Behavioral Psychology

Distasteful Tasks

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We all have obligations and activities that are distasteful to us. They vary widely based on personality structure, making me think of the old adage ‘One person’s trash is another person’s treasure’. If you are like most people you probably put off the completion of the tasks that are objectionable to you, procrastinating or coming up with rationalizations, leaving the job undone for as long as possible until finally barreling through and hating the whole experience.

One way to trick yourself into completing the tasks you don’t want to do while actually enjoying the experience is to treat them as opportunities to practice mindfulness. I really like this move because it makes whatever you are doing secondary to the fact that you are doing it mindfully. You are fully present, observing yourself and the object of your meditation in the moment, and focusing on your breathing.

When you link your distasteful activity to mindfulness it will take on whole new dimensions and you will probably learn important truths about yourself and your life. It might be useful for you to go into the experience with the expectation of there being three stages. Let’s use as an example a messy closet full of clothes and other items that you have been meaning to order for some time.

The first stage is to just sit and allow the uncomfortable itch in the back of your mind that has been reminding you the task needs to be done to come into full conscious awareness. Breathe deeply and evenly as you observe these feelings of discomfort honestly without trying to change them or make them go away. Don’t think about the future or the past. Just observe your thoughts and feelings as they occur in the present and note what they are.

The second stage is the actual activity. The way that you transform it from unpleasant to pleasant is by performing it completely in the moment. There is literally no task that cannot be done mindfully. Eastern masters are mindful when they are cooking, when they are cleaning up around the house, when they are talking with friends, or when they are meditating in silence. To them it makes no difference what the activity is.

Do your task purposefully and in the moment. Try to do the very best you can. In the case of the messy closet, fold your clothes lovingly and slowly. Keep breathing rhythmically and try to focus all your attention on the here and now. When your thoughts start to wander to another time or place don’t get frustrated but instead gently remind yourself to come back to the present and refocus on what you are doing.

The third stage is to allow yourself time to mindfully consider how you are feeling once the task has been completed. Is it a sense of accomplishment? Pride in a job well done? Relief? Compare these feelings to how you were in the days, hours, or minutes before performing your distasteful activity.

You will probably view the whole experience differently when you have infused it with mindfulness. What seems unpleasant and to be avoided becomes a way for you to practice meditation and observe your feelings more honestly. You might even find yourself looking forward to the next distasteful task on your agenda because it will give you another opportunity to practice mindfulness.