How ‘energy efficient’ are you when it comes to managing your own thoughts, your brain’s output? How ‘cluttered’ is your house? Clutter takes up energy, it occupies ‘space’, be it on the shelves of your kitchen, in your bathroom cupboards, the shed, the garage. The living room floor. It goes unnoticed but it actually has a draining effect. Tidying up takes effort, a chore that must continually be ‘kept on top of’. But it weighs on the mind, even when you might ‘not care less’. In fact any chores left unattended will occupy resource in your mind, and laziness or ‘laissez faire’ attitude only contribute to a façade that they don’t matter and that you are ‘taking it easy’. The environment we inhabit affords actions, perceptions. A garden path affords walking out into the meadows beyond. If it is overgrown by weeds, lost in the undergrowth, it no longer overtly offers that avenue or the opportunity. Just stay inside. Or keep to well-trodden tracks that guide you to familiar locales. Perception is narrowed, the world shrinks.
People’s lives across the world are defined by chores, jobs that need doing. Putting them off might confer an illusion of liberty. But it is not freedom to ‘ignore’ tasks or pretend they do not exist. Satisfaction and empowerment comes from taking control, exercising self-discipline, clearing out the ‘clutter’. Consumers the world over recognise that much of the ‘effort’ associated with household chores comes from the anticipation of all the jobs that must be done, rather than the doing in itself – even in communities where manual labour is the norm, where labour saving devices are scarce, or unreliable, outdated. Where predominantly women scrub plates, clothes, surfaces for hours on end, or resort to using crude tools, or ‘products’ derived from natural sources other than the supermarket. This effort is ‘mental’, it manifests as cognitive workload. And workload as such leads to emotional strain. Stress...
The question is, how can we manage our ‘workload’ more efficiently? How does one move towards disposition of effective task-focus, embracing the jobs to be done enthusiastically?
‘Doing’ rather than thinking about (or actually more to point of fact not thinking about) the jobs that need doing is the rather ‘obvious’ answer to this. As mentioned, putting things off, or pretending they either don’t need doing, or they don’t exist, only serves to brush these under the figurative carpet, making the weft bulge up so that you have to step over and around it – it is defining your metaphorical mental domicile in such a way that forces you to adjust your behaviour accordingly, restricting your movements. from a psychological standpoint, this is in effect cluttering up your unconscious, restricting your options. What is pushed away, hidden, ignored and ‘forgotten takes up cognitive resource – which you will be unaware of. You will have less available for other motivational ends.
Keeping one’s house in order requires routine, discipline, effort. But surprisingly, as mentioned, not doing so also entails effort of a different kind (mental effort). Funnily enough, consumers asked about this in far flung, deprived regions, tended to stress the mental effort outweighing the physical act of ‘doing’ (within reason and dependent on the nature of the task of course!). But physical work often gives it’s own reward. The gym being an obvious example. What is the hardest part of going to the gym? Signing up? Not likely – it's exciting! It is something to look forward to! Its more likely to be the putting on and lacing up of the shoes, or the packing the bag. Or the deciding to get up off the couch and drive there...All mental ‘steps’ that require overcoming of psychological inertia...
Once a habit is ingrained though, remember, some of that mental inertia is removed from the equation. Do you groan at the thought of brushing your teeth? Doubtful, you just do it. Once you have a routine, a structure in place, this generates it’s own momentum. You don’t think about routine, it just happens. You don’t have to motivate yourself to do your daily routine. But you might actually have to ironically expend energy NOT to do it once it is ingrained...
Think about doing sit-ups. Do you want the benefits of a strong core, a washboard stomach (maybe)? You might decide right let’s do it. You get down, huff and puff through 5, maybe 10. It feels good. You might even fresh from this rewarding experience do it again tomorrow. Or maybe not. It’s lost it’s appeal, hard work, little or no immediate gain – you feel worse...But what are you wanting from that burst of motivated endeavour? Chances are, like a person who always looks to buy the next piece of equipment that will galvanise the exercise routine, or waits for the yoga mat to arrive from Amazon like an expectant dog at the letterbox, you put it off till 'the time is right'. It’s delayed, it’s going to be 2 weeks. The motivation is dependent upon the excitement, the stimulation of a new activity. Which is doomed to failure as the novelty wears off...
A better strategy is to treat it like brushing your teeth. It’s something that will become assimilated into your everyday routine. You don’t expect any improvement, in fact banish it from your mind. The only real satisfaction you might derive is from having done it, got it out the way. It becomes second nature. You are not interested in results. Like a child eating his greens, it is just something that is there on the plate. The ice cream for ‘afters’ is what occupies his attention, and this is how the broccoli is sneaked past his alerting system, doing him good without realising it.
But the thing about routine is that it passes the time, the structure is the foundation for progress. Before you know it, three weeks have passed. The ‘invisible sit ups’ you have not really been paying attention to, but have just been doing, have been having an insidious (but positive) effect. You start to notice a slight change in appearance on passing the mirror. How did that happen? You ask yourself. Actually you feel quite taut...Forget about it, maybe look again in another 3 weeks. Where did that 6 pack come from!!
The point I am making here is about how ‘cognitive workload’ dominates our thinking, and often is due to the lack of doing things that actually would benefit us,. Be it from a motivational/aspirational point of view, or from a tendency to put off doing things because we approach with the wrong attitude, and reacted negatively to the thought of performing tasks. Tasks in themselves are there for a purpose. We are predisposed evolutionarily to perform actions, do ‘work’, go through the motions of fulfilling basic tasks and needs. Not to sit back lazily and demand that the task confers some kind of indulgent reward. We are not entitled beings! The more you avoid doing something that needs to be done, the more your cognitive workspace, available energy, and capacity to progress and achieve things is undermined, restricted. Conversely, the more you ‘get on with things’ the more you de-clutter this workspace and clear the decks for new opportunities, new creative possibilities to emerge. You benefit from the ‘sit-ups’ so to speak. You have established a meaningful and productive routine, a structured, self-disciplined approach that produces it’s own reward, and generates it’s own energy.
You have in effect recycled your mental waste, and turned it into profitable output, renewed energy stores...
Waste is in effect what this represents, cognitively speaking. Like the flab that displeases your midriff, you can turn that into muscle, trim off the fat, become a leaner version of you. I already talked about how the brain is prone to redundancy, excess, inefficient use of resources and how ‘optimal performance’ depends on sloughing off excess, eradicating redundancy, and focusing on the areas where good honest work can take place. And for which everyone is happier and more productive.
So to sum up, what we are talking about here is addressing a tendency in all of us to put things off, to rely on immediate, but illusory reward in order to motivate doing something proactive, be it a household chore or a commitment to ‘getting fit’. The longer-term benefits are likely to come from creating structure in the day, a routine that actually ‘hides’ the task within it, and which, like brushing your teeth becomes so ingrained it’s actually more of an effort to NOT do it. Structure, routine channels time more effectively, more productively. Before you know it rewards are evident – a tidier ‘house’, a de-cluttered mind, new goals and aspirations and opportunities, and the capacity to take these on without thinking. A fitter, leaner, more energised version of yourself. And importantly, a recognition that you can take all that waste and recycle it, to power a sustainable version of your self that has renewed capacity to achieve ever greater ambitions!
What are you waiting for?!
Here is where I synthesise my Adventure Psychology approach based on my extensive adventure travel and pursuits experiences, more than two decades of applied psychological research, and my association and work with extreme sports practitioners. My philosophy can be boiled down to a simple premise (as elaborated on in Science section): a 'task-focused' mindset is key to achieve success! What gets in the way of this is 'self' Through a deep understanding of how the brain 'works' it is possible to refocus attention, use 'self-control' and engage with the world in a more efficient manner to achieve goals. I offer insights and techniques backed up with cutting edge science and practical knowledge, studying optimal performers to ensure insights are based on real evidence!