Tricking Myself into Action

I was lying on my bed this morning at 7AM seconds before the alarm went off. There was a lot to do today! So I mustered my energy and willed myself to spring out of bed!

In reality, I had fallen asleep again and was just dreaming I’d gotten up. In round 2, lying face-down in my pillow, I began the negotiation process with myself:

MIND: Ok, Body! It’s time to get out of bed and start another beautiful day! BODY: We don’t seem to be moving. MIND: So just get up. That’s how it works. BODY: Well, it’s not working. I think we’re going to fall asleep again. MIND: NO! Don’t! We can do this! Let’s run through some of those work visualization tricks. First, think of three things to do this morning, using our “triburst” theory of short-term task targeting. Ok, we’ve got to do some curriculum writing, tradeshow stuff, pay some bills. That’ll be our first chunk! BODY: Ok. If you say so. MIND: Yeah! NOW, all we need to do is get up! So LET’S GO! Go go go! BODY: But it’s so comfortable on the bed. It’s warm, and the sheets are so nice and fresh. MIND: I agree, but we’re supposed to be active and full of energy! We like that once we get going! Remember momentum and small steps lead to productivity! BODY: Yes, but to quote Bugs Bunny, “That first step is a doozy”. And to quote Demotivators, “Hard work often pays off after time, but laziness always pays off now.” MIND: Now I know you’re just stalling for time by quoting my own stuff back to me. Ok, let’s get a little more specific and really focus on that first step. Apply some of those “two-minute” rules, visualize the very first action. And that’s getting out of bed. Simple. So let’s go. BODY: Maybe you need to break it down further. Or you need to really give me a compelling reason WHY to get out of bed. I need some immediate gratification MIND: Hm, well, if you don’t get anything done this morning, you won’t get to hang out with your buddies tonight, because you’ll have to stay up late and work. BODY: Not immediate enough. I’m thinking, like, in the next 10 seconds. MIND: Breakfast? BODY: Not hungry. There’s also nothing in the house, and going out to eat by ourselves is boring. Plus we spend money and waste time, and I’ll get even fatter. MIND: Well…I got nothing. We might as well lie here and see if we want to get up later. Set the alarm for another 30 minutes then. BODY: Psshh! That’s a typical mind response. Have you considered that you might be coming at this all wrong? MIND: Oh!? You have a better idea, muscles-for-brains? BODY: Yeah. I know you’re in love with the idea that the mind can do anything once set. And I know that you’ve been thinking about intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation a lot as “primary triggers” for productivity. But the one you’ve forgotten is that when the body moves, action follows. MIND: But the body does what the mind tells it. BODY: No, not always. Maybe not even most of the time. I would say most of our day is spent reacting to things: desires, bosses, loved ones, productivity systems, clocks, smells, and so forth. To consciously control our day, you need to be conscious of ourselves and what we should be doing…that’s all your doing as the Mind. If the Body is in control, however, then we’re just doing stuff and you’re along for the ride in a supporting role. And a lot more seems to get done. MIND: Ok, I think I see what you’re saying. We tend to be externally motivated by people and things going on in the world that we can feel responsible for. We receive all those triggers through our external senses. Truly intrinsic motivation, for us anyway, is harder for us to harness. We end up writing blog posts usually when that strikes. BODY: Right. Back to external triggers: you do realize that for a trigger to happen, we need to sense it right? You can’t react to an external trigger unless you are able to perceive it first. After you’ve locked onto it with your brain, you can operate pretty independently and dispatch orders to me to move around and make things happen under conscious control. MIND: Hm, yes. Without that first stimulus, I wouldn’t have anything to do, because I wouldn’t have known about it if you hadn’t delivered the stimulus in the first places via the senses. BODY: Yes, exactly. Now, let’s tie this back to our problem of getting out of bed. We have no immediate reason to get out of bed right this instance. That’s because we don’t have any immediate deadlines or desires: no one to meet for lunch, no deliverables today, though we do have to get a lot of work done. The physical comfort of the moment is overriding those abstract notions of work and distant reward. You could attempt to trick or reason with us, as you tried earlier, but we’re already totally onto ourselves. MIND: Yeah. And I’m out of tricks at the moment. I could maybe think up some new printable formBODY: Screw the form! Here’s my theory: if it’s external stimulus that is the vehicle for external motivation, perhaps we don’t need actual people. We just need to provide you with a physical body sensation. Something to override our awareness of the comfort of the now, which keeps us from making the future happen. MIND: Like, a reason to get out of bed? BODY: No no no. Something less than a thought. Something that creates a physical sensation that we can self-trigger easily, without any props, people, or complicated sequencing of body parts, all of which would require FAR MORE EFFORT than we’re apparently capable of expending at the moment. MIND: Ok, so let’s get out of bed! BODY: Try something a lot simpler. Instead of telling me to get out of bed, which requires dozens of muscle groups, just tell me to wiggle my fingers, which is a lot more focused and easy to do without shifting position. MIND: Oh, this is stupid. We should just get out of bed. BODY: Just tell me to wiggle them! Yeah, that’s right! Keep wiggling them! MIND: Now I’m getting bored. BODY: Vary the tempo! Drum things! Maybe get the toes in on the action! MIND: This is pointless. Let’s get up. BODY: Ok. Ally-oop! MIND: … Hey!

This might have been a one-time trick that worked for me this morning, but I think there IS something to using the body to kick-start the mind into doing things, especially when it’s lazy. The bodily motion that worked for me today, wiggling my fingers, actually put my mind into an action state. That such a small effort could trigger that where all the rationalization and logic failed is an interesting notion. Perhaps wiggling my fingers simulated typing; I may have stumbled upon a kind of productivity kata for myself.