This is one of those posts that, as I’m writing it, this little voice in the back of my mind is reminding me that plenty of people think this is a ridiculously unnecessary post to write. Those people are thinking, “what do you mean, ‘how to do things you don’t want to do?’ You just do them. It doesn’t matter what you want.”
And I will admit that that’s a valid solution that I’ll expand on in a bit.
But sometimes, it’s just not that easy. I can think of about 9 reasons off the top of my head why sometimes “just do it” doesn’t work. This post is for those days.
Modify the activity
This is going to sound really obvious once I say it, but it’s easy to forget in the moment: you can modify the activity so it’s something that you do want to do.
If you’re still dwelling on how obvious that sounds, it might not sound helpful. Say, for example, that you need to go to the gym, but you don’t want to go to the gym. The best way to modify that activity into something that you want to do would be to turn it into a trip to the bar, right?
No, not like that.
There are ways to maintain the integrity of the activity while making it more appealing to do.
One strategy that always works for me is listening to a podcast that I enjoy. Don’t want to work out? I’ll put on Detail Therapy by Amy Landino which makes me feel more motivated. I don’t want to run errands? Time for The Daily Zeitgeist, which is always entertaining. Don’t want to do the dishes? Josh and Chuck from Stuff You Should Know will keep me company and the time will fly.
Another option is to add an enjoyable element to the task that you don’t want to do. Struggling to do your reading for class? Place pieces of chocolate at the end of every page and eat them when you get there. Text your friends in between sets at the gym. Take time to light candles and put up cute decorations while you’re cleaning so your space feels more like home.
Finally, you can schedule an enjoyable part of your day after a task that you don’t want to do. Sometimes, when I’m not in the mood to write, I’ll plan my writing in the morning before lunch. I love cooking and eating lunch, so if I have to finish my writing before lunch, it gets me moving. The faster I finish my writing, the sooner I get lunch.
Shift your mindset
Once you’ve decided that you don’t want to do something, it’s easy to sink deeper and deeper into that mindset. Rather than finding ways to make it work, you let yourself dwell on how much you don’t want to do it.
Your mind is a powerful tool—the most powerful tool you have access to, in fact. You can use it to reframe how you see the task at hand.
Rather than thinking about how you have to do something, think about how you get to. (I have a whole blog post about that shift.)
Rather than seeing the task as an annoyance or just another item to be crossed off the to-do list, it becomes a privilege. You get to do this thing that moves you in the direction you want to go. I get to write this blog post for all of my wonderful readers so that they can improve their lives.
Or, rather than focusing on the task, start to consider the rewards and results of that task. Often, things that we don’t want to do—things that are unpleasant—have some of the biggest rewards.
Sitting on the couch scrolling through social media is easy and not particularly unpleasant, but it’s also unrewarding. Spending that time working toward one of your goals, on the other hand, is rewarding. You’ll feel proud and accomplished. Focus on that feeling, rather than the current desire to avoid work.
This is where your Why comes in. Focus on your Why. Revisit your dream board. Seeing my dream board always inspires me to get to work because I know that I’ll only create the life that I want if I work for it.
Spending some time writing about how you’re feeling can shift your mindset. How does this task push you toward your goals? How will you feel after it’s completed? What are the rewards that will come as a result of you doing the thing?
Don’t disappoint your role models
This tip is a little more out-there than some of the others on this list, but I’ve used it for years and it works for me, so here we go.
Who do you look up to? Chances are, those people are hard workers and want the best for you. Maybe these are people that you know, maybe they aren’t. Maybe they inspire you in your field, or maybe they do something completely unrelated to what you do and you just think they’re cool.
Some of the people that I admire are Amy Landino, Kim Namjoon, and Michelle Obama.
And something that I know to be true of all three of these people is that they admire and respect hard work and dedication. They all want people to put in the effort to go after their dreams.
When I don’t feel like doing something that I need to do, I remind myself that they would want me to. (In fact, Amy and Michelle ended up on my list of reasons why I go to the gym.)
I’m not sure why it’s so powerful, but the desire to avoid letting them down helps me get to work.
Sometimes, it helps to know that someone else wants you to do this work aside from yourself. You can even imagine them standing behind you and looking over your shoulder if that helps.
And if no one comes to mind, feel free to imagine me telling you to get to work. I’m not very intimidating, but I do very much want you to do that thing that you need to do, and I’ll be disappointed if you don’t. I’ll be especially disappointed if you use my blog to procrastinate. Remember that it doesn’t matter how much you know if you never act on it.
I’ve talked about this before, but it is so important. It is some of the best advice that I can give you. If you want to see change in your life, this is the thing that you need to keep in mind.
Rather than facing that one task (or list of tasks) that you don’t want to do as a giant mountain, break it down. Focus only on the first step of the first task, and don’t think beyond that.
Rather than, “I have to write a 10 page paper,” think, “I just have to brainstorm a list of ideas.” Brainstorming is way less scary than writing the entire paper, and it will be much easier to get to work.
Take away all of the pressure. I often talk about the “start small” thing in relation to things like meditating, school work, and working out, but it can be used for much more than that.
You’re having a bad mental health day/week/month/year and showering seems nearly impossible? It’s okay to just stand under the water for a bit. You’ll be a little cleaner and feel a little better, and that’s much easier to do than taking a full shower.
Something is better than nothing.
So often, when we don’t have the time, energy, or willpower to do the entire task that we set out to do, we won’t do any of it at all.
You had planned to do a full-body workout and an hour of cardio at the gym and you just can’t bring yourself to put your shoes on? That’s okay. But instead of doing nothing at all, do a few push-ups. After that, if you’re feeling up to it, do a plank.
If you have some grand plan in mind—a huge workout, writing 1000 words, cleaning your entire apartment—and can’t get yourself to do it, then you have made no progress at all. But if you instead do just a tiny bit of that plan—a half-mile jog, writing 100 words, doing the dishes—you have made progress. You have accomplished something.
And that little something is always better than nothing at all.
I think many of us have convinced ourselves that if we can’t do what we intended to do, there’s no point in doing anything, but that’s not true! That little bit of progress adds up!
Repeat after me: something is better than nothing. Do something.
(Is there a name for the belief that if we can’t complete our entire goal, we might as well do nothing? Or is it just perfectionism?)
Remember at the beginning when I mentioned that “just do it” is sometimes a valid strategy for doing the thing that you don’t want to do? That is where self-discipline comes in.
In fact, that is what self-discipline is. Self-discipline means that you have the ability to do what needs to be done despite how you feel about it. It doesn’t matter that you don’t want to do it, you just do it.
As someone who has spent years intentionally building the skill of self-discipline, I can tell you that it’s made my life so much easier and so much better. It allows me to do all of those things that I know I should do, and then I get to enjoy the benefits of them. It also means that I spend way less time fighting that internal battle when I need to get to work.
And yes, you read that right. Self-discipline is a skill. (More things than you realize are actually skills that you can build.) That means that even if you aren’t a disciplined person, you can become one.
Since I’ve already talked in-depth about what self-discipline is and how to create it, rather than making this post any longer than it already it, I recommend checking out these posts on the topic:
I want to wrap this post up by pointing out that sometimes, you don’t have to do everything that you’ve put on your to do list. I mean this in two different ways.
First, do you have to be the person to do it? If it’s a workout or eating your vegetables, yeah, you have to be the one to do it. But things like cooking, cleaning, organizing, and dealing with the floods of random papers that enter our homes may not need to be done by you.
If you have a roommate, partner, or friends who could help, ask for help. If you don’t mind cleaning but hate cooking, and your friend hates cleaning but likes cooking, strike up a deal: you clean your friend’s apartment while they meal prep your food for the week. Or, if you’re in a position to pay for it, hire a professional to do that thing you hate.
Second, does that thing really need to be done at all? I’m sure I’m not the only person who often adds things to their to do list that don’t really need to be done. I tend to add things to my to do list that I would like to do, but may not really have time for.
Sure, it would be great if you could find five things in your home to donate each day this week, but that might not be realistic. Yeah, vacuuming your apartment twice a week might sound nice, but if you hate vacuuming, it’s not likely to happen, and that’s okay.
Take a good hard look at the list of things you’ve decided you need to do, and remove anything that isn’t a priority right now. You’ll feel less stressed.
Now, go do that thing that you don’t want to do. There are only so many tips and tricks that you can read. At some point, doing that thing comes down to picking a strategy, making up your mind to do the thing, and getting to work. Do something.