How to Make Hard Work Fun

Having fun with a task not only increases the likelihood that you’ll try it, but also your chances at succeeding. That’s right, having fun isn’t just enjoyable, it helps us reach our goals. 

The best news is, it’s actually pretty easy to invite fun back into the things you do every day—even the hard things. And your way-too-serious push to get things done will be more successful after you do. This episode is all about the ways you can intentionally use fun to increase innovation and productivity as you work toward your goals.

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Transcript:

Welcome to the Cara Brookins Show, where you’ll find all the tools you need to get unstuck and build a better life. I know what it feels like to need a friend to talk you through the hard stuff. From cleaning off your desk, to building a new desk, or even rebuilding your entire life from scratch, I’ll be here with you for every step. Let’s get moving and build exactly the life you want.

I noticed a few minutes ago, that don’t have any fingerprints on my left hand this week. It’s true. They’re completely gone. And no, I didn’t get rid of them on purpose. I’m not over here planning anything illegal. I was just doing this project, a pretty big project, that involved a paint roller and a very durable clear sealer, that, well, you probably already guessed, I spilled all over the finger tips of my left hand. 

Well, I spilled it on my right hand too, but I was wearing a glove on that hand. You know, because when the instructions said ‘wear gloves’ I thought, well I’m not gonna be all that messy, I’m only going to touch the roller with my right hand, so the instruction writers probably meant that I should wear glove. Not gloves. Just glove. 

Turns out, nope. They meant gloves. And that’s how I now have no fingerprints on my left hand. And that’s also one of the ways I had a ton of fun this week. Seriously, this project was so much fun for me. What I did was paint a tile floor in a bathroom, then I did a decorative stencil over it. And then I had to seal it with that durable sealer I mentioned. That’s the simple explanation. That wasn’t all the stuff that went on. 

I also ran out of this special paint that no one sells in any stores and had to have more mailed to me. That took weeks and we couldn’t use that bathroom. While I was waiting, I learned a whole lot about all the ways not to use a stencil. Including the way I created an entire second project by slapping the painted stencil against the walls multiple times. I refreshed my plumbing skills when I removed the sink….. Well you get the idea. My initial project plan of, “I’ll just paint the tile really quickly” got way out of hand. 

But here’s where this all gets really interesting and what I actually want to talk about today. When I was describing all of this to a good friend mid way through the project, he shook his head and said, this sounds so miserable. Why are you doing this? Is any part of this fun to you? 

And I was stunned. Because yes, obviously. Every single part of this project, well okay almost every single part of this project was a lot of fun. Not only am I super happy with it, I’d do it again—on purpose. But my friend? He would never do it. Ever. If he had to for some reason paint a tile floor in order to save his own life, he would begrudgingly do it poorly and hate every single second. 

And this got me thinking about the word FUN. It’s a word that when we’re kids we use all the time, in fact fun is 100% the most important learning tool we have. It’s why we reach for the first rattling toy our mom shakes over our crib and it’s why we later get up on two feet and run after the family dog. Games we think are fun on the playground build our muscles, creative funny jokes make us laugh and stretch our mind, and a million other board games, legos, erector sets, dolls, and toys teach us everything about the world and build the curiosity that will be with us our entire lives. 

Finding fun is literally our biggest driver and most important motivator. So why, as we grow into adults, do we start putting such a huge emphasis on being serious? Why do we push all the things that we call fun into smaller and smaller portions of our lives? We allow ourselves to have fun for what? Maybe two week nights and part of every other Saturday. 

Seriously. Why are we so serious. Why have we drawn such a stark and depressing line between this thing we call productivity that we hold up on a high pedestal and the things we call fun we think of as an illegitimate way to spend our time? 

Well it all started with this idea humans had to put a separation between our work life and our personal life. It’s a solid line. We have very specific work days and hours and personal days and hours. And somewhere along the line someone decided that the work time would be stoic and high stakes. Very serious. No fun should be had. 

This is a relatively new idea. Because for most of human history, the work we did was part of our every day lives. There was no distinction. And that meant that work and fun went hand in hand all day long every day. The fun was sprinkled in where appropriate. And that’s how it’s meant to be. But it’s not how most of us are living right now. 

This is so sad. Because life is short and it could be so much better if we would view our lives as though we are happily and willingly participating in all the moments of our life. Instead we feel miserable during the working hours, or at the very least are just having a lot less fun during the work hours. And this means we’re really missing out on a lot. If we are living for the weekend or our rare vacation days, then we’re wasting time and missing out on a whole lot of fun that could be part of everything we do. Including, and most importantly, part of the way we reach for our biggest goals. 

But what does it really mean to have more fun more of the time. Well, probably not the first image that came to mind. It isn’t about quitting your job and day drinking between Netflix binges every day. Because that would get old. First, let me remind you that there’s no paycheck in it, and second, well your goals are just way bigger than that. You can reach higher. And you can have more fun along the way. 

What having more fun really means, is incorporating more things into your day that feel playful. Things that make you smile. Things that give you a sense, a feeling, that life is good. When we are playing, the individual moments are more important than any end goal. And even those moments are open to go in just about any direction. Play has loose rules. And this isn’t just about feeling good. It’s about performing better. Because here are just a few things that fun does for you. 

When you’re having fun, your stress hormones are lower. It actually changes the chemical composition of your body. And less high-stress hormone cortisol, means you’ll be healthier with a lower chance of getting sick both short term and long term. And that changed chemical composition means you’ll sleep better too. It will be easier for you to maintain a healthy weight.  And all that means you will look and feel younger and have more energy. Already, you can see the ways this would increase how much work you do and the quality of that work. But there’s more. 

Your memory improves when you’re having fun. You’re more creative too. So your projects will more be more likely to be innovative ideas that will succeed. These are already a bunch of great ways that you’d like your life to change. And proof that having more fun has not only a psychological effect, but a physiological effect too. Fun changes your mind and body and all for the better. 

. . .

I want you to stop and think for a minute about how great it would feel if you could have an idea for a project and then easily just start doing it. Pick up the pen or the hammer. Build the website or hang a sign over your door. Just get moving and do it. 

Why is that so hard, just taking that first step? Why do we end up so paralyzed that most of our ideas land in the “someday” folder.

That’s what my free “Get Unstuck” Challenge is all about. 

I’ve done a lot of things in my life that are really big. I’ve published eight books, built a career writing software, a public speaking business, and I built an entire house with my kids by watching YouTube videos. 

But this challenge right here, this is one of the most important things I’m doing. Because I know how frustrating it is to really want a better life. To maybe even have an exact idea of what you want to do. And to just feel too stuck or too burned out to get there. 

And I know too that it’s possible for you to do what I did. To overcome that feeling of being stuck. It’s 100% possible for you to overcome that stuck feeling and to build exactly the life you want. 

I’ll take you step by step with a series of four video challenges. And at the end you’ll be ready to finally get started on your big project. 

Go to Cara Brookins.com and click on “get unstuck” to sign up for this free Get Unstuck challenge. 

. . .

And here’s my absolute favorite benefit of injecting more fun throughout your day. You don’t just stop being so serious, you stop taking yourself so seriously. And here’s how that shows up for me. It makes me the type of person who is willing to try a lot more things. Because if it doesn’t turn out perfectly, or even at all, maybe it’s a total bomb, so what? 

I’ll laugh at myself and the situation and I will absolutely have learned a few things I can take with me to the next try on this project or a different one. I guess what I mean by this, is having a more fun and playful mindset over all, gives us the mental room to laugh off the mistakes. And that means we’re willing to make more mistakes. And a person who is willing to make mistakes is unstoppable. Unstoppable. 

When you become that type of person you will be riding on the waves of success somewhere around your 25th try at something and everyone else will still be stoically looking over the idea, all worried about making the perfect first move forward. 

Whether you succeed or fail at something isn’t the most important thing. It’s that you had the courage and conviction to get out there and try that really changes how you see yourself and how other people see you. And with every playful try to learn a few things until they all come together into a skill set that rivals the greatest people in your field. 

That’s another thing about fun. It has a profound effect on a team. There’s an equalizing effect to fun. If you can make your boss laugh then you are spending time peer-to-peer, laugh-to-laugh, and that improves morale for everyone. But here’s where it gets a little tricky.

Because I had fun painting bathroom tile. And that might not land within a mile of your definition of fun. So while fun has the same sort of effect on all of us, what we all  call fun isn’t the same. Here’s what I mean by that.

Humans all have the same response in their brain and their body when they are having fun. All of us. But humans aren’t robots. I’m not at all saying that our brains are a simple data-in data-out type of system. Or that every single time any human does a specific thing that they will get the same response. What I am saying is that the underlying systems that are set up in our brain work the same for all of us. It’s just that—and this is the important part—that the steps that you need to take and I need to take to trigger the responses in our brain and body might look really, really different. 

Think of it like the difference between a football player and an opera singer. They both put in a ton of work for their big performance. They both get some sort of paycheck for their work, and that will motivate them to some extent. But there has to be more to it. There has to be some internal reason they each keep getting up before the sun rises to practice. There has to be some point in the day where what is happening is their definition of fun. That’s what gets them back out there every day in addition to the paycheck.

And whether one of them is using her toes every morning to find her mark on the theater stage and the other one is using his toes every morning to kick a ball, the thing happening in their brain when they succeed is the same.

It’s true. The reward their brain gives them for success is the same. The same chemical. They have just found different ways to trigger it. And what you discover that triggers these good states in your brain, those moments are you having fun. It’s that simple. And I guess also that complex, too. 

Because while we know what that looks like in your brain, you didn’t show up on your birthday with this set of game rules to tell your parents or you exactly the things that would be most fun to you and how you could use those moments to reach your goals and build a career that would give you a paycheck also. 

But that’s ok. Because you’ve already shown a lot of proof that you’re good at figuring things out. And this is just one of the things in life that you get to figure out. No worries though. You’re not alone. I have a few ideas today that will help you get started. 

Think back to when you were a kid, and play came more naturally, before you altered what you did based who was watching. See if you can identify the types of things that were the most fun for you. We’re not going to be adding matchbox car or barbie time to your adult schedule, but we are going to figure out what triggers your fun on a more foundational level. 

We’ll start by just identifying what about your favorite games as a kid was most fun. And what you find might really surprise you. 

For example, a lot of people find that they enjoyed setting up their games and play areas a lot more than actually playing. My grandma used to tell me how she played school with her sisters all the time. But the whole game was about making the school supplies from sticks, rocks, and flowers. Setting up desks with wood scraps. After they were finally done setting up there was nothing fun about actually playing school. 

What this says about my grandma is that creating and decorating were what triggered fun. For someone like this, fun at a workplace would be having some control over creating and decorating personal workspace. And if you work from home, make sure your work space there is really a spot you love. Next, start looking for ways to inject this fun into the office for holidays and birthdays. And more importantly, where can this creative fun fit with individual projects? Are their brand color decisions or creative marketing decisions? That’s going to be exactly the thing to increase fun for this the of mindset. 

This is a simple and small way to have more fun with what you do just by better understanding what triggers that rush of brain chemicals for you.  

Maybe your fun right now is watching Netflix or reading novels. You’re not going to get away with that at work, but there’s a way to apply what you enjoy about that to your workday. Do you like solving mysteries? Then research areas at work may make your heart sing. Maybe what you like about it is the storytelling and writing element. Start by applying these things to your work projects. 

Every single project has stages that require complex communication that is ultimately, identical to the art of telling a good story like the one’s you’re reading, watching on Netflix or even the micro stories on TikTok

I’m not into Math. But, math, numbers, measurements and statistics really make some people smile. You may really feel at home surrounded by numbers. And you can use this view of fun to motivate yourself or an entire team by using this. For example, set up a system that marks clear progress as you work toward a goal. Think video game here, with a progress bar, health status, and even points for wins along the way. 

Use bright colors to break people out of a serious mood. Bright colors signify, this is fun time. Come out and play a while. Set a timer and a tight deadline to turn a dull, repetitive task into a challenge. Turn some music on Friday afternoons. Serve a glass of wine with Monday’s lunch and learn. 

Set up celebrations to mark your progress and your successes. And not just those, because some of the times we need fun most is when things are going terrible. And injecting a little fun when things are starting to fail will naturally move your brain to come up with more creative solutions. A little fun could save a doomed project.

What was fun about the tile painting project for me? It was about the completely transformation. The creativity. The idea that I started with a blank slate and created something with it. And if you look at most of the work I do, that’s the fun I have with it. From writing novels—turning a ream of blank paper into a book. Or even building a house—turning a spot on an empty acre of land into a home. Even this podcast take empty airspace and allows me to create new ideas with you. To help both of us set up our work and our lives in an even better way.

Another little fun trick I use that’s more specific is one I’ve shared before on social media. It’s the way I push myself to rehearse for events by coloring in circles on a piece of paper. If I need to hit 3 rehearsals that day, I’ll draw three circles and then after a rehearsal I’ll color a circle in with a bright highlighter. I set a deadline like dinner time or my usual walk time. And if I haven’t colored in all the circles, I don’t eat dinner or go for the walk until I color in the final circle. 

I could just as easily make hashmarks on a piece of paper to keep track. But that’s not as much fun as the colored circles. And it’s not as participatory. Because I get to select the color, and spend a few seconds coloring the circle in, I have some ownership of the results. Our brain likes to own things, and when it does, it puts in more effort and works harder to not lose them. You’ll remember back in episode three we talked about how to use this to our advantage, the way our brain owns things. If you missed that one, go listen it next because it’s a great way to lock in your goals. It’s called, how to do what you actually want to do. 

Adding fun elements to your work day sounds like such a small thing, but every little bit of this has a profound effect on your mind and body. 

This is going to change everything for you. When you set up your projects with this human focused design, by that I just mean setting a project up so it compliments the way your human brain works, you accomplish more which is fantastic. But even more important than that, you will enjoy every element of life more, and so will everyone you work with and live with. Having more fun in your every day work and life creates a ripple effect. 

I’m ready to feel this more in my life an to get a ripple of it back from everything you’re up to too. 

Thanks for hanging out with me today, head over to carabrookins.com for more (free) tools, and we should connect on social media too. Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast.

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