Saturday, June 8, 2013

How To Manipulate Yourself

(Part Two in a series of "Stuff Everyone Should Learn in College. Last week's was "How Not To Fall In Love With Everyone." Moving on to academics....)

This could also be called “How to do things you don’t want to do,” but self-manipulation is a more interesting way of putting it. Seriously, though, motivating yourself to get unpleasant things done is a fascinating study in your own psychology.

For example, I really like eating cookies. They’re not particularly healthy. So I figured out something that I liked to do more than eating cookies: giving cookies to other people. Perfect.

And, if I had a daunting research paper to write, there were several tactics I could take to get myself to work on it.
A. Convincing myself that the topic was fascinating and important for my personal development (this actually worked with a lot of my exegetical papers).
B. Planning a movie night or board game party…but only if I got the work done.
C. Giving myself a stirring speech about discipline and the value of a liberal arts    education.
D. Dressing up. (Seriously. When I wore business casual, even around the apartment, I got way more done because my brain thought I was doing real work.)
 E. Rewarding myself with chocolate. Really sophisticated, but hey, whatever works.

Obviously, that list is going to look different for different people. But when you've got a stack of homework to do and you'd rather be on Facebook, you need to know what's going to tip the scale from "want" to "should."

It’s not like that covered every scenario in my college career, so I could do every mundane task with perfect joy and happiness. There were times when tricks wouldn’t work—I imagine that’s true for everyone. Sometimes, even if you know yourself so well that you can find all of your motivational triggers, nothing seems to work to make you feel like doing whatever it is that needs to be done.

And then you do it anyway.

Yep. That’s it. That’s basically the secret to how I got good grades in college.

Added bonus: a big part of being an adult is doing things you don’t particularly want to do. Sometimes you may be able to trick yourself into enjoying doing the dishes for the hundredth time…but sometimes you won’t. And sometimes you won’t want to go to work or love your spouse or deal with a discipline problem with the kids…but you do it anyway.

Practice now. It’s going to be a long life if you don’t learn this one early.

But, I mean, you might also want to keep some M&Ms around. Just in case.

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