How do I deal with an oppositional child? (Child within, that is.)
September 14, 2012 4:07 PM   Subscribe

There are things that I genuinely want to do and like doing, but something in me rebels. Help.

How can I get past the big fat NO that emerges pretty much anytime I start or contemplate just about any endeavor? I genuinely enjoy having a clean house, and when there's music on, I genuinely enjoy cleaning. (Really!) At the opposite end of the spectrum, I enjoy making crafts. However, there is a part of me that is very much like an oppositional, frustrating child that says "FUCK no we are not going to do that. We are just going to surf the internet/take a nap/watch TV." Too often that part wins out, resulting in self-loathing and lack of satisfaction that I know I would get if I were only to JUST DO IT. Since I already know this, why do I let the frustrating child win -- and more importantly, how do I get past this problem (which has been pretty much life-long)? Please note: I am already considering therapy, so please don't exhort me to go. However, if you have been in therapy for this problem specifically, I would love to hear how you and your therapist dealt with it. Also: yes, I have been treated for ADHD and tried many medications. They do not help with this particular problem -- they just make me a more intense web surfer.
posted by summer sock to Health & Fitness (21 answers total) 84 users marked this as a favorite
Read this. The whole thing. At the end, yell "MOTHERFUCKING GROWNUP!" and go do the dishes. It works for me.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:14 PM on September 14, 2012 [13 favorites]

I just had 9 days off of work and the only thing I accomplished for myself was the dishes. I did a whole bunch of things for other people though. Personally, I think I just want people to be happy with me, and once I remove that incentive the other benefits just aren't enough. I'll be watching this thread with interest.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 5:07 PM on September 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Read "The War of Art."
posted by gentian at 5:48 PM on September 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

I like Unfuck Your Habitat. She espouses a variant of the Pomodoro Technique, where tasks are timed and time is allotted for breaks/goofing off. Plus, lots of profanity and animated GIFs!
posted by mon-ma-tron at 5:51 PM on September 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

(Also, yes, Hyperbole and a Half is awesomesauce.)
posted by mon-ma-tron at 5:53 PM on September 14, 2012

Invite people over. Preferably your mother or your aunt. Your place will be cleaned in no time flat.

Seriously. I let things go and then I get my groove on and straighten it out. Just recently, I heaved a bunch of crap off of my dining room table and filled 2 garbage bags with that and other junk. Dining room tables are junk magnets as far as I'm concerned.

That done, I did a corner of my living room, again, chucking junk, packing up extra rocks in my mineral collection that I'd had scattered about, mopping, vacuuming chairs. Now, those two sections done, I feel much more confident in tackling other areas. The less clutter, the easier it is to clean next time. Yeah, I am a dumb fuck for letting it build up, but I did, I recognized it, and now I have a Plan.

Yes, you could be a perfect person with perfect routines, and if that suits you, cool. Or you could be like the rest of us, let stuff pile up and not feel guilty for not being Martha Fucking Stewart, who has help, you know. My three mandatory things are: kitty litter scooped, check. Stove and kitchen counter cleaned off: check. Clean underwear in the drawer: check.

But if my female relatives are coming to visit, the place will be CLEAN in 3 hours. But I'm a company cleaner. Welcome to the club.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 6:27 PM on September 14, 2012

My technique for this - and I do the same thing for stuff I want to do but know I probably shouldn't - is to ask my self, tomorrow will I have been glad I did X?

This works well for me, because I try to listen to that voice. The nice thing is it still lets me do stupid things once in a while and have fun, but also do smart, adult, productive things when I'd rather do... anything else.
posted by iftheaccidentwill at 6:27 PM on September 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

Hah, I'm like that. And I love that Hyperbole and a Half post.

Breaking chores down into small chunks is really good. Set the timer for 15 minutes, work on the dishes. When the timer goes off, surf the internet and drink iced tea for 5 minutes. When the timer goes off again, finish the dishes or start the next task.

Accountability buddies are good - sometimes sending a friend and email saying "I am going to clean all the things, I REALLY AM" kicks something into gear for me and helps me get started.

Having people over definitely motivates me to clean.

For hobbies - the real key seems to be just getting started. Get comfortable with a craft project and a good TV show or radio program and some iced tea.

Oh. Never give yourself an entire weekend to clean. You'll figure you have lots of time and you can have a leisurely breakfast and watch some TV and then you'll sort out a plan. Nope. An hour of balls-to-the-wall cleaning is a lot better.

If you figure out how to limit your TV/Internet time without immense effort, please tell me.
posted by bunderful at 7:51 PM on September 14, 2012

You know, Allie Bosch (the author of that comic DarlingBri linked) was treated for severe depression not long after that... I know you said you have been treated for ADHD and tried many medications. But if you strongly relate to that comic, it might be fruitful to ask your therapist about whether treatment for depression might be appropriate for you, if you haven't yet.
Here is something totally different. Is it possible for you to get yourself into any kind of situation where you actually wouldn't eat unless you did the things you needed to do, and there would be no safety net for you? I think that, like nothing else, can really snap people out of this sort of rut when it's just procrastination and not something more serious underlying it. Can you take even just a week or two and get yourself into some kind of re-set situation where you need to be totally self-reliant and you'll actually be extremely uncomfortable if you procrastinate on anything?
posted by cairdeas at 7:52 PM on September 14, 2012

I tend to do little maintenance cleaning things in the morning while I'm getting ready for work since I am already in go mode - only five minutes at a time, but it is enough to keep the ship sailing at least.

The no to all the things voice is hard. When I get the guilt ridden I should change what I'm doing feeling but hear the no, I physically get up and move for a minute (short walk, rest room break, stretch, etc). This breaks the keep surfing the internet endless loop and lets me actually decide what I want to do when I get back.

Sometimes I still pick nap/tv/internet.
posted by skrozidile at 8:39 PM on September 14, 2012

I find tricking myself sometimes works. I don't have to do something until it's complete, I tell myself. I onky have to do it for five minutes. Then, if I want to, I can stop. Or, if i'd like to keep going, that's ok too.

What usually ends up happening is that by the time fice minutes is up, I've gotten into whatever the task is, and I don't mind finishing it. Or, I am already sick of it, and I get to stop before becoming super anngood, and have gotten closer to finishing. Either way, it's good.

Sometimes, I'll use parts of a task instead of time. (I.e. "I don't have to clean my room! I just have to pick up the clothes off the floor!" Next thing I know, I'm vacuuming and dusting. Whoopsiedoodle.)
posted by windykites at 10:49 PM on September 14, 2012

*only, not onky; five, not fice; and super annoyed, not anngood. I'm not sure what happened there, except that I'm typing on my phone.
posted by windykites at 10:52 PM on September 14, 2012

I know the phenomenon, that feeling of "nahh, don't feel like doing that" even for things I really enjoy once I get going and do them.

Two things on the psychological background:

First, I recommend reading up on cognitive therapy and in particular recognizing 'automatic thoughts'. These are (often negative) judgments that go through your head very quickly and associate with the negative emotions; learning to catch them can be very helpful in knowing why you feel the way you do, and in the long term feeling that way less often. David Burns discusses automatic thoughts in "Feeling Good", his book on cognitive therapy.

For me, these negative thoughts can be things along the lines of "ugh, that'll be tricky and I'll fumble and it'll be frustrating" or "ugh, that'll take forever" or "ugh, I hate organizing and filing papers", etc.

Second, are you maybe someone who's naturally pretty talented and was praised for it as a child? Carol Dweck ("Mindset: The New Psychology of Success") suggests that people who've been praised for their innate abilities rather than for their efforts can become shy to tackle projects where success isn't guaranteed, i.e. that projects feel "risky" to them because they might fail at them and not get the praise they're used to. This resonated with me a lot and it's been hard to shift it in my head.

What helps in practice? For me, commitments to other people shut out a lot of the hesitation that otherwise comes up in my head. I.e. if I've agreed to go running with someone, I'll just go. But if I decide to go running by myself, all bets are off on whether it actually happens. Also, it helps to focus on the desired outcome, i.e. to actively think "How nice would it be to have a nice clutter-free living room?" rather than to focus on how much work it'll be. Doesn't work for everything, but often gets me in a more positive mindset and gets me off my chair.
posted by myotheraccount at 2:49 AM on September 15, 2012

This is something I struggle with too. Making lists helps me - even of very basic things that I'd probably do anyway. Star charts or reward charts might help, or an online to-do list application (I used to use Ta-Da Lists, but looks like that's dead noe). I've had some success with Health Month - you can for instance give yourself a goal of crafting five nights a week. Here's a thread about the MetaFilter Health Month group. Immutable deadlines help me with crafting, too - knowing I need to finish something for a birthday, for instance.
posted by paduasoy at 4:07 AM on September 15, 2012

Oh, you could also try programmes to control internet addiction, as recently discussed on the green - Powerless over the Net.
posted by paduasoy at 4:10 AM on September 15, 2012

Have you always been like this your whole entire life? Or have you had productive periods in the past but its only lately (for whatever span of time you want to define "lately") that you've been slacking off?

If it's only been for the past couple weeks/months/years that you've been slacking off, maybe you are just really, really tired. I spent the last year or two feeling similarly unmotivated, and getting worried about how umotivated I was (seriously, I could have written this exact question), but then I realized it was because I'd been through a lot of stress and sleep loss for those same couple years. So a month ago I took one of my weeks' vacation time and spent it doing ABSOLUTELY AND UTTERLY NOTHING unless I wanted to do it. I didn't go anywhere, I just stayed here, and I didn't do anything unless I woke up in the morning and wanted to do it. If I woke up and said "feh, I don't want to do anything today but eat ice cream and watch American's Next Top Model reurns," then by God that's what I did and I felt no guilt. I slept when I wanted to, I ate when I wanted to, and if I started getting those guilty "oh, I should be vacuuming or something, shouldn't I?" feelings, I stopped them and said, "nah, only if I really want to."

I did a lot of sitting around and doing nothing. But towards the end of the week there were a couple of productive things I genuinely felt like doing ("...Hey, you know, I kind of want to take a walk today" or "hmmm, while I'm at it, let's give the kitchen cabinets a cleaning out...."). And most importantly, after another week or so, I started feeling more motivated to do a lot more things overall.

Those couple years of stress had just burned me out, and I hadn't given myself sufficient chance to recharge up to that point. That one week is all it took. If you have been more productive in the past and it's only now that you're feeling unmotivated, maybe all you need is a break. Try taking it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:55 AM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I noticed that a lot of this advice is for chore-like stuff like cleaning, but I totally feel you on the not being able to get yourself to do things that you know you'll enjoy, dammit! It's really frustrating.

I've recently started doing a few things that have helped so far, though I can't yet say if any of them will "stick."

1. I bought a "projects" whiteboard for my apartment. On it I keep lists of projects that I would like to do. Literally anything that can be done around the house, whether it's "learn how to bake gluten-free bread," or "clean the bathroom" or "start watching Downton Abby on Netflix." One key thing is to divide the list into chores and fun things and put them into different lists. Sometimes fun things can start to seem like chores if you lump them into the same group as things like cleaning the bathroom. Anyway, these lists are helpful when I get into a "mindlessly surfing the internet" rut. It's kind of the adult equivalent of asking your mom for ideas of what to do on a rainy Saturday afternoon when you were a kid.

2. Nthing "unfuck your habitat." It has been soooooo ridiculously helpful for me. I don't know about you, but I will get into this mindset where things like "cleaning the apartment" just seem so daunting. The best thing that UFYH has taught me is that it rarely actually takes me more than 20 minutes to get most of my apartment looking at least presentable (which to me means clutter put away, floors swept, dishes in the dishwasher). And heavier tasks like cleaning out the fridge almost never take the whole 20 minutes.

3. One idea I got from a mefite (but I can't remember who): do something productive every night when you get home before you turn on the TV/open your laptop. Maybe that's an UFYH challenge, maybe it's going for a walk, maybe it's making dinner. Or maybe it's something fun like working on one of your hobbies for a half hour. It's really tempting, at the end of a draining day and commute, to just plop down and space out, but that also turns into inertia really quickly. I've found that, counterintutively, I actually feel more refreshed if I do something active when I first get home. I do give myself veg time later in the evening though because I do think that's important.

One other thing that I think is important to remember, as another ADHDer - a lot of researchers believe that one of the things that makes ADHDers different is that the "reward centers" in our brains work differently, which I think is why it's easy for us to get stuck in patterns of internet or TV inertia. We know that an hour on AskMe or watching 30 Rock reruns will give us a certain amount of guaranteed enjoyment, whereas the enjoyment you'll get from cleaning the bathroom or working on a craft is either delayed (with cleaning) or less certain (with the craft).

Once I realized that, it actually became easier for me to remind myself that what I was looking for was not necessarily the mediocre level of enjoyment I'd get right now but the higher level of potential enjoyment I'd get later, if that makes sense.

Finally, remember that this is a process. You don't need to beat yourself up (you're not a "frustrating child") and you don't need to be perfect tomorrow. Long-term habit change is one of the hardest things for anyone, but especially people with ADHD. You just need to commit to trying one or two things this week, sticking with them for a month and then trying one or two different things next month if the first two things don't work. And I second the recommendation of the book "Mindset" which helped me a lot, too.
posted by lunasol at 5:17 PM on September 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

If you figure out how to limit your TV/Internet time without immense effort, please tell me.

DVR. I record things I want to watch and have a schedule for watching them. I know this works because I work from home, and so theoretically I could spend all afternoon watching Season 6 of Bones, but in fact I don't. As a bonus, no commercials!

You can also use things like TV as a reward - like you can't watch the shows in today's lineup until you spend 20 minutes doing something, anything at all. Set a timer and throw in laundry, load the dishwasher, tidy the livingroom, whatever.

Yes, I am 40 years old and I use timers like a toddler.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:47 PM on September 15, 2012

I share a similar subtle feeling of something like an inner child or teenager who is a part of me trying to make up for something. Or even get revenge.
For example, my parents forbade TV and they would hide my comic books and I was so much a social outcast, nerds avoided me. So there's one possible explanation for the occasional attack of glee in just dropping 30 hours say on catching up with all the 80s action films 12 year old me should have watched. Or when I discovered anime. Many ounces. Time you've enjoyed wasting was not really wasted.
But I do also see that my parents felt the need to e.g. hide my comics collection because I was so compulsive it was scaring the fuck out of them. Of course just keeping / tearing me away from rabbit holes didn't really help with learning appropriate strategies. I ended up hating them for a behaviour I couldn't understand. I mean, they gave my first computer away. At the time I must have already had that knack of burying time capsules of powerful resentment which maybe now makes me do things I don't really even like.
But later when I'd been around kids more and seen some healthy families I seemed to understand better. A 3 year old can't understand why not to drink an entire 2 litre bottle of coke for example. There's times when having adults around is actually good thing and the adult can deal with frustrating kids in a clever way that the kid doesn't feel he or she has to rebel.
On preview I second the people workaround. People cleaning. Buddies for activities.
posted by yoHighness at 8:33 PM on September 15, 2012

Also, transactional analysis.
posted by yoHighness at 8:35 PM on September 15, 2012

I have had this for a long time and still suffer from it to some extent. Even with things I love to do and know will put me in a better mood (going for a run, for instance). It's taken me four years to get to the point where I can just go for a run without making a big struggle out of it.

Mindfulness meditation has done a lot to help me detach somewhat from the sulky feelings of DON'T WANNA. Instead of the inner Tiger Mother browbeating the inner child for not wanting to go for a run / clean the house / brush my teeth at night and the child digging in its heels, resolute on spoiling the day, I now have a sort of inner mediator who can listen patiently to both sides. The sulky child usually lets me do things once it's been heard.

Also, have you tried compassionately asking your frustrating child what it really wants? Interesting things began to happen when I stopped shutting mine up with internet/mindless reading/Doritos and started listening to its needs. A good dose of real play, real relaxation and meaningful contact with others (not just numbing with MSG and solitary time-dissipating activities) usually does me and my productivity a world of good.

This kind of imaginative exercise is bread and butter to a therapist. See Internal Family Systems Therapy.
posted by stuck on an island at 8:49 AM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

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