We all do things we would rather not do – attend a meeting that we know will be unpleasant, participate in an activity that makes us nervous… or sit down to a day’s work that stretches far ahead of us. There may be nothing we can do to avoid such tasks, but we can reduce our stress by rewarding ourselves when we achieve them ‘deferred gratification‘. The reward can be tiny or substantial, and can be taken immediately after the event or at some time in the future there are no rules. The point is that you decide your own reward.
I observe the use of deferred gratification almost every time small children are brought unwillingly to see me by fraught mothers. The phrase ‘I’ll get you some sweets after if you behave’ is usually said more in hope than in expectation, but it sometimes works. Little Johnny wrecks my waiting room, is tolerably well behaved on promises of sweets when seeing me, and resumes his wrecking behaviour the minute he leaves the surgery. It is only when we grow up that an understanding of the ‘work today, jam tomorrow’ idea becomes apparent.
The editor of a major publication knows each day is going to be chaotic the minute he gets into the office. To counter this, on his way into work he does one of two things. First, he looks at the TV listings for that evening and decides which programme he is going to watch while relaxing with a glass of wine. If there is nothing he particularly wants to see, he then takes out a pocket cookery book and decides on a new recipe he will try instead, often buying the ingredients before he gets to work. These are his two ways of looking past the stress he knows is waiting for him, and helping him get through the day. If you also use the tip of dividing a task into bite-sized chunks, you will at least feel you have some control over your day.
There may be occasions when you cannot claim your reward. You are kept late at the office, so cannot get home to try out that new recipe or watch your favourite programme. Accept that this will happen from time to time, but remember to give yourself a reward later, even if it takes a different form. Should your week be so busy you never pick up any of your rewards, have one large treat at the weekend such as dining out rather than making a meal for yourself. Remember why you have earned your reward, so you have a positive reaction the next time you need to look past a stressful day.
We all have to do things we do not want to from time to time. The trick is to look past them and think of the reward you will give yourself for doing them.Image courtesy of The Shopping Sherpa