This is the sixth in a series of articles that strive to answer the question “How can I get myself to work harder toward a goal?” Today’s article offers a simple tactic for becoming more enthusiastic about an immediate task within a few minutes.
We don’t always picture the future the same way, and the way we choose to imagine the future has a profound effect on the steps we take to get to it.
If you work a full-time job, for instance, here’s an easy experiment: think about the most annoying, tedious, or especially frightening things you can bring to mind about your job. Really spend a few moments reminding yourself about the awful stuff. Give yourself enough time for your brain chemistry to catch up with your thoughts.
Now imagine going to work tomorrow. What’s your initial reaction? Enthusiasm? Eagerness? I’m guessing not.
Now think about the best things about your job: people you enjoy, problems you enjoy solving, social opportunities, things you learn there, even the paycheck you bring home. Really imagine yourself in a job-related situation that you love (receiving pats on the back, solving a difficult problem, spending time with someone you like, cashing your paycheck), and again give your brain chemistry a minute or two to catch up with your thoughts. Now, once again, imagine going to work tomorrow. Better?
The effect of feeling better about a future event because of our current state of mind is called “mood congruity,” and I’ve talked about it in a few previous articles (for instance, “Everything Sucks. Reboot? Y/N“). Mood congruity combines with a common sense understanding of what attracts and repels us to provide a powerful tool for self-motivation: pairing pleasurable thoughts with goals.
Just as focusing on the most positive things about a job makes it easier to get up and go to work, focusing on the most positive things about a task makes it easier to do that task. It seems fairly obvious when we reflect on it: if I think about writing and imagine myself at a party celebrating the launch of my new book, I’m likely to be happier and more enthusiastic about the writing than if I picture receiving a raft of rejection letters. If we’re honest with ourselves, we have to admit that bad outcomes are possible, and that even if everything comes out well in the end, we may have to go through some things we don’t enjoy before we get there. However, if we’ve resolved to take on a particular task, it doesn’t really matter whether or not there might be some unpleasantness down the road: it only matters how we feel about the task now, and whether or not we’ll be able to step up and get things done. For those purposes, enjoying our imagined future–or aspects of what we’re just about to do–will be a much more powerful motivational tool than brooding over possible problems. While brooding over possible problems has a purpose–anticipating and preventing difficulties–its purpose is not motivation, so when it’s motivation we need, pleasure is an easy place to find it.