My current emphasis: how to make good habits and break bad ones (really)

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This Wednesday: Six tips for getting yourself to do something you don’t want to do.

WickerpatternEvery Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Six tips for getting yourself to do something you don’t want to do.

How many times each day do you try to work yourself up to tackle some undesirable task? If you’re like me – several.

For example, right now I’m trying to figure out how to send a monthly newsletter. I felt overwhelmed by the various sub-tasks involved, but by using the techniques below, I’m inching toward the finish line of hitting “send” for that first newsletter. Here are some strategies that I’ve used:

1. Put yourself in jail. If you’re working on something that’s going to take a long time, and you have the urge to try to rush, or to feel impatient, pretend you’re in jail. If you’re in jail, you have all the time in the world. You have no reason to hurry, no reason to cut corners or to try to do too many things at once. You can slow down, concentrate. You can take the time to get every single detail right.

2. Ask for help. This is one of my most useful Secrets of Adulthood (see left column). Why is this so hard? I have no idea. But whenever I ask for help, I’m amazed at how much it…helps.

3. Remember: most decisions don’t require extensive research. This is another important Secret of Adulthood. I often get paralyzed by my inability to make a decision, but by reminding myself that often, one choice just isn’t that much different from another choice, I can move on.

4. Take a baby step. If you feel yourself dismayed at the prospect of the chain of awful tasks that you have to accomplish, just take one step today. Tomorrow, take the next step. The forward motion is encouraging, and before long, you’ll probably find yourself speeding toward completion.

5. Do it first thing in the morning. The night before, vow to yourself to do the dreaded task. And the next day, at the first possible moment – as soon as you walk into work, or when the office opens, or whenever – just do it. Don’t allow yourself to reflect or procrastinate. This is particularly true of exercise. If you think you’ll be tempted to skip, try to work out in the morning.

6. Protect yourself from interruption. How often have you finally steeled yourself to start some difficult project, only to be interrupted the minute you get going? This makes a hard task much harder. Carve out some time to work. Yesterday, I wanted to put a newsletter sign-up box on my blog. I figured this would be frustrating and time-consuming, so I waited to make the attempt when I knew I had two hours when I could work uninterrupted.

NB: Pay attention to the amount of time you spend working on tasks you dislike. No one enjoys invasive medical tests or preparing tax returns, but if you feel like your life consists of nothing but going from one dreaded chore to the next, you should take note. Maybe you need to think about switching jobs, or delegating a particular chore to someone else, or paying someone to take care of a task that’s making you miserable.

I’m very good at making myself do things I don’t want to do, and while this is an enormous help in many situations, it has also allowed me to go down some dead ends in my career. The fact is, you’re unlikely to be happy or successful when every aspect of your life or job feels like a big drag. Don’t accuse yourself of being lazy or being a procrastinator, but ask – what’s making this so difficult? The fact that you’re finding it hard to make yourself do something is a sign that maybe you should be doing something else.

On the upside: novelty and challenge, as uncomfortable as they can be, DO bring happiness. The chore that feels onerous today may give you a huge boost of satisfaction tomorrow, when it’s behind you. Keep that in mind.

What are some other strategies that you’ve found useful in trying to get yourself to jump some hurdle?

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Via the wonderful recommendation site, the Very Short List, a friend sent me a link to the Goldfrapp music video for their song “Happiness.” It’s charming.

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If you’d like to get my monthly newsletter, click on the brand-new link in the upper-right-hand corner of my blog.

I’m very pleased with myself that I managed to get that onto my blog! I had to use all the strategies above, but I did it.

Or, if you prefer, just email me at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. No need to write anything more than “newsletter” in the subject line. I’ll add your name to the list.