How to Get Yourself to Do Things You Don’t Want to Do
Everyone faces things that they don’t want to do, but they have to for one reason or another. Sometimes it’s small things, and sometimes it significant things. When you’re in business for yourself, you’re bound to come across tasks that are super important for your business, but that you don’t want to do. How do you get yourself to do the things you don’t want to do?
(Aspiring entrepreneurs, listen up because this is a skill you can work on developing now!)
I think most people first attempt to tackle this through the grin-and-bear-it method. And while that might work every now and again for some people (it never works for me!) it’s not going to work well for recurring tasks.
Next, many people attempt to construct extrinsic motivators: reasons out side themselves that reinforce that the task needs to be completed. Maybe when the task is completed you’ll reward yourself with ice cream. Or maybe your friend is going to call you each week to check up on you and bitch you out for not having done it. Maybe you and a friend make a pact to do this thing every month together… and then you each take turns canceling on each other because something’s come up. Extrinsic motivators will also work for a while, but they don’t tend to last long.
Strategies for Success
Today I’m going to propose three strategies that will help you tackle things you don’t want to do. This approach comes from a place of self-respect, which builds confidence within yourself while completing the challenging task. It requires that you: (1) identify and lock onto the result of the task, (2) put the task within reach, and (3) perform experiments to make the task un-terrible.
1) Identify the result of the task, and lock on to that
You probably don’t want to do this task because the experience of doing it is not very enjoyable. If you enjoyed doing this task, then you’d just do it and it wouldn’t be an issue! This is not the case, so we need a different motivator than the task itself: the outcome. In this instance the ends have to justify the means, so find some significantly good ends.
And you can’t just name the end result and move forward, you have to paint a fully realized picture of this end result and embody it. How does this end result benefit your mind, body and soul? Your work life and personal life? How does it feel when this end result comes into being? If the end result you’re envisioning isn’t compelling, try again and find one that is. When you’ve locked onto a motivating end result, distill it down into a symbol or phrase. Use the symbol or phrase to remind yourself why you’re doing this thing you don’t enjoy.
Is that end result still eluding your ability to embody it? Here’s a different way of thinking of it: There are two people just like you that exist in space and time: now-you and future-you. When I think of future-Maggie, she is a pretty cool chick that I have yet to meet. She is completely separate from myself. Therefore I can do nice things for her, like how I’d do nice things for a friend, and it bypasses any feelings of self-centeredness. So when I’m staring down a sink full of dirty dishes and I’m considering leaving them because now-Maggie doesn’t want to do dishes, I think of future-Maggie. I think how the dishes are going to be even grosser if I leave them for future-Maggie to take care of, and how she might be really tired when she sees the dishes and that might make her feel even more tired and overwhelmed. I also think about how delighted future-Maggie will be to come into the kitchen that is all clean and tidy. If you don’t want to do the task at hand now, could you do it as a compassionate or loving act towards future-you?
2) Put the Task Within Reach: revise the parameters and frequency
A lot of times we think of ideals or what we should be doing and set those as goals. If I thought of the ideal scenario for my dish situation, I’d think I should do dishes after every time I cook. Or at least once a day. But both of those are perfection-level success rates at doing the dishes. It means I’d have to bust out the soap for a single plate and a fork, and that just seems wildly inefficient, and like A LOT of doing the dishes. ug! So I don’t set a daily goal for cleaning the dishes; I set a goal that makes sense for me. Rather than setting a goal at some arbitrary “should” be reasonable level, I reality check the parameters and frequency of the task. From this I realized that once or twice a week is a reasonable and attainable frequency for me to do the dishes.
Parameters that are within Reach
When you’re setting a goal, first look at the parameters of a task. How are you defining completeness, and to what standard are you implying the work will be done? When I do the dishes, I count the task done when the sink is empty, not when every dish in the house is clean. If your task is publishing a weekly blog article, that could be difficult to achieve. Maybe the blog article doesn’t have to be The Best, but simply completed. Or is the focus building the habit? In which case the task would be to sit down weekly to write a blog article with the understanding that publishing the blog article will only happen every other week or once a month, from the best of those weekly writing exercises. What parameters are you implicitly including in your task and can you peel them back to make the task easier to attain?
Frequency that is within Reach
Similarly to the parameters, how often are you intending a recurring task to take place? Some business gurus recommend that you do your bookkeeping weekly, if not daily. Personally, not enough happens financially in my business on a daily basis for it to make sense to do bookkeeping that often! I find monthly bookkeeping to be plenty! If you’re using the “shove all the receipts in a shoe box until tax time and then do a years worth of bookkeeping at once” strategy, then even monthly bookkeeping would be a HUGE change. Maybe try a semi-annual or quarterly bookkeeping goal first? Choose a frequency that’s a small and attainable improvement over your exiting habit.
So take a look at your task: does it have some externally constructed benchmark for how often it’s supposed to take place? How often are you doing this task currently? Can you meet somewhere between the two at a place that seems easy to achieve?
3) Perform experiments to make the task un-terrible
The task you’re facing feels kinda daunting, right? Possibly even terrible? (I mean, you wouldn’t be struggling so hard with it if this wasn’t true!) Put on your scientist’s lab coat and start experimenting with things that might make it less terrible! What if you change the location? At a desk vs. on your sofa vs. in bed? Or inside vs. outside? Add music? Take away background noise? Do the task in the morning or in the evening? On the weekend or on a weekday? Come up with other variables that you could test, and jot them down.
Then perform scientifically rigorous tests. This means you pick one variable to test and complete the whole task with that variable. (You won’t have good data otherwise!) Then evaluate if you liked this version better, before repeating the process with a new variable. (Look at how much you’re accomplishing already just by testing variables?!)
After trying some experiments, you’re bound to find conditions for this task that make it either more or less enjoyable. The goal is not to make the task itself enjoyable (that’s just futile.) Instead we’re looking for things that make it the tiniest smidge more enjoyable than an alternative. You’re unlikely to ever find this task enjoyable, but you can keep in mind that doing it one way is at least more enjoyable than that other way. (That other way was just horrible!)
Do the Things You Don’t Want to Do
In life and in business we’re often faced with tasks that we’re not particularly excited about. Often times these tasks are necessary for our success, so it’s important to find a way to accomplish them. And since they often occur more than once, it’s a good idea to be able to repeat this accomplishment. I hope my strategies to lock on to the end result, put it within reach, and make it un-terrible help you to achieve your goals.
What strategies have you employed to help you do the things you don’t want to do?
Originally published at www.maggiekarshner.com.