Good Morning, Class!
Today’s lesson is going to be all scientific-like. And you will think I am smart and read psychology journals in my free time (People Magazine). Today, we are discussing the Premack Principle, developed by and named after behavioral psychologist David Premack.
The Premack Principle states that more probable behaviors can be used to reinforce less probable behaviors. For example:
A kid must eat his vegetables before he gets dessert.
A teen must finish homework before she gets to watch TV.
If you’re a parent, you’ve been Premacking your kids for years, and didn’t even know it!
Get the hard stuff out of the way. Do the worst first. However you want to say it, if you pick one thing on your to-do list that you dread most and wipe it out first, your whole day goes better.
“Eat a live frog first thing in the morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”
This is more than just a time-management principle. It’s a mind-management principle. Premack recognized that putting off the things we dread destroys our over-all efficiency—even when we are engaging in behaviors we enjoy. In order to put off the hard tasks, we slow down the pace at which we do the more enjoyable tasks. It weighs us down mentally, because, subconsciously, we know we are stalling.
Case in point:
The holiday season was really weird and really long for me. It started mid-November with Elliana’s 6th birthday party, and ended with a family trip to Florida in mid-January. Mix in a few weeks of sickness and a hefty dose of holiday-related events, and naturally, I set some things aside just to maintain my household (and my sanity).
The end result was a very long and very old to do list.
There were big items and little items I pushed aside week-after-week. Some of the items had already been on my to-do list for weeks (months!) prior to the holidays. And new items were being added daily, which is just how it goes with a busy household of five.
A few weeks into January, and I still couldn’t seem to get a handle on it. I would work all day on my daily tasks, and go to bed exhausted, even. But the mental weight of the dreaded tasks would overshadow all my efforts. No matter what I accomplished in the day, I still felt defeated because the old items I continued to avoid loomed in my mind.
So, two weeks ago, I decided to intentionally and systematically choose one old thing each day from the to-do list. Not just any thing—but the one thing I dreaded the most. I decided, if I get nothing else done, I will knock one thing (just one!) off my scary to-do list every single day.
Here are some of the things I accomplished since then:
1. I sat down with Elliana and wrote out thank you cards from her birthday party in mid-November. I’m fairly certain the 6-year-old recipients of said cards did not remember attending a birthday party or giving my daughter a gift. And they wouldn’t have known the difference if we skipped this task. But, whatever, it’s done.
2. I boxed and shipped nine Christmas gifts I could not personally deliver because a blizzard swept across the interstate on the day we were supposed to travel to our family Christmas and we had to cancel our trip. Picture me at the post office with giant boxes, carrying them from my car across the parking lot, in the freezing cold, one at a time, alone. Then picture me stacking them inside the doors, while I walked out to get more boxes. (Yoga Pant Uni-Bomber) And then picture me kicking stacks of boxes forward as the line moved along. Done.
3. I analyzed competing bids for our kitchen renovation (bids submitted the beginning of November!). And then I made an appointment with the contractor AND I picked out our new granite, sink and faucet AND scheduled a date for the granite template. This is just the beginning the chaos. Now I get to have my kitchen torn up and strange men in my house. Yay.
4. I registered my Panera and Qdoba rewards cards. This one is small beans compared to the others, but the mental weight of “Yes, I have a rewards card, but I haven’t registered it yet” had me on the verge of tears every time I stood in line to get my food.
5. I contacted a math tutor for my son. Who, incidentally, had no availability. Darn it! I’m back to square one with that, but at least I made the initial contact.
6. I bought a new mop and actually mopped my kitchen floor. Y’all, I don’t even want to tell you when the last time was that I mopped. Done.
7. I contacted Kitchen-Aid to come and repair the broiler on my new range that hasn’t functioned since we bought it SEPTEMBER 1st .
8. I sent a sympathy card to my sis-in-law, who’s mother passed away in November. What kind of monster am I that I wait months to send a sympathy card??? A Yoga Pant Uni-Bomber Monster.
9. I vacuumed the kids’ bedrooms. The kitchen floor was nothing compared to the kids’ rooms. I had to empty the Dyson THREE times, if that’s any indication as to how long it’s been since I dragged the vacuum upstairs and got into the corners with those attachments. Done.
10. I went through my e-mail inbox and sorted/read/deleted over 10,000 emails. TEN THOUSAND. Ten. Thousand. Ten-FREAKING-thousand. I also unsubscribed from any possible e-mail list I could. Buh-bye and Done.
I did only one or two things a day. And I had to set aside a few of my daily tasks to do them. But miraculously, three things happened:
1. The mental load I released felt like I had accomplished one hundred times more.
2. I had more energy to get the normal daily stuff done, meaning I did NOT get behind on my daily tasks.
3. I felt like a rock star.
I’m not finished. I am only about 1/3 of the way through my dreaded to-do list. But I’ve gained enough momentum to keep going.
Week 4 Focus:
It’s the perfect time to tackle something you’ve been dreading. Big or small, doesn’t matter. Pick a day this week and decide you’re going to knock it out BEFORE you do anything else.
A phone call?
A difficult conversation?
A time-consuming task?
If you have multiple things (like me) then start knocking them out one at a time. Don’t wait until the end of the day. Do it first thing. I can promise you, it will be worth it. You will soar through the rest of your day feeling lighter and more well-balanced. You, too, can feel like a Rock Star.
If you are enjoying the Better Balance in 2013 series would you be so kind to share it with your peeps? You can click those share buttons at the bottom of the post. Quick and efficient. And one less thing you’ll need to worry about. This day just keeps getting better and better, doesn’t it?