Life would be grand if we only did what our fleeting hearts wanted to do, each moment of the day.
Unfortunately, the laundry, taxes, and difficult conversations would never get done. The best books would never be written. All the achievements of humankind would be imagined, not realized.
So what should we do if we’re facing a task we don’t want to do? Well, we can run, and find distraction. That usually works, until it causes problems. Or we can find a way to get crap done.
Here’s how to get crap done.
Instead of giving in to distraction, sit there for a minute. Why do you need to do this task you don’t want to do? Sure, because it’s on your todo list, or because someone else wants you to do it. Or you’re getting paid for it, or someone’s got to do it. But why? What will this task help accomplish? Who is it helping? Dig deeper and find the good that you’re creating in the world. If you’re a dishwasher, you might not think getting dirty dishes clean matters, but those dishes are required to serve food, and the food nourishes people and it can make them happy and then they can go out and do something good in the world with a smile on their face. So connect the dishes to the good.
The thing that’s stopping you from doing the task, or wanting to do it, is fear. You fear failure or looking bad, you fear the discomfort or confusion of the task. So take a moment to look inward and see this fear. Feel it. Accept it as part of you, instead of running from it.
If this fear were gone, you could just do the task easily. So what is causing the fear? Some ideal you have, some fantasy about life being free of discomfort, confusion, embarrassment, imperfection. That’s not reality, just fantasy, and it’s getting in your way by causing fear. So let go of the fantasy, the ideal, the expectation. And just embrace reality: this task before you, nothing else.
You are caught up with the results of the task—what will happen if you do it, what failure might result. So forget about the result—you can’t know what it will be anyway. That’s in the future. For now, focus on your intention: why are you doing it? If it’s to make the life of a loved one better, then that’s your intention. That intention is true no matter what the result is. Focus on this, not what bad things might or might not happen.
Doing something hard sucks. It’s not easy, and often you’re confused about how to do it because you haven’t done it much before. So what? Hard things suck, but life isn’t always peaches with roses on top (and a sprinkle of cinnamon). It sucks sometimes, and that’s perfectly fine. Embrace all of life, thorns and pits and all. Life would be boring without the suck. So smile, embrace the suck, and get moving.
We tend to rebel against restraints: "I don’t want to do this! I want freedom!" Well, unfortunately, having unlimited freedom means unlimited choices, unlimited distractions, and nothing gets done. Simplify by putting restraints on yourself: do only one task at a time. Do just this one task for now. Do it for 10 minutes. Forbid yourself from going to any other websites or checking anything on your phone or doing anything else that you like to do for distraction, until you do those 10 minutes. Ask a friend to hold you accountable—another restraint that often helps.
If you have to write something, just write a sentence. Then get up, get some water, stretch. Pat yourself on the back for getting started! Now do a little more: write a few more sentences. Get up, take a mental break (don’t go to another website), do a few pushups. Go back, do a bit more. Pretty soon, you’re in the flow of it.
Your mind will want to run. That’s okay, that’s the nature of minds. They are scared, and they will rationalize going to distraction, going to what’s easy. Watch this happen, don’t try to stop the phenomena, but don’t give it anywhere to run to. Watch the mind want to run, but don’t act. Just watch. It will eventually calm down.
This task might seem hard or sucky, but actually there are a lot of great things about it. For example, if you’re doing it for work, hey, you have a job! You have money to buy food and shelter! You have eyes and ears and a mind to do this task! Imagine life without all these things, and then try feeling sorry for yourself for having to do something so hard. Or, instead, try being grateful for the opportunity to do some good in the world, to learn from this task, to get better, to be mindful as you do it.
By meditating on your intentions and fear, by letting go of ideals and embracing the suck, by giving yourself constraints and finding gratitude … you’re learning about yourself. This task, as mundane or scary as it might seem, is teaching you about your mind. That’s a wonderful thing. So this task is a huge learning opportunity. What a wonderful way to spend your time!
This article originally appeared on ZenHabits and is reprinted with permission.