Are you back at work, and if so are you having trouble summoning up energy, maintaining focus or feeling enthusiastic?

If this is the case, you are not alone. True, it may seem as if you’re just going back to what you were doing before. But psychologically, and practically, that’s not the case at all.

First, your contract may have changed. You may have had hours reduced and/or had to accept a lower wage, which means the external motivators – pay and some conditions – are less compelling. And no one will be returning to exactly the same situation that applied before lockdown, because there’s still no vaccine or totally effective treatment. We still have to be careful, so the way you work must be different.

Observing social distancing and strict hygiene measures is hard enough, but when those new behaviours are required in places where you used to behave quite differently, it’s doubly challenging. Everything about your work setting will trigger old patterns and make you want to react in the old ways. You’ll have to suppress those well-ingrained habits regularly and remind yourself to behave in ways that, for most of us, still feel odd.

What can you do to lift your spirits and reinstate motivation?

1. Practice self-compassion. Criticising yourself will only make you feel worse. The British Psychological Society’s Research Digest cites two recent studies that illustrate the power of self-kindness. In the first, Sergio Carvalho and colleagues at the University of Coimbra surveyed 231 Portuguese women who suffer chronic pain. A study showed that those who showed self-compassion (accepting that pain and inadequacies are a normal part of the human condition) and who took time for self-care experienced less pain intensity and had fewer symptoms of depression.

In the second study, James Wirth and colleagues at The Ohio State University asked participants to play trivia games as part of an online “team”. Those who were told they performed badly and as a result penalised their team experienced negative feelings and lower self-esteem, but those who showed self-compassion experienced less negativity.

2. Choose your motivators carefully. Edward Deci at the University of Rochester defines two types of motivation: intrinsic, when we do something because it’s inherently enjoyable; and extrinsic, when we do something because it leads to a separable outcome – gaining something positive, such as payment, or avoiding something negative, such as a sanction.

Valuing external motivators can help reignite your interest. However, it is only by focusing on internal motivators – those aspects of the job that you love – that you will maintain energy and enthusiasm in the longer term.

The Daily Telegraph

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