Sometimes, the things we know are best for us are the things we find hardest to do. With the new year, we find ourselves saying, “I want to write more”, or “I want to exercise more”, or “I want to floss more”. But these things are hard, and sometimes the motivation to just do the thing is elusive.
One component of what makes these activities difficult is that they often have intrinsic barriers to starting. With writing, you have to be at your computer and open a new document. With exercising, you have to put on your workout clothes, leave your house, and go to the gym. With flossing, you have to measure out the ideal length of floss, wrap it around your fingers, and remember how much you hate flossing.
These acts seem inconsequential, but they actually inhibit us from doing the thing we know we should be doing. Sometimes even the smallest barrier is enough to sap our motivation. The thing doesn’t get done, and we feel crappy about it.
The solution, then, is to minimize barriers as much as possible, which is something Merlin and Dan talked about in episode 47 of Back to Work.
One way to reduce barriers is to choose tools that make things easier. I keep a notepad on my desk so I can quickly write things down if an idea comes to me. Likewise, I use Alfred to launch apps on my Mac, so all I have to do to open a new document is hit CMD + Space, type “b” for Byword, and hit Enter. This process is much easier than moving my mouse down to open the Finder, clicking Applications, then clicking on Byword. It makes it very easy to start writing.
You can figure out ways to do this with any activity. Laying out your workout clothes the night before, for instance, might increase your likelihood of actually exercising. You might also figure out ways to workout at home, so you eliminate the barrier of having to travel to the gym.
I get in trouble with my dentist every six months for not flossing enough, even though I know how important it is. But so far this year, I’ve flossed every day this week because of three little changes. I started using Plackers instead of regular floss because they’re easier to use. Second, — wait for it — I started flossing in the shower. I don’t know why; it just makes more sense to me as part of my shower routine. I also put the bag of Plackers on top of my towel rack, so I can’t get to my towel without moving them. This forces me to floss every time I take a shower, i.e. every day. So far, so good.
Now occasionally, if you’re like me, you’ll experience a random fit of inspiration. You’ll know exactly what you want to write, or the weather will be beautiful and you’ll want to go running, or you’ll just feel like flossin’. I get these little windows of energy from time to time, but the problem is that they’re fleeting. Sometimes I’ll wake up, see it’s a beautiful day and want to get outside and workout… but then I’ll pick up my iPad or get distracted by music or something on the Internet. By the time I break away from the distraction, the motivation is gone, and it’s lunchtime anyway. Oh, well.
The key here is to seize the spontaneity. Choose tools and methods that make your barriers as small as possible, and use any windows of energy to smash through them right away. The smaller the barrier, the less energy needed to overcome it, so you’ll be able to stop waiting for divine inspiration and start doing more of the thing you want to do.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s a 50 degree January day here in Connecticut, and I have some sprints to do.