How do we get started when we have a task we want to – or need to – complete? Well, the hardest part is getting started. Once we actually get started, it’s a lot easier to keep going.
But oh, my goodness! Getting started can really suck sometimes, can’t it!!
It’s a lot easier to get going when you “set the bar low” – and here’s what I mean by that. Set small, very achievable goals, and chain them together, one after the other.
Why is “goal chaining” so effective?
First of all, it’s a lot easier to deal with feelings like dislike or boredom if we tell ourselves we only have to put up with it for a very limited amount of time!
Secondly, every time you achieve one of your small goals, your brain rewards you with a pleasant hit of dopamine. Not only does dopamine feel yummy, it is the neurochemical most responsible for motivation – making it a lot easier to keep going! And as an added benefit, dopamine regulates our motor movements making it easier and smoother to “do” anything! And it improves attention too! Dopamine ROCKS.
Ridiculously Simple Step Strategies!
I call the little “micro” goals in the goal chaining process Ridiculously Simple Steps! Try one of the following versions of the Ridiculously Simple Step strategies:
Limit the scope of the task
In this version, you decide to work for a limited amount of time, or you decide to do a limited number of actions. Here are two examples to make that clear:
Limited time approach
Promise yourself you’ll work on the task for an “honest” 5 minutes (or other suitable amount of time), which means eliminate distractions and bring your thoughts and attention to the task.
At the end of 5 minutes, you can choose – to continue completing the task or choose to quit. By that time dopamine will have been released and you very well may be cruisin’ on autopilot!
Limited number of actions approach
In this version of the limited scope approach, you promise to complete a certain number of actions. A good example is clearing up a room. Commit to putting away 3 items, or 10 items, or 1 item, whatever number you feel comfortable with. After that is completed, you can choose to put away another 3 items, or you can choose to stop.
The “If X, then Y” Strategy
Let’s say for example that you are composing a report, essay, whatever – it’s something you need to write. You say to yourself, “If I can sit in this chair, then I can turn on the computer.” Now you are capitalizing on the fact that you are sure that you can sit in a chair, and further that you can turn on a computer! You know that you have the skills to do the task, so you don’t have any reservations about these actions. Capitalize on that certainty! Feel the power of being able to handle that.
Sure it’s ridiculously simple, but knowing you can do it, will help generate serotonin (the significance chemical) and that will feel nice and it will get you going! Hack into your brain chemistry in a strategic way. Make it work for you!
OK, let’s look at a full chain of “if X, then Y” strategies to get going in writing this essay.
“If I can sit in this chair, then I can turn on the computer. If I can turn on the computer, then I can open the document. If I can open the document, then I can read what I wrote last time. If I can read what I wrote last time, then I can write one new sentence. If I can write one new sentence, then I can write a second new sentence.” And so on and so on.
You don’t need to continue defining the small tasks any longer than necessary. You just need to keep yourself going until you are involved in the task and the natural rhythm of the activity takes over.
The Power of Ridiculously Simple Steps!
We can make the ridiculously simple steps as small as necessary to get us moving forward! Remember, we are focusing on the next step, not the outcome. “Put your blinders on” – don’t think about the entire task. Think only about the next step.
The power of these Ridiculously Simple Step Strategies is that you can get an uncomfortable task cut down to size to the point where doing it isn’t overwhelming. You also realize that you can stop at any time – so you don’t feel disempowered!
You have the power of brain chemistry behind you as you accomplish each easy step – increasing the fluidity of the movements of your muscles, increasing your motivation to continue and rewarding you with a pleasant burst of a “chemical high” that comes from accomplishment!
Try one or more of these strategies for pushing past that initial hump of overwhelm, or boredom, or fatigue, or any other feeling or thought that has you stuck and not wanting to do what your values say you want to be doing.
Dr. Kari Miller, PhD, BCET is a board certified educational therapist and ADHD coach who has been educating and coaching adults and young people who have ADHD, autism, learning disabilities, emotional challenges, and other complex needs for more than twenty-five years. She holds a PhD in educational psychology and mathematical statistics, an MEd in Learning Disabilities, Gifted Education and Educational Diagnosis, and a BS in Early Childhood Education and Behavior Disorders. Dr. Miller provides support across the lifespan – to school-aged students with learning and attention challenges, to young adults in transition to college or the workplace, and to women with ADHD who have passionate dreams, but are frustrated by procrastination, lack of focus and difficulty following through.