This Wednesday: Six tips for getting yourself to do something you don’t want to do.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Six tips for getting yourself to do something you don’t want to do.

How many times each day do you try to work yourself up to tackle some undesirable task? If you’re like me – several.

For example, right now I’m trying to figure out how to send a monthly newsletter. I felt overwhelmed by the various sub-tasks involved, but by using the techniques below, I’m inching toward the finish line of hitting “send” for that first newsletter. Here are some strategies that I’ve used:

1. Put yourself in jail. If you’re working on something that’s going to take a long time, and you have the urge to try to rush, or to feel impatient, pretend you’re in jail. If you’re in jail, you have all the time in the world. You have no reason to hurry, no reason to cut corners or to try to do too many things at once. You can slow down, concentrate. You can take the time to get every single detail right.

2. Ask for help. This is one of my most useful Secrets of Adulthood (see left column). Why is this so hard? I have no idea. But whenever I ask for help, I’m amazed at how much it…helps.

3. Remember: most decisions don’t require extensive research. This is another important Secret of Adulthood. I often get paralyzed by my inability to make a decision, but by reminding myself that often, one choice just isn’t that much different from another choice, I can move on.

4. Take a baby step. If you feel yourself dismayed at the prospect of the chain of awful tasks that you have to accomplish, just take one step today. Tomorrow, take the next step. The forward motion is encouraging, and before long, you’ll probably find yourself speeding toward completion.

5. Do it first thing in the morning. The night before, vow to yourself to do the dreaded task. And the next day, at the first possible moment – as soon as you walk into work, or when the office opens, or whenever – just do it. Don’t allow yourself to reflect or procrastinate. This is particularly true of exercise. If you think you’ll be tempted to skip, try to work out in the morning.

6. Protect yourself from interruption. How often have you finally steeled yourself to start some difficult project, only to be interrupted the minute you get going? This makes a hard task much harder. Carve out some time to work. Yesterday, I wanted to put a newsletter sign-up box on my blog. I figured this would be frustrating and time-consuming, so I waited to make the attempt when I knew I had two hours when I could work uninterrupted.

NB: Pay attention to the amount of time you spend working on tasks you dislike. No one enjoys invasive medical tests or preparing tax returns, but if you feel like your life consists of nothing but going from one dreaded chore to the next, you should take note. Maybe you need to think about switching jobs, or delegating a particular chore to someone else, or paying someone to take care of a task that’s making you miserable.

I’m very good at making myself do things I don’t want to do, and while this is an enormous help in many situations, it has also allowed me to go down some dead ends in my career. The fact is, you’re unlikely to be happy or successful when every aspect of your life or job feels like a big drag. Don’t accuse yourself of being lazy or being a procrastinator, but ask – what’s making this so difficult? The fact that you’re finding it hard to make yourself do something is a sign that maybe you should be doing something else.

On the upside: novelty and challenge, as uncomfortable as they can be, DO bring happiness. The chore that feels onerous today may give you a huge boost of satisfaction tomorrow, when it’s behind you. Keep that in mind.

What are some other strategies that you’ve found useful in trying to get yourself to jump some hurdle?

Via the wonderful recommendation site, the Very Short List, a friend sent me a link to the Goldfrapp music video for their song “Happiness.” It’s charming.

If you’d like to get my monthly newsletter, click on the brand-new link in the upper-right-hand corner of my blog.

I’m very pleased with myself that I managed to get that onto my blog! I had to use all the strategies above, but I did it.

Or, if you prefer, just email me at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. No need to write anything more than “newsletter” in the subject line. I’ll add your name to the list.

Happiness interview with ProBlogger’s Darren Rowse.

I’m starting something new: from time to time, I’ll post short interviews with interesting people about their insights on happiness.

During my study of happiness, I’ve noticed that I often learn more from one person’s highly idiosyncratic experiences than I do from sources that detail universal principles or cite up-to-date studies.

There’s something peculiarly compelling and instructive about hearing other people’s happiness stories. I’m much more likely to be convinced to try a piece of advice urged by a specific person who tells me that it worked for him, than by any other kind of argument. I ask the same set of questions in each interview, the better to compare different people’s experiences.

Today’s interview is with Darren Rowse of the wildly popular blog about blogging, ProBlogger. He also recently came out with a book (which I bought, and it’s great), Problogger: Secrets for Blogging Your Way to a Six-Figure Income. Darren’s site was a major source of happiness for me when I was starting this blog, because I was in my “Ask for help” mode, without a lot of living, breathing people to ask. It’s so satisfying when you find exactly the right source for the information you need.

Gretchen: What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Darren: Can I mention two? Please? OK – I know you won’t mind….

1. My first sip of a latte in the morning – it’s a simple, slightly guilty pleasure that I allow myself most mornings.

2. Time with my son – he’s coming up on 2 and while he’s learning how to throw tantrums and get into trouble his simple and innocent view of the world inspire me, give me hope and make me feel very content. It’s amazing how the worries of life seem to melt away when we’re together.

Gretchen: What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
Darren: I would say that I now believe that happiness is more than just a feeling that I have. Sure there are times when it is ‘feeling’ related – but for me I’m beginning to discover that happiness is also about the way I live my life. I find it hard to articulate (ask me again when I’m 50 and I might have the answer) but for me it’s also about an attitude or a choice that I have the opportunity to make daily.

When I was 18 I think I allowed my circumstances to dictate my happiness. These days I bring happiness to my circumstances.

Gretchen: Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of
your happiness?

Darren: Going to see my football team (Carlton, an Aussie rules football team) play! But seriously….

I find that one of the main things that gets in the way of happiness for me is the times that I become self centered. In our culture (at least in the West) we seem to have this obsession with ‘self’ or ‘me’. We’re told to ‘get ahead’ and ‘look after yourself’ in many different ways yet my personal experience of Happiness has shown me that it’s generally when I lift my eyes off my own little world and do something selfless that I find real contentment and joy.

Conversely, the times that I obsess on my own worries and/or achievements, focus solely upon furthering my own career and view the world through Darren colored glasses that I find life crowds in and I become stressed, cranky and anything but happy.

As a result – an activity that I attempt to do regularly is find space in my life for others. This starts with family, but extends to friends, those in my wider networks and then strangers through charity and giving to others.

I also find setting time aside to clear my mind, meditate and pray is helpful in this process also.

Gretchen: Have you always felt about the same level of happiness, or have you been
through a period when you felt exceptionally happy or unhappy – if so, why?
If you were unhappy, how did you become happier?
Darren: I mentioned above that when I was 18 my happiness seemed to be more related to my circumstances than anything else. I went through a time around this time when my life was…. well all I can describe it as is ‘dark’. This was largely a result of circumstances that I felt overwhelmed with including death, broken relationships, betrayal and failure.

I won’t go into the full circumstances but some of them came about as a result of my own actions and some happened to me and were largely out of my control. The result was a complete mess and a time when I didn’t feel that I had a lot to live for.

I’m not sure exactly what brought me out of this period but there were probably a number of factors (please forgive my half thought through answer, it’s something I find hard to put words to):

• Rediscovery of Faith – over time I found a new way to connect with a faith that I’d been brought up with but had largely abandoned
• The Care of an Friend – an older friend really invested time into me at this time and gently showed me a different way to look at my life
• Maturity – I got older and naturally began to see the world in a different way
• Purpose – Though it all I discovered that life wasn’t about reacting to the circumstances that come out way but that we have the ability to set our own path and go after it. Sure things happen ‘to us’ but even in these times there’s choices to be made about how we’ll navigate them.

Gretchen: Do you work on being happier? If so, how?
Darren: I never sit down and consciously think to myself – ‘how can I be happy/happier?’ Having said that – I guess some of the choices I make are based upon a desire to feel happy (running to my local cafe each morning would be one of these).

I think what I’ve been trying to say above is that I’m less focussed upon feeling happy these days and more focused upon leading a life with purpose and that brings life to those around me. In doing so I feel more content and ‘right’. Perhaps this is happiness!

I’ve been having a lot of fun reading through the archives of Notes from the Trenches. It’s a terrific, hilarious blog by a mother of seven children. I was particularly intrigued with her Forty Before Forty list. These kinds of lists are a sub-genre of happiness projects, so I always regard them fondly.

I’m going to start sending out a short monthly newsletter. I hope to have a handy opt-in box up soon, but in the meantime, if you’d like to sign up to get the newsletter, just shoot me an email at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. No need to write anything more than “newsletter” in the subject line. I’ll add your name to the list.

True happiness fact: challenge brings happiness (after it brings frustration and anxiety).

One of the least pleasant conclusions I’ve reached is that, darn it, the experts are right when they say that novelty and challenge lead to happiness.

I dislike not knowing what I’m doing, I resist change and learning new things, I love routine – but I’ve seen, over and over, that novelty and challenge do indeed make me happier, once I suffer through the anxiety and frustration of trying something new.

This blog is a good example. It’s a huge source of happiness, but also a fairly major source of frustration. But the more I do, the easier it gets, plus I have the satisfaction of seeing my accomplishments along the way. I remember when I couldn’t even post an image. This progress gives me the “atmosphere of growth” that’s the fourth, and critical, prong of my First Splendid Truth.

Now I have a new, exciting opportunity for novelty and challenge! (Translation: I’m spending a lot of time feeling frustrated and dumb, but I’m making progress.) I’m going to start sending out a short monthly newsletter.

Sending a newsletter is one of those tasks that will become fairly easy after I send out the first three – when everything has been set up, and I’ve got the kinks worked out. But until then, novelty and challenge abound.

All my happiness-project lessons have come into play, in a way that seems almost comical.

Example: I couldn’t figure out what newletter vendor to use, and couldn’t budge past that initial question, but as the Zen masters say, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear,” and last week I met an extremely knowledgeable person who had just researched this question. This guy picked MailChimp, so I did the same.

I signed up with MailChimp. More challenge, more frustration. Aargh, I don’t have a logo; I don’t know how to use PhotoShop to create a banner image; I can’t decide how big the top image should be; I can’t quite figure out how to put the sign-up-for-this-newsletter box on my blog; etc., etc.

I remind myself: “Embrace novelty and challenge!” “Enjoy the fun of failure!” “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good!” “If the student is ready, the teacher will appear!” “Take time to wander!” “Put myself in jail!” “Start simple, start now!” These help.

The happiness won’t hit for a while. Now is the frustrating part. But when I send out my first email newsletter, then it will come.

So, if you’d like to sign up for my monthly newsletter, please shoot an email to grubin AT SYMBOL gretchenrubin DOT com. No need to write anything more than “newsletter” in the subject line. I’ll add your name to the list.

Once a month, I’ll send you a round-up of the month’s ever-popular Wednesday Tips lists, the Friday suggestions for Your Happiness Project, and a note about what happiness topic generated the most buzz on my site.

I foresee a lot of frustration before I get to the happy day when I mail out my first newsletter. But I’ll get there eventually. So sign up!

I’d heard about the blog Escape from Cubicle Nation before, and I finally got around to checking it out myself. It’s terrific. The main subject is entreneurship, but there’s a lot of great material there that’s widely applicable, no matter what your work situation.

I’m going to start sending out a short monthly newsletter. I hope to have a handy opt-in box up soon, but in the meantime, if you’d like to sign up to get the newsletter, just shoot me an email at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com.

This Saturday: a happiness quotation from Marguerite Yourcenar.

“Everything turns out to be valuable that one does for one’s self without thought of profit.” –Marguerite Yourcenar

This ties into my resolution to Spend out — that resolution encompasses several meanings, but it includes the self-admonition to stop worrying about what’s going to be most efficient and productive, and to be willing to wander, to follow my own interests, to experiment, and to fail.

New to the Happiness Project? Consider subscribing to my RSS feed: Subscribe to this blog’s feed. Or sign up to get email updates in the box at the top righthand corner.
If you’re starting your own happiness project, please join the Happiness Project Group on Facebook to swap ideas. It’s easy; it’s free.

It’s Friday: time to think about YOUR Happiness Project. This week: Connect with your past.

I’m working on my Happiness Project, and you should have one, too! Everyone’s project will look different, but it’s the rare person who can’t benefit. Join in — no need to catch up, just jump in right now. Each Friday’s post will help you think about your own happiness project.

One of my newer happiness-project resolutions is to “Connect with my past.” I’ve been trying to reach out to people, and to visit places, that were important to me in previous incarnations.

The Big Man and I are the same — we tend to lose touch with our friends from the past. We have plenty of friends in the present, and we love seeing old friends, but we aren’t good about keeping in contact.

That’s one reason I love Facebook and other internet tools that make it easier not only to keep in touch with people, but to keep track of them. Now it’s so much easier to keep tabs on people as they move, switch jobs, etc.

A few months ago, to “Connect with my past,” I called one of my best friends from high school. It’s a long story, but I hadn’t talked to her for more than ten years. It took me a while to track her down, but thanks to a clue from a fellow Kansas Citian whom I ran into in an airport, and a lot of Google persistence, I found her. It was so much fun to talk to her – to awaken the part of my brain connected to her, and also to feel that I’d sewn up a dangling loose thread of a relationship.

Today, I went to a lunch given by my law school alumni association. Although I’d never attended one of these lunches before, my resolution to “Connect with my past” inspired me to go. The speaker was someone I knew from my clerkship past (she clerked for Justice Souter when I clerked for Justice O’Connor), so I saw a chance to “Connect with my past” in two ways: my law school past and my clerkship past.

My experiences in law school and as a lawyer were extremely intense, extremely happy, and extremely interesting – plus, the Big Man and I met in law school, so that puts a rosy glow over that period. But now that I’m a writer, and not a lawyer, I feel disconnected to the lawyerly part of my life.

Going to the lunch, seeing some people I knew, hearing news of other friends, hearing about what’s happening at the law school…it was very satisfying.

I’ve been surprised by how happy this kind of activity makes me. Is it because it boosts my sense of connection to other people — a key to happiness? Or because it heightens my sense of having a continuous self? Or because it brings back happy memories, which is an important contributor to happiness? Probably all of these.

Surprisingly, I haven’t seen any studies or scientific discussion of this aspect of happiness-building, and I haven’t read any advice of this nature in popular sources. Nevertheless, connecting with my past has really made me happier.

So, go to a reunion, attend an event, call or email an old friend, drive by a former haunt, look through a photo album, re-visit the restaurant you used to love, listen to some music that reminds you of a long-ago period of your life…or what else? What are some other ways to connect with our pasts?

I love tips, and Gimundo has a great list of tips, via Productivity Café, about how to prod yourself into being on time.

New to the Happiness Project? Consider subscribing to my RSS feed: Subscribe to this blog’s feed. Or sign up to get email updates in the box at the top righthand corner.
If you’re starting your own happiness project, please join the Happiness Project Group on Facebook to swap ideas. It’s easy; it’s free.