


Joanne Poh



Despite the fact that kiasu parents often manage to squeeze decent grades out of their kids with the help of an army of tutors, once these children are all grown up and have the prospect of 4 decades of work ahead of them, motivation is harder to come by.

By now, you should know that no matter how talented you are, you’re not going to excel at work without the right attitude and the desire to get better every day. Which, let’s face it, 90% of your colleagues at typical SMEs just don’t have.

At the start of 2016, you might have made the New Year’s resolution to make some progress in your career. We’re willing to bet most of you have already given up, especially if you’re one of the majority of Singaporeans who hate their jobs. Here are three tips for kickstarting your motivation.


Remind yourself of why you do what you do (other than to make money)

If the only way you motivate yourself is to think of all that sweet, sweet money you’re making, you probably hate your job. Studies have shown that people who are intrinsically motivated (ie. motivated by a job because it is personally rewarding) at work perform better than those who are extrinsically motivated (ie. motivated by the money, status or recognition).

As a dismal 75% of Singaporeans view their jobs as nothing more than a way to put food on the table, it’s not surprising that local employees generally have a reputation for being unmotivated and disengaged. So the government wants to encourage “lifelong learning”, eh? Well, until employees start picking jobs that they find rewarding for reasons other than the money, true engagement is going to be hard to come by.

It’s not hard to see that if you wish to motivate yourself for the long term, you’ll need to dig within and find the reason you do what you do—and it needs to be a better reason than the pay, the fact that that’s what you studied at university, or that your parents made you do it.

Even if you’re a total robot now, that doesn’t mean you need to quit your job completely to find that little something that motivates you. It could just be a question of taking your skills to a company with values that are aligned with yours. For instance, some lawyer friends of mine left their jobs in big firms not to become starving artists but to do criminal or family law in smaller firms because they wanted to help people.

It’s not going to all come to you immediately after reading this article. Life isn’t that easy. But once you determine a bigger reason for sticking with your job, you’ll be a lot more motivated, and all that jazz about skills upgrading won’t sound like yet another meaningless order from the government.


Consider whether you’ll enjoy the day-to-day of a job before picking it

Singaporeans tend to choose their jobs based on the salary. Then they complain like mad when they realise they’re expected to stay at the office till 10 pm every day or brave a 2 hour-long commute each way.

Before you sign up for your next job, don’t fixate so much on the salary that you forget about other things, like whether you’ll enjoy the job from day to day.

For instance, many of my friends who graduated with degrees in business or finance ended up by default in jobs as salespeople at banks.

Many of these people didn’t even think about whether they’d enjoy sales or bother to find out what the job was like. A few of them would even describe themselves as highly introverted. So why in the world would a misanthropic person sign up to be a bank salesperson? The answer is a very typically Singaporean one… they thought it would be lucrative.

To motivate yourself to succeed, you should try to avoid a job that makes you engage in day-to-day activities that make you feel like dying. Don’t become a tuition teacher if kids make you want to strangle yourself.

Of course, every job involves doing some annoying, unenjoyable things, like paper work or dealing with unreasonable colleagues. But on the whole you’ve got to know what you’re signing up for, and pick something that will make you feel enthused at least some of the time.

If working 14 hours a day is too much for you, picking a job that offers better work-life balance isn’t going to make you any less of a professional. In fact, it might make you hate your job less and so perform better at work.


Don’t let yourself be driven only by the money

In a perfect world, everybody would be free to pursue their passions, knowing they’d be able to make at least living wage. Unfortunately, Singaporeans don’t live in that kind of world, and there are full-time jobs that pay you far, far less than you can survive on. So it’s understandable that salary should be a consideration when you decide on a career.

But avoid letting the money be the only thing that motivates you, or you’re going to be in for a hard slog in the next few decades. There’s nothing wrong with picking one job over another because it can offer you a better standard of living. But don’t let that be the only reason.

If the only thing that keeps you going is your paycheck at the end of the month, you have little incentive to upgrade your skills, because it’s not like it’s going to immediately change your salary.

When you focus only on the money, you’re like the typical Singaporean student who focuses only on scoring well in the exams, who can do the ten year series questions flawlessly but hasn’t actually engaged with the subject.

Ironically, when you start focusing on aspects of the job other than the money, you’re likely to do much better, and that might actually translate to a higher salary in future.

How do you motivate yourself to do better at work? Tell us in the comments!

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Joanne Poh

In my previous life, I was a property lawyer who spent most of my time struggling to get out of bed or stuck in peak hour traffic. These days, as a freelance commercial writer, I work in bed, on the beach, in parks and at cafes, all while being really frugal. I like helping other people save money so they can stop living lives they don't like.

  • hansc

    Excellent article that really hits the core of many work-related issues that the Singaporeans have (personal view).

    Although one is always focused on getting the best academic results, and later on the best paying job, this can lead to depression and unhappiness. Solution: don’t chose job based on salary. Problem: too many external factors that make you do anyway, such as family, societal status, and needing to pay for unnecessary luxuries in life. For that, I am really happy to have grown up in Europe, where happiness is more important than status or money.

    • Glad that resonated with you! I think the current system (whether formally established or informally by social groups and family networks) is too results-oriented and loses sight of the importance of examining values and processes. That has led to many of the problems that employees face at work today.