Myth #1: You need to be motivated to start a task…
“But, mooooom, I don’t feel like it!”
We’ve all heard children reject a task due to their inherent lack of motivation to want to do it. Here’s the thing: Desire is not always a natural predecessor to task initiation. As Dr. Tim Pyshyl, an expert on procrastination, advises, we need to “let go of the misconception that our motivational state must match the task at hand.” In other words, sometimes we don’t want to do something, but we do it anyway.
Expect that when children have to get something done (e.g., homework or getting out of bed to go to school), sometimes they won’t feel like it. To surmount this obstacle, help them make a plan to overcome this feeling using something called implementation intentions. This self-regulatory strategy suggests creating contingency plans using “if – then” statements.
For example, “If [obstacle], then I will [take this effective action].”
Your child’s statements might look like this:
“If I don’t feel like getting up to go to school, then I will do a super high kick out of bed and run into the warm shower.”
“If I feel like hitting the snooze button on my alarm clock, then I will push the clock far enough away that I can’t reach the snooze button.”
Myth #2: If you want to get it done, tell yourself to “Just do it!”
Nike has glamorized the notion that when it comes to our goals, we should ‘Just do it!’ For most, this puts a focus on the finish line or end result of a task. Imagine running a marathon and only thinking about the 26th mile. That is daunting.
Stop focusing on the finish line and instead focus on the starting line. If we simply have children concentrate on getting started, the task now becomes a very doable baby step or a mini-goal. Once the first baby step is taken, it becomes easier to take another, and another. This creates momentum. Instead of ‘Just do it!’ have kids adopt the slogan ‘Just start it!’
Myth #3: Visualize your success to succeed
Visualizing a successful outcome without rubbing it up against the reality of potential obstacles is simply fantasizing. Research shows that just fantasizing about an outcome can weaken one’s desire to work toward a goal as the mind can be tricked into thinking that the wish has already been fulfilled.
Teach kids to WOOP—a powerful and creative goal-setting technique created by Dr. Gabriele Oettingen. How do you WOOP?
Wish – Think of a goal you have that is both meaningful and challenging, but still feasible.
Outcome – Imagine in detail the best outcome from realizing your wish. Paint a picture in your mind of what the accomplishment looks and feels like.
Obstacle – Think about what prevents you from reaching your goal – what obstacles do you face? Many times feelings, thoughts, or behaviors are the biggest hurdle standing in the way of realizing a goal.
Plan – Make a plan using implementation intentions. Again, if [obstacle], then [I will take effective action].
Wish: “I want to have someone to sit with at lunch every day.”
Outcome: “I won’t feel left out. I can see myself sitting at lunch with a friend, talking, laughing, and feeling included.”
Obstacle: “I’m new at school and when I tried to sit next to a group of kids last week, they just stared at me. I’m really scared to try again.”
Plan: “If I’m scared to approach a group of people at lunch, then I’ll try to find just one person I know from one of my classes and ask to sit with him or her.”