As complex as our minds become as we grow older and learn more, one thing that doesn’t change from when we were young is that we’re easily attracted to anything appealing–a favorite face, a favorite food, something that glimmers. It’s easy to shift our thoughts onto the track of something we enjoy, which is useful, because sometimes it helps to choose how to direct our attention.
Attraction can help draw us into activities that we want to see ourselves doing but don’t yet have much enthusiasm for, and all it requires is that we find something that at least for a few minutes will be enjoyable or interesting. For instance, if I have a stack of papers I need to go through and file, I can begin to visualize what my desk will look like without that stack of paper, or focus on the fact that I can relax and not have to do much thinking while I do the task, or think about putting on some music I really like to listen to while I file. Anything a little bit appealing will help me shift from steering clear of the task to being drawn to the task, and a nudge at the beginning is often all we need.
If I’m trying to steer clear of a behavior–for instance, if I have a habit of buying too many DVDs and walk past a display of ones on sale while out shopping for shirts–then one good strategy is to find something else that appeals to me and focus on that. For instance, I could think about the fresh strawberries I have at home that I’m going to have as a snack when I get there, or about what kind of shirts I’m hoping to find. If I successfully get myself to focus on the other thing, then the immediate temptation in front of me fades. Ideally, I can then physically move away from it, keeping my attention on my distraction instead.
Whether attracting or distracting, the basic principle here is of thinking more about the things we do want to do and less about the things we don’t. The more we think about something, the more easily–sometimes even automatically–we start doing that that thing.
Which means that sometimes self-motivation can be as simple as “Ooh, look: shiny!”
Photo by RunnerJenny