There are many things in life that we should do or need to do, but we really don’t want to do them. As a result, we procrastinate and put them off as long as possible, or we do it but hate the process. Here are 5 tips to do those things you need to do but don’t want to.
My daughter is in medical school and she said to me, “I need to study anatomy. I know I could get my assignment done in two weeks if I could make myself do it, but I can’t!”. Then I thought about all the things I and my friends have had to do that we really didn’t want to do. They include studying for college classes, going to work at a job I despised, quitting smoking, household chores and errands, exercising regularly…the list goes on and on. Here are tips that can help motivate you to get it done, and maybe even enjoy the process.
Find the Good In It
Sometimes motivation comes from doing good in the world. If we know that what we’re doing has a positive effect on ourselves or someone else, it’s easier to do it. I think doing dishes every day sucks bigtime, so I try to focus on the good it does. Having clean dishes helps keep bugs away from my kitchen, and I can’t stand bugs. Having a clean environment and clean dishes promotes health. It keeps germs away that can cause illness, and if I stay healthy, I’m not out there spreading germs to people when I go out (work, shopping, visiting, etc). It makes me feel good to walk in the kitchen and not see a pile of dirty dishes in the sink, so it promotes happiness. Once I’m done doing them, I get a small sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. If a friend stops by to visit, I feel proud that I’m not embarrassed over having a dirty, messy kitchen.
Sometimes the good that comes from our dreaded tasks is long-term, however, and we can’t find any short-term benefits. The benefits for my daughter to study anatomy now would be that, several years from now, she can graduate at the top of her class if she studies hard now. That can provide her with an internal sense of accomplishment that no one can take away from her. If she knows anatomy well, after she graduates, she can help sick people in a way that maybe others who didn’t study as hard can’t. Maybe she’ll be able to delve deeper and solve a difficult-to-diagnose problem that stymies most doctors.
Tip: Brainstorm and make a list of any and all of the good things that can come from doing that task you don’t want to do, and include all the far-fetched answers as well.
Convince yourself of all the good you’re doing – both for yourself and for others – by taking this action now. Know that by doing this little action, you are contributing a little good to the world.
Embrace the Fact That Some Things Just Suck – And That’s Okay
Life is like a pendulum, it swings far to the left, then it goes in the opposite direction and swings to the far right. If all we had in life was pleasure and happiness, we wouldn’t appreciate it. In fact, if happiness was all there was, we wouldn’t even know we were happy, because there’d be nothing else to compare it to.
Some tasks just really suck – plain and simple. In my life, two tasks I had to do fit that bill. One is cleaning the toilet – I can’t stand it, but I gotta do it. The other one involves a job I went to every day for 8 years. I worked on an assembly line building cars, and I hated every second of it.
But I came to appreciate the fact that life is full of dualism, so if I want to experience “light”, I have to also experience “dark”. To really enjoy and appreciate leisure, I have to also experience periods where I am just so busy and tapped out. To feel and enjoy happiness, I have to experience unhappiness. Life would be boring and unfulfilling if it didn’t include both poles – if the pendulum didn’t swing both ways. You can’t really know one pole if you don’t experience its opposite as well.
So when I have to do something that just plain sucks, I tell myself, “This unpleasantness is necessary so that I can fully appreciate those moments when I’m perfectly happy”. I know it’s just a part of the pendulum of life, and that I need both extremes to really experience, feel, and live life to the fullest. You can’t live a life with no unpleasantness, and that’s okay. It’s part of the design of life.
Tip: Embrace the pendulum of life.
Know how important the boring, unpleasant, harrowing experiences are to living a full life and how they enable you to more fully experience the exciting, pleasant, and calming ones that always come along at some point. Nothing remains the same forever. If life is swinging to the left right now, know that sometime soon it will swing to the right. Embrace it all – the good and the bad together.
Examine Your Limiting Fears
Many times, fear prevents us from doing those things we need to do: fear of failing, fear of the discomfort, fear of wasting our time, fear of not living up to the ideal we have in our minds, or fear of what other people will think or say.
When I had to study in college and didn’t want to, my biggest fears were the fear of discomfort and the fear of wasting my time. I recognized the fears and then evaluated them. What’s the big deal about feeling a little bit of discomfort? I scanned my brain to find examples of all the times I experienced discomfort. I’d done it many, many times. I can handle a bit of discomfort. And a lot of times, some unexpected benefit happened because of the discomfort I went through (made a new friend, developed self-confidence, had a wonderful new baby, etc). And as for wasting my time, I had no idea at the time if all my studying was a waste of time or not. Looking back, I’d say it was a huge waste of time because my goal in getting a college degree was to get a good-paying job. It turns out, I was never able to find a job using my degree, so all those expensive years of hard work turned out to be a huge waste of time, but it didn’t hurt me. I did learn new things and new ways of thinking. I got a sense of accomplishment from persevering and earning a college degree.
Tip: see if there are any fears that prevent you from doing what you need to do.
Think of examples of times when you’ve pushed past those fears in the past. If you did it before, you can do it again. What’s the worst that can happen? Probably nothing as serious as you imagine it to be. How likely is it that those fears will even happen? Maybe not much. If you haven’t personally overcome that fear in the past, read about someone who did. If they can do it, so can you. Take it on as a personal challenge “Watch what I can do in spite of ___”. You’ll gain self-confidence, a boost to your self-esteem, and a sense of accomplishment – all things that no one can take away from you.
Set a Small Time Limit
It helps to give yourself a small time limit to do the thing you need to do. It could be 10 minutes or 30 minutes. I can tolerate almost anything for just 10 minutes (or 20 or 30). If there’s something I really don’t want to do, I tell myself, “I’ll do it first to get it out of the way, and I’ll just do it for 10 minutes. That’s tolerable”. Doing it first – before I do all the other things on my daily agenda – I get it out of the way and don’t have to spend all day with it hanging over my head.
A lot of times, just getting started is the hardest part. So if I tell myself that I’ll do it for 10 minutes, I know I can handle that, and it’s much easier to do it. Sometimes, after I start, I’m on a roll, and I don’t quit after my 10 minutes is up. I just keep going until it’s done. Other times, I quit after 10 minutes. Then, later in the day, I can choose to do another 10-minute stint.
Tip: Set a small time limit that seems doable to you and get started.
Of course, this doesn’t work on tasks like going to work, where you’re required to be there for 8 hours, but it works well on all the other tasks you need to do that you just don’t want to.
Turn long-term benefits into short-term successes
Sometimes we have to suffer through short-term suckiness to reach the benefits of a long-term goal. My tendency is to opt for short-term comfort instead of suffering the discomfort now to achieve long-term benefits. When the benefits are a long way off, it gets really hard to do what you need to do now.
A couple examples from my own life are quitting smoking and exercising regularly. For me, there’s nothing pleasant about not smoking. Every time I have quit (and there have been many times), I feel angry, irritable, anxious, sick, and completely miserable. I know that the long-term benefits are worth it, but when I’m in the middle of the suffering, I could care less about the long-term benefits. I just want relief now (i.e., a cigarette). The point is how to motivate yourself now when it sucks so that you can enjoy the benefits later on (sometimes years later)?
The trick is to turn your long-term benefits into small successes you can celebrate right now. When I was quitting smoking, I got a tracker app for my phone that told me how many minutes it had been since my last cigarette, how many I hadn’t smoked, etc. I watched that thing constantly in the early days. Every 10 minutes was a cause for a celebration and motivated me to keep going. If I made it 24 hours without a cigarette, I took the $7.60 I would have spent on cigarettes and either bought myself a little treat or saved it to add to the next day’s savings.
Exercising regularly is also difficult because you don’t really see any benefits from it for a couple months (if you ever see any results at all). But, it’s healthy so I know I should do it. So, I set myself up with little rewards along the way. If I exercise 5 days in a week, I make a point to do something special for myself to celebrate. I write down each workout so I can look back at my accomplishments and be proud of myself for actually doing it. I joined an online forum to get and give support to others with the same goals (and same motivation deficit!).
Tip: Turn your long-term task into small, short-term benefits.
Keep track every day of what you do; you need to be able to track your progress. Celebrate small victories – buy something you want, go somewhere you want to go, put candles and music and incense in the bathroom and take a relaxing bubble bath while pretending you’re in a fancy, expensive spa, etc. Don’t focus on the benefit that might come months or even years from now. Focus on getting it done today – then celebrate when you actually do it.
What do you do to motivate yourself to do things that you don’t want to do? Tell us in the comments below.