In previous articles in this series, I’ve talked about being distracted versus unenthusiastic and about whether a goal feels possible; meaningfulness and the ability to judge progress; and willingness. This fourth article in the series expands the topic from ways of thinking to ways of both thinking and acting.
The principle of daily involvement is based on a few important facts about how we become more or less interested in something. One of these facts is that we have an easier time getting involved in something that we’re used to, something that has become or is becoming habitual. There are fewer questions to answer, fewer preparations to make, and less confusion when we do things that we are used to doing regularly.
A second fact is that the more we think about something, the more likely we are to do it. In many situations, just thinking about doing something activates the same parts of the brain that are engaged when actually doing that thing. Thinking about an activitity is a lot like actually beginning to do it, and therefore creates momentum.
A third fact is that our brains can only really focus on one thing at a time. When we’re engaged in a particular activity, like budgeting for a vacation, certain brain centers are activated that have to be shut down or used in a different way if we interrupt to do something different, like stopping to read e-mail. Our brains then have to change around again when we go back to budgeting (if we get back to it at all).
Fourth, the more we think about a task, goal, or project, the more problems with it we are likely to come up with solutions for, the more ideas we’re likely to have, and the more clarity we’ll get on what exactly we need to do next.
Taking these facts together, we can begin to see how getting in the habit of thinking about project on a daily basis–and preferably more than once a day–can make it easier and more rewarding to work on that project, and how working on a project even a little on a daily basis makes it easier to continue working on it compared to, for instance, doing a lot of it at once and then letting it sit for a long time.
So one of the ways we become more focused on and enthusiastic about a project is to schedule in some time to think about it and work on it every day, even if it’s literally just for a few minutes. This practice keeps the project on the front burner in our minds and prevents getting hung up on starting the work. Staying engaged in the project like this helps direct our thoughts about it toward creative solutions and continued progress. And making progress daily, even if only a small amount, helps improve confidence and satisfaction. These good feelings about the project in turn change our associations: instead of anxiety and guilt, the feelings conjured up when we think of the project begin to tend more toward pride and optimism. Thus all of these factors support each other to slowly (or sometimes even quickly) make a change in the way we experience working on the project so that it becomes more interesting and enjoyable–just by getting involved in that project every day.
Photo by Tricky