James Ullrich

The Modern Time Crunch


Regain Your Motivation by Reframing the Small Stuff

Turning procrastination into motivation can be acheived with a perspective shift

Posted Oct 29, 2014

It’s easy to become dispirited with a long list of seemingly trivial things to do when a major goal is looming far, far off on the horizon. If you’ve been there (and most of us have), don’t fret: it’s natural to get bogged down in the weeds of a long to-do list of tasks that seem, by themselves, unimportant to achieving the larger goal.

Like so much else in life, adopting the proper mindset is everything, and it’s the word “seemingly” that is key here. Research has shown that the lack of motivation to tackle mundane tasks can be dispelled by mentally placing these things in the larger context of being in service to the ultimate goal. In other words, see the “big picture” and consciously linking the little jobs to the larger one can produce major increases in motivation. If you need to do it visually, go for it. Make a flow chart, a map, anything that helps recast tasks in a new light to ignite your will to conquer them.

This idea relates to the phenomenon known as the “Goal Looms Larger Effect”. Researchers have long since established that motivation to reach a goal increases the closer one actually gets to achieving it. This results from an unconscious action in our brain which removes blockages to our energy when we realize that a goal is indeed attainable and that our finite resources of focus and energy will likely not be wasted in pursuit of it.

This principle has also been documented in what researchers Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer call “The Progress Principle”. After systematic analysis of nearly 12,000 diary entries provided by 238 employees in 7 companies, they reached a clear conclusion: seemingly insignificant workday tasks can easily sap our drive. But when forward progress is made in what we consider to be meaningful work, precious momentum is generated that can inspire us to keep chipping away.

Of course, there is always the temptation to adjust the deadline for seemingly innocuous or inconvenient tasks. We possess a powerful unconscious instinct to procrastinate, much of it rooted in the drive to conserve our finite energies. But this temptation can seriously undermine us. In fact, pushing back deadlines only furthers your distance from the end of the journey, resulting in a motivation-sapping reverse of the “Goal Looms Larger Effect”.

Bottom line: reframing the small stuff as important tasks that contribute to reaching the larger goal can help us generate the mental momentum needed to tackle the jobs. Think of this as elementary physics: The emotional forces of inertia and momentum are self-reinforcing. Energy tends to produce its own momentum. Harness it properly and it can take you where you need to go.

So, ignore the temptation to procrastinate and strive to accumulate those crossed-off items on the to-do list. Eventually you’ll reach the critical mass necessary to break free of the emotional gravity weighing you down. This will enable the “Goal Looms Larger Effect” to kick in and infuse you with the additional resources you’ll need to cross the finish line.