Procrastination vs. Motivation in Building New Habits

Wow, three whole blogs on my triumphant victory over some dirty dishes.

If you haven’t read the previous two blogs about how I developed my astounding new domestic super power, check them out first. (Blog one here & blog two here!)

I’ve distinguished a number of factors that made washing the dishes and tidying up the kitchen before hitting the hay a regular habit in my life.

And I talked about ‘reframing’ the task.  Nothing changed, but how I saw it shifted.  Or rather, I shifted it.  Before, I saw a pile of icky, gooey plates and gummy, greasy cutlery.  When I say my view changed, I don’t mean I stood on the other side of the counter.

I simply framed it differently.  My words create my world, and in my head, I found a way to shift the dishes from a ‘slightly repulsive chore’ to an ‘opportunity to please my wife.’

Who wants a chore?  Not me.

Who wants an opportunity to please someone they are about to crawl into bed with?  Me!

Rather than focus on the unpleasant part of doing the dishes, which is, well, doing the dishes, I focused on the best part.  The reward.  Or rewards.  Pleasing Ava.  Coming into the kitchen in the morning to clean counters, inviting tidiness and no odor from pizza scraps which are coalescing into a new species.

Instead I focused on how good I would feel by what I’d done.  And what had I done?  Before I would have said, “I’m washing the dishes.”  Now I would say I’m, “Making the kitchen look perfect for the morning so that I start my day off in an inviting and impeccable space.”

ADHD Meme

This happened because a few weeks back my wife, Ava, did the dishes late one evening, and even though she was tired, and wanted to check online and see what everybody else had thought of that evening’s episode of Mad Men, because she felt it was nicer to make breakfast in a clean kitchen.

Which is true.  It is.  But I’d never thought about that.  I’d only looked at that pile of dishes is a slimy chore I could put off.  Something that was imposing itself on me.  Not as something I could get rid of to create a more inviting space to walk into.

Since I’m almost always the first person in the kitchen, I deliberately chose to focus on how pleasing it would be to prepare breakfast for everyone in a clean kitchen.  I deliberately and consciously focused on how great it would feel to start the day with a clean space.

Don’t skip over what I just wrote.  It’s the key.  It’s what I’d never done before.  And I did it without beating myself up, making a grim commitment to self improvement, adding all kinds of ‘stakes’ and pumping myself up with the kind of motivation you find at ‘boot camp.’  “Do those dishes you maggot! Clean them up!!  What kind of man are you?!!”

I simply shifted my focus, deliberately and consciously on the rewards.

The Key is DELIBERATELY.  And CONSCIOUSLY.

I stood there for a moment, after I’d finished and enjoyed the view.  That pile of plates was an obstacle, an ugly monstrosity, an insult, a personal affront to me and my morning.  Now it was gone.  The space was pristine.  Inviting.

If this sounds melodramatic that’s okay.  Motivating yourself is all about adding emotion.  Hey, if grown-men can burst into tears over a Super Bowl trophy, I can get righteous about the dishes.  Emotion can power you into motion.  Reminding myself how yucky it is to make the first meal of the day amid the wreckage of the discarded leavings of yesterday.  It’s almost a metaphor for life.  A new day.  A fresh start.

This ability to reframe unpleasant tasks is something I’ve done for a while, even before I had a name for it.  But I did it sporadically.  Now I’m drawing upon it more and more.  Even on things I actually enjoy doing but delay starting.  (Such as working with my psychologist partner on a course that deals with Procrastination.)

What I keep discovering is that while I don’t necessarily have a lot of power around how long I can focus, I can have control over what I focus on.  And when I focus on what I want, rather than what’s ‘wrong’ or what ‘chores’, I’m motivated.

I get to choose.  And when I did, the dirty dishes didn’t stand a chance.

What next?  Check out The Interesting Secret to Planning and Organizing Part 1

12 Replies to “Procrastination vs. Motivation in Building New Habits”

  1. Thanks! Yeah. This morning, I gotta tell you, I was so frustrated at having to handle a whole bunch of details and ‘small stuff’ that I couldn’t locate or access… I was ready to wing my computer across the lake like a skipping stone. (We’re at the cottage this week. Woo hoo.)

    Then Ava located the document I needed and forwarded it, I started working, and things got better. What I noticed was that the stuff that needed doing was all stuff I should have done earlier and forgot about, lost track of, etc..

    So I used lunch as a kind of break. Cause I was still discombobulated. “I’ve wasted half the day.” It wasn’t a matter of a break. I actually had to consciously flush the morning. “I got a lot done, and now I have four hours left.”

  2. 62 yr old christain woman just getting connected with this website and am enjoying. I want tools to be a success dealing with life and ADD. Reading Spiritual A.D.D overcoming spiritual A.D.D. by Hank Kunneman has lots of good info and ideas. Putting them into action is a huge challenge.
    Been a housekeeper at the hospital for 25 yrs and being slow and not getting the work done is
    troublesome to my supervisosrs (as well as myself) and say you’ve got to get better organized and manage your time better. REALLY????? Told them today I hAVE ADD ( big risk) Told them my concerns about getting fired and they assured my wouldnt happen because of my condition. Feel good about sharing. So I need all the help I can get with doing better with LIFE. Am debating meds. Love to here your thoughts.

  3. Hey Rick. Tried the dish thang for the past three days and I am doing good. Of course I live alone and cook very rarely, but I wash that cup and bowl every night. I also wash the dogs bowls too. Only problem is, I don’t have a beautiful wife, all I have is my dogs, not much of a reward for me. So what kind of reward motivation should I or others like me use?

  4. “Reframing” tasks has been an incredible help to me this week, as has the scene from “ADD and Mastering It” where Patrick and yourself dump out the bin and demonstrate the ‘real-time’ manageability of a seemingly insurmountable task. I just took on and accomplished a task I’ve been dreading by reframing it, and taking action. It took 45 minutes and a huge weight has been lifted.

    Thank you for your continued insights into living with ADD/ADHD!

  5. Oh man, that is SO my world… it took me 20 years to be able to change out an empty toilet paper roll. No, I don’t know why. Just in the last year, at the age of over-50, I learned how to make myself do the dishes. I can’t do them at night, but I can do them first thing in the morning while I’m still half-asleep waiting for the coffee to be ready. Why walk all the way into the living room and sit down, only to get sucked into the computer and forget to get my coffee? I can unload and reload the dishwasher in less than ten minutes, the time it takes to boil 32 oz of water in my electric kettle and let let coffee steep in my french press. Still haven’t been able to get myself to clean the counters consistently, but small steps, right?

  6. I do hope you can post my previous post with the links to the free resources on combatting procrastination. Knaus also points us to a blog of his on this topic of ADD/procrastination here: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/science-and-sensibility/201111/is-it-procrastination-or-distraction. He’s written many books on the subject and has extensive scientific knowledge of it as well as clinical. He’s a tremendous resource and perhaps your very smart psychologist is aware of his work. 🙂 It’s helping me although I’m still struggling quite a bit.

  7. I am new to this site….but have lived with ADD for 50 some years. I felt a sense of relief when I was diagnosed about 10 years ago by a psychiatrist that had been unsuccessfully trying to treat me for…depression, peri menopausal symptoms, low self esteem, failing marriage, guilt, shame, childhood issues….you name it….generally a feeling of not just having a problem that noone was understanding to being the problem. I bought your DVD and book in hopes of getting my 2 adult children to watch it about their own ADD stuff….here’s hoping…I appreciate the honesty, humor and candor your site brings…I also appreciate others comments on what is working for them…

  8. Making a plan for doing dishes: turn on music and crank it to rock out; use impulsivity to do dishes religiously; try getting rid of extra dishes and just keep minimum so I have to wash them to eat next meal.

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