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I just got back from vacation.
From nine glorious days of time off, without my computer. Without work stress or emails or Slack messages. Without daily personal responsibility. Without a set schedule or a list of to-dos.
It was the first time in I can’t even remember how long that I had allowed myself a full, complete break. A chance to relax and do something simply because I wanted to—because it was fun.
And now that I’ve made it a priority, and realize how nourishing it is, I plan on doing it way more often.
But today, I’m back in front of my computer. Back to work. Back to responsibility and emails and schedules. And back to the list of to-dos, both work and non-work-related, that I have been putting off for longer than I care to admit.
When it comes to most of these tasks, my motivation is low. Close to non-existent. And when I really don’t want to do something, I will literally find any excuse to avoid it for as long as possible.
In high school and college, I used to tell myself that I was just someone who worked better under pressure. Someone who thrived off of tight deadlines. Someone who did my best work when I was down to the wire.
That was crap though.
The truth is that sometimes I struggle to manage my time. And sometimes I take on more than I actually should. And sometimes, even when I know something needs to be done—and needs to be done now—I still can’t motivate myself to get it done.
The truth is that I’m a procrastinator.
Over the past few years though, I discovered a life hack that has helped. And I recently learned that it has a name: behavior momentum.
This Instagram post from Kaelynn Partlow, an autistic therapist and advocate and cast member on Netflix’s “Love on the Spectrum,” explains what behavior momentum is and how it works:
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“I want to teach you about a brain hack called behavior momentum. Sometimes it can be hard to get our brains, or our kids’ brains, to do something that they don’t want to do, even if they need to.
We all have things that we like and dislike. And we like and dislike those things usually to varying degrees. So sometimes you might love something and then you might just like something; you might really hate something and then you might just dislike something.
So up here are the things that I like, and down here are the things that I hate. Here we have I really like scrolling TikTok and down here we have paying bills; I hate paying bills. If I try to get my brain to allow me to go from scrolling TikTok, which is something I really enjoy, to paying bills, which is something I don’t enjoy, to get from here to here I’m gonna fall on my face.
But what if instead of trying to make this giant leap, knowing that I’m gonna crash and burn, what if I made a stairstep toward it? That way, I’m a little bit closer. So instead of taking this huge leap down from scrolling TikTok to paying bills, what if I take a stairstep down and walk the dog? And then another stairstep: so I go from scrolling TikTok to walking the dog to now doing dishes. I’m getting closer to being able to pay my bills or being able to convince my brain that it is not the worst thing ever to pay my bills.
Now I’ve got this great little stairway I can go down instead of just dropping off from scrolling TikTok to paying my bills. I’ve got this momentum going. I can walk down the steps. I can stairstep down into doing the thing I don’t want to do.
An object in motion stays in motion, and this is true for behavior as well—and that’s why it works.”
I started using this technique a while back, before I knew it was a real thing; truthfully, I just thought it was my lazy-person way of avoiding the things I didn’t want to do by knocking other smaller tasks off my to-do list.
I’d tell myself I was just going to stream one more episode and then I’d clean out my closet, for example. But then I’d spend the whole 45 minutes I was supposed to be enjoying my show dreading the fact that I had to clean my closet afterward, so I started telling myself that I’d make lunch first or put the laundry in the dryer. Anything to prolong the inevitable hated task.
But I found that once I got started doing these smaller, less time sensitive tasks, I felt more motivated to keep checking items off my list. And eventually, I would open my closet door, blast some music, and start organizing.
This hack hasn’t completely cured me of my procrastinating ways, but it has helped me take small steps forward, even when my motivation is close to non-existent.
Do you practice behavior momentum? What other tricks do you use to handle procrastination? Let me know in the comments!