Many of us download apps, buy nifty planners, and use computer programs to manage our time better and to get stuff done. As for doing the to-dos on our list, we don’t have the motivation to start or complete them. We don’t feel like it. Our emotions, how we feel about the task, trip us up.
Fear, anger, apathy and boredom, and lack of confidence keep us from starting a task — whether it is doing laundry or preparing a presentation for work. Here are strategies my clients have used to hurdle those emotional barriers.
Reason with Your Fears
Fear of failure or fear of success may cause us to avoid ever getting started. Matt finally got his dream job, after several disappointing positions at other companies. Because he did not do well at some of his previous jobs, he fears that he will fail again. On the other hand, his new job is an opportunity to show off his strengths. Yet that scares him, too, since he is afraid that, if he is successful, he might be given more responsibility than he can handle.
The way around his fears: I worked with Matt to find this job, and I knew how excited he was to get it. His training and experience would enable him to excel at it. I pointed out to Matt that the physiological symptoms of fear and excitement are similar. The heart races, the palms sweat, and we feel tense and agitated. Our emotions produce what we are feeling — fear or excitement. When Matt is given an assignment, his fears overtake rational thought. “With your new job, why not let your mind go straight to excitement?” I asked. “Knowing the job and your skills, I think that is where your mind wants to go. It was the old boss, who was never pleased with your work, of whom you were fearful. Your new boss is excited to have you on board!”
When Matt learned to connect with excitement instead of fear, getting started was no longer a problem. He saw potential failure as an opportunity to start the next project more intelligently, especially when he re-framed failure as a learning experience. Matt became skilled at reframing his fears, which led to healthy work habits and increased self-confidence.
Talk Down Anger
Sally was angry at the amount of work being dumped on her, due to poor management and the fact that many of her co-workers had left the company for other positions. As her anger rose, her inability to tackle her task worsened. Her anger was justified, which made it even harder to behave professionally on the job.
The way to defuse her anger: Sally is solution-oriented and optimistic, but her circumstances at work have made her problem-focused and negative. We discussed the fact that focusing on the problem made it worse, and that focusing on a solution to the problem could make it better. Together we decided to focus on what was within her control. First, Sally polished her resume and applied for other jobs. Then she scheduled a meeting with her boss to, without anger or resentment, talk about being overworked.
Within a month, her boss hired an additional staff person, and Sally’s workload eased. She still applied for other jobs, but she felt better knowing that she had taken action rather than staying silent.
Beat Back Boredom
Apathy and boredom are the most powerful barriers to starting a task. To get focused and stay focused, we need tasks that are interesting, exciting, or fun. When a task is boring, it is easy to say, “Who cares?” or “What difference will it make?” My favorite excuse for not doing something: “Life’s too short to sweat the small stuff.” This attitude leads to being buried in small stuff — laundry, unpaid bills, and undone tasks at work.
The way to turn boredom on its head: Over the years I have asked my clients to list the “Top Ten Reasons Why Doing (blank: the boring task) Is Valuable to Me.” The reasons vary from client to client and from task to task, but the one reason that stands out is “because I’ll feel better about myself if I do it!” I encourage you to identify your top reasons for battling boredom and apathy, write them down, and read them often. It’s easy to forget how the boring things we do each day make a big difference in the long run. Boring tasks left undone create apathy, and can drain the motivation for doing things we actually enjoy.
Laura decided that the only motivation to do household chores was to pay herself until she had enough for a great get-away weekend. Jack found that a punishment system worked better. He remembered the expression on his date’s face when she walked into his apartment and asked, “Oh, my god, what happened here?” Jack was embarrassed, so he has placed signs on the laundry basket, on the dishwasher, and on the bathroom mirror that read OMG. The signs always spring him into action to attend to those chores, even when he doesn’t feel like doing them.