Can’t bring yourself to shovel snow? Or balance your chequebook? Or clear your inbox? Or one of the million other mundane but essential modern tasks? Well, 99U has a pretty good tip: just tell yourself that it’ll only take five minutes.
99U writer Benjamin Spall explains: “The logic here is if you tell yourself you’re only going to exercise, write, wash the dishes, or clean your apartment for ‘only five minutes,’ your brain doesn’t have much of a leg to stand on. Nobody can argue with five minutes, including your brain, so it lets you have it.”
But can the tactic used by mothers on surely teenagers everywhere work in real life? I decided to try it out myself. I’ve been meaning to start the morning with some mindfulness meditation (which has all kinds of benefits, including reduced stress, improved decision making, and being less influenced by others). I’ve even taken some classes (which I recommend). But I had some trouble making the leap from classes to daily meditation, so on Monday morning, two weeks ago, I woke up and promised myself that I’d only do five minutes of mindfulness meditation—and after that, I could do things more satisfying to the reptilian part of the brain, like eat eggs on toast and find things to be annoyed at in the paper.
On that first day, I ended up doing about ten minutes, just because I lost track of time. And the time I spent meditating crept upwards day-by-day. Sometimes it was because I got lost in what I was doing, and some days I ended up thinking, “Well, I’m already doing it—I might as well keep going.”
That’s right, inertia helped me build a good habit—the same habit, I should add, that I hadn’t been building because inertia made it difficult. So this trick is like psychological aikido, and it works because it’s pretty hard to argue with just five minutes.