Trick Your Brain To Get Things Done

That stack of mail has been haunting you from the kitchen counter for the past week and you know you “should” go through it but somehow another day passes and it still sits there – now a day taller with the addition of today’s mail.

Do you often find yourself doing everything except the things you’re “supposed” to do? What’s happening? You actually do have the desire and the vision to not have mail piled on the counter, a part of you really wants to dig in and go through it, but something pops up and blocks you from the task.

Studies show that your “lizard brain” is likely kicking in. It is designed to keep you safe when you experience fear. Any uncertainty in our brains turns into fear and activates the lizard brain.

the lizard brain

So why can a seemly innocent pile of mail trigger this? Unopened mail represents possible decisions to make, money to spend and tasks to do. Yikes!

The key to getting started is to trick your lizard brain. You have to take such small steps that you almost don’t realize you’re actually doing part of the project. There are several ways to take steps that are so small they seem almost pointless but actually are moving you forward:

  • Set a time limit – could you tolerate working on the pile for 1 minute? Less? More? find a time amount that feels easy
  • Set an amount limit – could you tolerate looking at 1 piece of mail? Maybe 5? Again, pick an amount that feels so easy it seems ridiculous
  • Cherry pick – is there part of the pile you don’t dread at all? Catalogs, junk mail, etc? Spend a little time only focusing on the easy parts of the pile
  • Do something related but not directly part of the dreaded task – move the recycling bin near the pile, or move the pile near the recycling bin

You don’t have to be motivated. Research shows that motivation is somewhat needless. If you just start, the motivation will come behind it. The key is to keep staying below your fear response.

How low can you go?  The step you take may be TINY!

What’s the smallest baby step you can imagine for different tasks? Give us some examples!



Filed under Decluttering, General Organizing, organizing, Paper, Perspective, Strategies, Time Management

3 responses to “Trick Your Brain To Get Things Done

  1. Setting a time limit has worked well for me, but I had never thought of the other options- good ideas!

  2. Lise

    I love the part about “take one tiny step and the motivation will come behind it” – so true! Thanks for the great article!

  3. We’re glad you enjoyed it, Lise! The idea that we can trick ourselves into making progress is intriguing. BJ Fogg writes about behavior change…he’s the “3 tiny habits” guy…one of his suggestions for a tiny step is to “brush one tooth” or “take one conscious breath” when trying to incorporate better oral hygiene or adding meditation into your life. Now, those are TINY steps!

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