How can I bring myself to like doing something?
April 13, 2008 11:20 PM   Subscribe

How can I bring myself to like doing something?

I have been thinking a lot recently about how important it is for me to enjoy the activities that keep me busy -- that is, my classes at school, my job, my exercise regimen, and so on. Same goes for practicing good habits, such as eating right and not procrastinating. I see two reasons for this:

(1) I'll be happier if I enjoy the ways I spend my time.
(2) I am rarely successful when I force myself to do something. The only way I have ever really been successful at something is if I have loved doing it.

The second reason is possibly the more persuasive of the two for me; my distractible nature makes me the embodiment of the saying, "you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink." For example, I'm currently taking a math class at school that I'm not too gung-ho about. Even though I've been forcing myself to work hard and attend all lectures, I've been daydreaming during lecture and learning little. However, I recently started a side project in which I've been using the techniques I've been learning in class to solve problems that are relevant to my life, and suddenly, I have started finding the class more interesting and paying attention.

Which leads me to the question: how can I make myself love doing something? A good approach to this question seems to be to find out what conditions led me to like the things I do like, and to replicate those conditions in new settings. Here are some things I've thought of:

- Keep myself conscious of how the activity/habit has a practical impact in my life. (This is extremely important for me personally.)
- Regularly expose myself to the rewards of doing it. (i.e. don't delay gratification for too long)
- Do the activity in a pleasant setting, to develop a positive association with it.
- Be around other people who like doing it.
- Do it in conjunction with activities I already like (i.e. boring statistics class + interest in baseball = study the statistics of baseball).

However, I doubt I've covered them all; there must be an entire field of psychology behind this. In fact, I think I remember reading some tips on this in a Tony Robbins book at one point. Does anyone have insights, tips, or links/references to share on this topic?
posted by lunchbox to Grab Bag (10 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
Pardon me if I'm missing something, and probably I am...but are you speaking to things you must do and since you have to do them you don't want to waste your life being miserable? Because with so much variety and nuance in the universe you reach an age when, yeah, try new things from time to time, but why stick with something you just don't enjoy? Which is why I refuse to work a 'good paying' job (after a decade plus of misery as a carpenter)...I'd rather enjoy what I do and live frugally/creatively. And for me, that precludes math. of course there is food, something about trying something 21 times and if you just don't like it you probably never will. but one should always try new things
posted by dawson at 11:56 PM on April 13, 2008

You can make lectures more interesting by being more creative in your note-taking e.g. by diagramming what's being described rather than just writing down the words. Look up mind maps for example. This way, you're taking a relatively passive experience and turning it into something that requires active engagement.
posted by tomcooke at 12:23 AM on April 14, 2008

I would never recommend religion per se to anyone for any purpose unless they specifically express a need for it, but the concept of mindfulness, particularly for me as instantiated in its zen flavour, was for me, when I was younger, a very useful practice in allowing myself to live in the moment and fully appreciate what I was doing, even if that thing was 'unpleasant' or difficult. It is very possible to adopt useful ideas from these traditions without having to declare oneself 'buddhist' or anything of the kind.

It's cliched, I know, but it did help me.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:01 AM on April 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

One thing which I read here, which has impacted me in a huge way:
Motivation comes after action.

Although there's nothing that I want to start/try right now, I've been surprised how accurate this sentence is. Take for example, my habbit of running every morning. Even though I did not need any motivation when I started running every morning, I've started noticing little things which've pretty much made sure that I run every morning; whether it's the sweet smile of the barista who makes coffee for me every morning :) (My running course takes me to a coffee shop about 3 miles away), or a couple of friends I've made during the course of this activity.

You'll be surprised to find things which will make you keep doing whatever you want to do. Plus, you get the high of actually doing something useful with your time, which can be a huge motivator in itself.

Good luck! :)
posted by cyanide at 1:39 AM on April 14, 2008 [4 favorites]

Two complementary ways you can approach being alive: do what you enjoy, enjoy what you do. The second way is generally cheaper.

As stavros says, mindfulness helps. And "motivation follows action" is sound, as well.

Something else I've been meaning to get around to trying out is a piece of advice I read here on AskMe, about how to stop being woken by an alarm clock being a hideous assault every. single. morning: do it with habit retraining. Devote some time in the middle of the day to setting the alarm for five minutes from now, getting into bed, waiting for the alarm to go off, then immediately slapping the stop button, jumping out of bed and hitting the shower. Repeat this exercise several times per day for several days. Allegedly, this pattern eventually "takes" in the morning as well. As a confirmed night owl and worshipper of the Holy Sleep-In I am skeptical, but I will get around to trying this out... Unbending intent, that's the ticket.
posted by flabdablet at 4:09 AM on April 14, 2008

Consistent, immediate positive reinforcement for the desired behavior usually works. Devising reinforcement schedules can take some creativity, though. Aubrey Daniels has a lot to say on the matter.
posted by Coventry at 5:23 AM on April 14, 2008

Breath into your belly.
posted by Furious Fitness at 5:51 AM on April 14, 2008

When I was younger my philosophy was 'learn to like things that are good for you'. While I still struggle with it, most of us enjoy our rituals and little games. So it might be making a task a small contest (how good can I do this? how fast can I do x? etc) or realizing how a certain diet changes how things taste (e.g., whenever I start eating plain yogurt with fruit, things with added sugar start tasting overly sweet). The language you use with yourself can make a difference too -- rather than I have to (or "make myself") do my pilates, I'm able to do so (have the privilege of good food and exercise). I think learning to like things that are good for you, it's a more subtle joy (quite unlike raw cookie dough, which I usually regret in 10 minutes after eating). Sharing your small victories/tricks (you seem to already have a few tricks) with friends also makes it easier.
posted by ejaned8 at 6:59 AM on April 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

ps. There's many, many theorists that have discussed this -- the book Flow, the psychology of experience might be a good read. Or you can look in the field of educational psychology at people such as Bandura, which is just one example.
posted by ejaned8 at 7:05 AM on April 14, 2008

I think the simple answer, based on my vast experience with this topic is: you can't (easily). It's a lot of work and bears uncertain results: you're better off discovering and pursuing what you actually like. Instead of trying to make sport x lovable, find sport y that you like better.

If you have no choice but to do something, then of course you should try to find those aspects in it that you most enjoy and focus on those. But that's tricky, so you're better off seeing if you can get around that as much as possible. In a job, for instance, there are often creative ways to give things you don't like to people who like them better, for instance, and to take on things that they don't like but that you enjoy.
posted by shivohum at 9:07 AM on April 14, 2008

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