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How do you motivate yourself? It’s hard enough to find motivation to reach your goals. But what about doing the things you don’t want to do?
One feature of adult life is doing things you’d rather not. Sometimes it’s for work, sometimes for other people, and sometimes that includes doing things for yourself. But problems can arise when not wanting to do a task turns into not doing it at all.
The longer you put off a task, the harder it is to do. And soon, procrastination becomes a habit. This can affect your work, family, health, and relationships. So, how do you break out of this cycle and find the motivation to get unpleasant or unenjoyable tasks done?
Why the delay?
First, it’s important to understand why you want to put something off. It’s common to think the reason you don’t start a task is because you’re lazy, or slow, or incompetent. But the problem is rarely your work ethic. Often, there is an underlying problem you don’t recognize that’s causing the resistance.
You might also fall into the cultural ideal that if you follow your passion, you’ll never put things off. But that simply isn’t true. There are three main reasons you put off doing things.
- You care too much about the task and are afraid to do it badly.
- You feel unmotivated and let other tasks or emotions distract you.
- You worry the job is hard, uninteresting, or both.
All of this can unlock the threat response in your brain, and when your brain expects stress in the future, it will employ all its strategies to make you avoid going into that situation. The best way to unfreeze your brain is to break the task down so it doesn’t feel threatening or stressful anymore.
How to get started
If forcing yourself to “be positive” or to “just do it” were as easy as they sound, no one would procrastinate. But rarely does it come down to willpower alone. Instead, tackling your to-do list with simple step-by-step strategies can help get you started and unlock your motivation.
1. Analyze why you are delaying
As we pointed out above, there’s a reason you don’t want to do a task. If you find yourself not wanting to do something, write down all the reasons you don’t want to do it. Be detailed and include things like why it’s unappealing, what you might be afraid of, and what you think is holding you back.
2. Feel the fear
Once you’ve identified your why, think about what you stand to lose if you don’t complete the task. Your brain is designed to maintain the status quo. Having a new goal may motivate it, but losing what you already have activates your motivation far more effectively. Use that fear to get unstuck and started on your goal.
3. Give yourself limits
Set a certain time limit for doing a task, and stick to it whether you complete the task or not. Tell yourself, “I’ll write this report until 6 p.m. and after that, no matter what state it might be in, I’ll move on to another task.” When you maintain this routine, your brain will learn to focus on the task within the time frame, and you’ll get more done.
A simple habit
Journalist and public speaker Mel Robbins pioneered the five-second rule method, and it can be extremely effective in wrapping all three steps into one. The rule goes like this: Whenever you are on the brink of getting distracted because of the scale/difficulty/nature of the task, stop for a moment and count from 5 to 1. When you stop counting, immediately start doing the task without second-guessing yourself.
This method makes use of your brain’s emotional response. When you think rationally, you can stay stuck in analysis forever. Your brain will keep supplying you with reasons to avoid the task if you want to avoid stress. But when you think emotionally, you employ fast-thinking. For example, if you see a child drowning in the sea when there is no lifeguard in sight, you don’t think twice about going into the water to save her. This unhesitating response comes from the emotional part of your brain.
When you do the five second count, you are creating a stop-and-go situation in your brain. By counting down from 5 to 1, you create a hard stop, where there’s nowhere to go when you reach the end. Use this instinctive response to jump headfirst into the task without thinking about it.
Unwanted tasks are an intrinsic part of modern existence. No matter what you do, you will come across tasks that you don’t want to do. Rather than trying to avoid them, you can learn to control your motivation and kick-start your productivity. Use these simple steps to help ensure you get anything done on time.
For more on Mel Robbins and her motivation hacks, watch this video: