Nobody wants to do something that’s boring or uncomfortable, so it comes as no surprise when we put off unsavory tasks such as cleaning out the lint trap in the dryer. But what if the only way you could achieve happiness and success was to clean out the lint trap 50 times per day every day for 5 years? Until then, you’re expected to remain bored, unfulfilled and just tough it out. After the 746th time of cleaning said lint trap at the end of day 15 (yes I did the math), exactly how motivated are you going to be to clean the lint trap again?
There may be a few hardy souls out there still enthusiastically picking minuscule fibers out of the clothes dryer into week three, content in the knowledge that their stoic persistence will pay off in 59 months and 1 week. I am not one of those souls. I have ADHD, so the motivation tank in my dopamine-deprived brain is on “E” to begin with. Ask me to endure some good old-fashioned delayed gratification and years of hard work before I can be happy and proclaim success and I’m not likely to score very high on my lint picking performance review. Just saying.
Now imagine someone begins standing next to the dryer to make sure I commence lint picking at the designated time and evaluating my technique. I wasn’t exactly motivated to show up on time for my fabric dust extraction regimen in the first place. Now, I actually have a reason to expressly avoid going to the laundry room! Guilt and shame are introduced into the equation which would normally discourage someone from showing up late or performing poorly. However, individuals with ADHD seem to be more susceptible to emotional procrastination so negative events can trigger a downward spiral of negative emotions.
Big-picture” Thinking Versus “Compartmental” Thinking
Many people would argue that putting your socks on is an isolated task. You simply put your socks on in the morning because it’s part of getting dressed and that’s just a part of daily life, right? Except “big-picture” thinkers don’t see things in “parts.” To us, putting your socks on in the morning is part of a larger process. Getting dressed in the morning involves thinking about my job. Therefore, if I associate my job with feelings of guilt, shame, worthlessness and unhappiness, then even the simple act of putting on a pair of socks becomes a motivational struggle. As a result, I’ll subconsciously (and sometimes consciously) avoid getting ready for work because the tasks involved in getting ready are tied to an event that isn’t just “no fun,” it’s actually fraught with emotional land mines. It’s a wonder anyone makes it to work with socks on.
Not everyone believes in the “work-hard-and-someday-maybe-you’ll-get-to-be-happy” notion. In The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work, psychologist Shawn Achor explains we’ve had it all backwards: “It turns out, happiness actually fuels success, not the other way around.” According to Achor, “When we become more positive, our brain becomes more engaged, creative, motivated, energetic, healthier, resilient and productive.”
Basically, feelings of happiness produce a dopamine response in the brain which acts as an incentive for us to repeat the behavior. We’ve now created a positive feedback loop to propel us upward towards success. It’s to our advantage to create positive, satisfying aspects to as many parts of our lives as possible. That’s definitely good news for those of us who are motivationally challenged!
Now, if you’ll excuse me I have to go interview a 10-year-old about a lint-picking job.
How do you turn boring tasks into positive experiences? Tell us about it in the comments!