Harry Smith

This vs That

Trick yourself into doing hard things by choosing which one hurts less right now.

Some things are traumatic to get started with. It seems that certain tasks are hard to begin, but easy once started. These high resistance tasks tend to be things that we care a lot about. Drawing, exercise, writing, studying to name but a few. You’ll recognise some of those tasks in your own mental list of things you don’t quite get round too doing. Creative or important work is taxing, and it’s all too easy to nudge it down the list.

This is a problem that I tackle daily.

I am bored of home workouts. Endless repetition of pull-ups, push-ups, sit-ups, squats has worn me down. I don’t want to lose the progress I have made in last few months. I also don’t want to do any more push-ups. I don’t get to make that choice though. I have fitness goals and some unpleasantness is the price of admission.

Writing is another example. I actually enjoy the process of writing. Though it is often also a battle with your ego, an endless war against the destructive inner critic. Those first words on the page are like torture. Once I’ve pushed past the opening minutes, I don’t suffer so much. But it’s having the courage to get through the opening.

Taking a more general look at the sort of tasks that get put off we can ascertain a central theme. They are front-loaded with temporary suffering, that dissipates soon after starting. Once the body is warm, exercise becomes enjoyable. When the fingers are flowing, writing sets the mind alight. After a few initial nervous marks, art flows on to the canvas.

Yet the knowledge that it will be enjoyable after that hard opening rarely feels like enough. It is a war against myself. I have to fight the endless siren call of the TV. I’m never going to want to duke it out with the kettlebell than stay snug in bed. Compare those first few minutes to almost any other activity. The other activity is always going to win.

So what would happen if you compared it something else?

What if you compare it to another a few minutes of suffering?

I call it This vs That Procrastination.

Let’s show how to apply this principle with two examples I’ve already mentioned. Writing and exercise. I’m choosing these two because I use this principal to complete both of these tasks often.

Most days I want to write for about an hour, and I also want to complete 15 minute morning exercise routine. I’m usually tackling these tasks very early in the day, before 9am. Neither of these tasks tickle me with excitement in the morning. But I also know from experience that I must do them early in the day. If I wait to write, the day gets a way from me and I often feel too drained in the evening. If I don’t exercise in the morning, I’m unlikely to complete any other work-outs during the day. If I do neither, I’ll feel sluggish and guilty.

So I ask myself; how do I want to take my pain right now? Which is more appealing? withering through those first few stiff reps or those first few lacklustre paragraphs?

Choose one, do it and then do the other. This, then that. Or that, then this. It’s a simple little mind game that gets me to do hard things rather than put them off. Try it for a week, find two activities you always put off and put them head to head. Once you’ve done the lesser of two evils, the other will fall as well.

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