The other night as I was taking out my contacts trying not to attract mosquito’s by turning the light on (I had the window open with no screen) I struggled. I ended up having to turn the light on in order to see what I was doing.
Suddenly it occurred to me that when I go camping I never need a light in order to take my contacts out. I can easily do it in the dark as long as my eyes are adjusted to the dark.
At first I was quite puzzled. Then it dawned on me. Knowing that I could turn the light on interfered with my otherwise automatic process and suddenly I couldn’t take my contacts out without turning the light on, even when I really tried. Quite silly, right?
That scenario can be applied to a lot of things in life. Think about it.
You’re hungry and open the fridge. There’s plenty of food in there but nothing really jumps out at you. You look in your wallet, it’s empty and you have a week until pay day. Your bank account is equally empty. You go back to the fridge and figure out how to make meals out of what you have and you do. In matter of fact, you discover a new favorite dish that you never thought of putting together before.
Now replicate that scenario with access to money in your wallet. You know that you shouldn’t spend more on food until pay day but this is an emergency. No matter how many times you look in the fridge there’s absolutely no food in there!!! At least none that can be put together into anything eatable. You head to the grocery store but on the way you realize you are tired and well, it’s late and you should do some relaxing too and not spend the rest of the day slaving in the kitchen. The Mexican place that has your favorite burrito is open. You tell yourself it’s inexpensive food and you might even get leftovers.
Sound familiar? Because you have an option your brain interferes with your creative meal planning skills.
Now let’s take a look at some of those other mysteries in life.
- Why is it that we get so much done right before we go on vacation?
- Why is it that the house, closets and garage have never looked as great as they do right before we sell or move? It’s not as if all those projects suddenly appears, right? Most of them have been on a to-do list for months, sometime even years!
- Remember those dreadful term papers we had to do in school? We managed to turn them in on time even if we stared at a blank page the night before.
How can we replicate that when we are not forced to? Here are a few ideas:
1. Set a deadline. The Parkinson’s Law states that a task expands into the time it’s allotted. If we don’t have a deadline the task expands into the time you give it and if you don’t give it a deadline it expands into indefinitely. Set a hard deadline. Get an accountability partner you have to pay if you don’t get things done in time.
2. Make it a challenge. Tap into that ‘going on vacation’ ‘selling the house/moving’ mentality for a project you really want to get done. Challenge yourself to beat your budget by coming out on the plus side and use that money to reward yourself. Have a friend with a similar to-do list? Create a friendly competition. Whoever finish last buys lunch.
3. Remove the option that you keep defaulting to. Can’t stay away from Facebook? Delete the app off your phone and install a social media blocker on your computer. Ask someone to hide the TV-remote. Cut up your credit card. Don’t even enter the candy isle. Move the alarm clock away from your bed stand and immediately make the bed so you don’t get tempted to get back in.
4. Create a reward system (get an accountability partner if needed so that you don’t cheat) for every task you struggle with. Once a task is finished you get the reward. This works great for those that are motivated by external rewards.
Our brain is just like any other muscle in our body. We have to train it in order to do what we ask. By replicating “no option” scenarios we can train our brain so that we reduce the interference with our “can do” process.
I realized as I was writing this that after I decided that Monday mornings would be a good day for new blog posts, instead of sometime during the week whenever I felt like writing, I’ve been able to consistently post on time. I’ve tricked my brain into not having an option. Although at times I wonder if I should change to another weekday (as I’m sitting here on a Sunday night finishing up this post!).
Do you have any tricks you use in order to tap into that creative and productive ‘get things done’ phase? Please share in the comments.