August 25, 2022

All of us have to do things we do not want to do – that’s one of the primary features of adult life. But ever so often the “unattractiveness” of the task causes us to delay or even forgo doing it, and that’s where the trouble begins.

Wanting to delay unwanted tasks is a very common experience, but turning that experience into a habit is not good for you. We all have multiple priorities to manage, and delaying or not doing one task can start a domino effect, which in turn can disrupt your entire life including work, family, health, and relationships.

How do you break out of this cycle then? How do you make your brain do tasks it doesn’t want to do?

Why we delay unwanted tasks

Too often we think that the reason we don’t start tasks we should do is because we are somehow lazy or incompetent. But most often the problem is not our work ethic but instead some underlying problem that we do not immediately recognize. There is also this cultural ideal that if we could only “follow our passion” then we wouldn’t have this problem at all.

There are three main reasons we put off doing things.

  • We care too much about the task and are afraid to do it badly.
  • We feel unmotivated and are distracted by other things/emotions.
  • We feel 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. It is important to know why you are feeling this way to effectively counter it.

How to push yourself to “just do it”

We are often told to “be positive”, or engage our willpower to make ourselves do things. But let’s face it, if we all had that kind of willpower we wouldn’t be having this problem. Going step by step and adopting strategies works better.

Analyze why you are delaying

This is not an opportunity for self-criticism or calling oneself lazy. All unwanted tasks are unwanted for different reasons, and picking out the reason dispassionately helps us to deal with them. Write down what aspects of the task are unappealing to you.

Feel the fear

Note what you stand to lose if you don’t complete this task. At any given moment, your brain is trying to maintain the status quo. Having a new thing may motivate it, but losing what you already have motivates it much more. Use that fear to push yourself. This works very well when you fear difficulty, boredom, or imperfection.

Give yourself limits

Set a certain time limit for doing a task on a given day, and stick to it whether you complete it or not. Tell yourself; “I’ll write this report until 6 pm and after that, whatever 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.

Five second rule

Journalist and public speaker Mel Robbins pioneered this method, and it can be extremely effective in all of the above-mentioned cases. 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 unthinkingly.

This method makes use of our brain’s emotional response. When we think rationally, we tend to analyze forever, and our brain will keep supplying us with reasons to avoid the task if it wants to avoid stress. But when we think emotionally we employ fast-thinking. For example, if you see a child drowning in the sea when there is no lifeguard in sight, you won’t think twice about going into the water and saving her. This unhesitating response comes from the emotional part of your brain.

When you are doing the five second count, you are basically giving your brain a stop-and-go situation. Since you are counting down from 5 to 1, there is nothing more to count after that, and that creates an end-of-the-line illusion for your brain. Use this instinctive response to jump headfirst into the task without thinking about it.


Unwanted tasks are an intrinsic part of our existence. If you can’t escape this, at least learn to control it. The steps mentioned here might help you with that!

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