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Science-Based Tips on How to Motivate Yourself to Accomplish Unwanted Tasks

Science-Based Tips on How to Motivate Yourself to Accomplish Unwanted Tasks

Discover the newest insights from psychology to boost your motivation for challenging tasks you're avoiding! All of us are familiar with tasks we'd rather avoid. We may need to tackle a pile of dishes that we've left to soak for three days, organize our expenses to prepare for tax season, visit a gas station that smells of iguana urine for our annual smog check, or clean our homes to perfection for the arrival of a demanding relative. Unpleasant responsibilities are an unavoidable aspect of life, and some might argue that they're at the core of adulting.

Simply telling ourselves to "just do it" may not always be enough to power through tasks we dislike. Willpower is not a switch that can be easily flipped. However, there are effective strategies that can help us persevere through difficulty without resorting to brute force. In 2018, the University of Zurich conducted a study to identify these strategies. The study, titled "Doing Despite Disliking: Self-regulatory Strategies in Everyday Aversive Activities," uncovered a range of ingenious tactics that successful people use to tackle the challenges and chores of daily life.

Luckily, by implementing the following innovative approaches, we can learn to better cope with life's obstacles and take charge of our responsibilities.

Breaking down tasks correctly

This can help overcome the overwhelming feeling of large projects. Often, we procrastinate because we struggle to grasp the scope of a task. Cleaning the fridge may be manageable, but preparing the house for guests could be a daunting challenge. Long-term projects, such as exercise plans or writing a novel, can be difficult to track and progress may seem slow. It's important to remember that feeling overwhelmed is not entirely a character flaw, but a normal reaction. To illustrate this, try visualizing a purple octopus - easy, right? Now imagine two, three, four, or even a dozen. Still manageable. But picturing two thousand? That's a different story.

Unless you have unique brain wiring, it's unlikely that you can imagine two thousand distinct octopuses. Instead, the image in your mind might resemble a writhing, amorphous mass straight out of Lovecraft's nightmares. While this may seem abnormal for imagining an excess of fictional purple octopuses, it's a common reaction. Our brains struggle to grasp the enormity of a project, causing us to become overwhelmed and emotional.

The good news is that we don't have to visualize spending hundreds of hours on a manuscript to make progress. Instead, we can focus on achievable, smaller goals. This technique was found to be a significant predictor of success by researchers. Breaking down challenging projects into clear and simple goals that fall within our cognitive limits can help us stay motivated

Remind yourself of the near finish

Researchers discovered that in addition to breaking down tasks into manageable pieces, reminding ourselves of the near finish can also be an effective strategy. This involves acknowledging that we are "almost there," which can provide a burst of energy. By dividing our tasks into smaller parts, we can have numerous finish lines to cross, which can lead to more frequent rewards. Achieving these milestones in quick succession can help us stay on track and motivate us to keep going, much like in video games.

Have you ever completed a fetch quest for a video game character? It may not have any tangible benefits in real life, but the satisfaction of leveling up was just within reach. Similarly, when playing Civilization, you may find yourself staying up until the wee hours of the morning to reach the Industrial Age, promising yourself that you'll save and quit after that. These bite-sized achievements have been utilized in games such as World of Warcraft and Farmville (despite their potentially addictive nature). However, when repurposed for our own use, they can be an effective tool for tackling a daunting workload.

Initially, it may appear like a no-brainer. But fear not, this isn't another stale recommendation to listen to music while doing the dishes. What we're referring to is a more advanced strategy known as "temptation bundling." Essentially, temptation bundling is the skill of intertwining two activities - one that we desire to do and one that we must do. This implies not just rewarding ourselves for finishing something we don't like but transforming the activity itself, blending a tedious yet valuable chore with something that provides instant satisfaction.

But in order to effectively utilize temptation bundling, you must ensure that you engage in the fun activity solely during the performance of the chore. For instance, you exclusively watch TV while you’re preparing meals. Perhaps we only indulge in takeout from our favorite restaurant while working on our monthly report. Alternatively, you may only enjoy a glass of your preferred wine while struggling through a particularly challenging reading assignment.

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March 10, 2023
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