4 simple strategies to successfully carry out the tasks that we do not like

4 simple strategies to successfully carry out the tasks that we do not like


Do you know what techniques to use to better cope with the tasks you abhor?

Successful people use different mental strategies to make difficult tasks more bearable. But new research shows that very few of these approaches are really effective.

Resentment and persistence have been the subject of famous behavioral studies, but they do not teach us much about how we can react to real-life problems.

What do some people do to keep themselves focused on the task they are doing? And should we imitate them?

In an investigation of the Harvard Foundation of the USA who studied a group of graduates throughout their lives, participants were asked to exercise on a treadmill until they could no longer do so.

For the next seven decades, they were asked how their lives had been. The time they could run on the tape turned out to be a reliable indicator of their future psychological well-being.

The physical condition levels of the students did not affect the results, so the researchers trusted that the time they ran was an accurate measure of their levels of determination.

Copyright of the GETTY IMAGES image
Image caption Some tasks are impossible to enjoy no matter how hard we try, but focusing on finishing them can certainly help.


It’s fascinating to think how such a simple test – how much you can run on one of these tapes – can measure your inner power.

But what a small group of students did in a laboratory in 1938 does not tell us much about the strategies that the strongest of them used to face their daily challenges.

When you put them on a treadmill, they may have the persistence to run a little longer, but where does that determination come from?

“We know relatively little about how people manage their tasks in their daily lives,” says Marie Hennecke, a psychologist at the University of Zurich, Switzerland.

“This refers to tasks that arise spontaneously, how do these people manage in those situations?” That is where the idea of ​​this study came in. Can we interview people immediately after they have done an unpleasant task and ask them how they did it? “, he reflects.

Focus on the goal

After making a list of the 19 most common strategies for dealing with unpleasant tasks (from motivating internal dialogue to reducing distractions), researchers collected responses from people in real-life situations.

These range from mental challenges that include work and research, as well as strenuous daily duties such as daily commuting, cooking and cleaning.

“We found that there are many ways people can succeed: can make that task is more pleasant, can be set small goals” , says the expert. “Then we focused on the ones that worked best.”

Focusing on positive consequences was the most used strategy, followed by others such as thinking about the end of the task, “enriching” it in some way-doing it while listening to music, for example-and verifying the progress made towards the goal.

Woman with telephone in the kitchen
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Image caption Concentrating is key to overcoming the tasks we do not want to do, and distractions only make it difficult to finish them as soon as possible.


But among the strategies that yielded the best results and on which the majority of people with the highest levels of persistence were based, that of the “enrichment” of the tasks occupied the last position of the list.

“Task enrichment is usually something that is not done if the mental task is exhausting,” says Hennecke.

“You can not listen to music if you’re trying to concentrate a lot, you might talk about it as something very common, but it’s not necessarily the best strategy.”

Hennecke relied on the participants to report their own success rates after each task.

So, someone could report that he used homework enrichment to make cleaning more enjoyable, for example, but that it took him more time to complete it than he expected or it did not even end completely.

Focusing on the big picture – on the positive or negative consequences – was certainly more effective.

Hennecke says previous research suggested that trying to find pleasure in the task itself was key, but the expert acknowledges that some tasks are not pleasant, and no matter how hard you try.

The most successful people in their study, however, focused on the goal that lay ahead.

Distractions do not help

As with the Harvard Foundation treadmill test, one of the most famous studies of self-control teaches us little about how we stay focused on a natural environment.

The so-called “Stanford Marshmallow Test”, in which the children were offered a marshmallow (or two, if they could resist eating the first one in a certain period of time) concluded that the most successful technique used by children It was to get distracted from the task.

But this is not the case with the challenges of real life.

First, because the marshmallow test is not natural. Some tasks in daily life require waiting 15 minutes without touching a marshmallow, but many tasks may require patience.

And in these cases, being distracted is the worst thing that can be done.


Children playing
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Image caption Distracted from the task is the most successful technique for children subjected to the “marshmallow test”, but this is not the case of the challenges of our day to day.


“This is different from the marshmallow test,” says Hennecke. “Both require self-control, but the research [of the marshmallow] by Walter Mischel [Stanford psychologist] analyzed the temptation that you should be distracted from.”

“In the daily tasks we measured, people said that the use of distractions was a self-imposed way of dealing with that unpleasant task,” he says.

“I would say that thinking about something else makes you feel more inclined to do that other thing, which means that you lose interest in the task that you really should be doing.”

“So we discovered that the use of distraction was not only the least effective strategy but had a negative effect on your success. You can make you feel better, but does not help you succeed”, he says.


Copyright of the GETTY IMAGES image
Image caption Regulating emotions and encouraging, for example, our good humor, is one of the strategies to carry out tasks that we abhor.


“Without a doubt, people who have a high self-control use this strategy much less than people who have low self-control.”

The truth is that it seems that some people find it even easy to do unpleasant tasks.

“Either you are the person who has this personality that facilitates success, or you need to think about a strategy,” adds Hennecke.

“If there is a conclusion, we can assume that these four strategies should work for all people in their daily lives , ” he says.


The four most effective strategies to overcome difficult challenges

1. Focus on positive consequences: “I remind myself why I do an activity and think about its positive consequences”.

2. Focus on the negative consequences: “I think of the negative consequences that occur if I do not perform this activity”.

3. Think about how soon you will reach the end: “I remind myself that I will soon finish the activity”.

4. Regulate emotions: “I change my way of feeling (for example, I try to be in a good mood)”.

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