Article of the Day: How to Deal with Boring or Mundane Tasks

Use your curiosity to enjoy activities such as washing dishes and organizing.

Character strengths have been referred to as our hidden superpowers, as our natural energy sources, and as our best, innermost qualities that make us human. What might surprise you is that your character strengths are more versatile than you realize. It’s obvious that your character strengths can help you manage and overcome stress and they can help you flourish and be at your best. Several studies now show this. But, what about using your character strengths with the most mundane of activities?

Let’s see.

Professor Ellen Langer

Harvard scientist, Ellen Langer, put this to the test with a study in which she randomly divided people into 2 groups, asking both groups to do an activity they did not like (something mundane or boring such as vacuuming, doing dishes, or dusting the house). For one of the two groups, she added an instruction – while you are doing the activity you dislike, pay attention to 3 novel things while you do the activity. For example, those who chose washing the dishes as their “disliked activity” might pay attention to the multitude of little bubbles the soap creates, the weight of each dish, and the engravings on the plates. The groups then reported back to the experimenter. The findings revealed that those participants in the novelty group reported enjoying the boring activity more and they also reported doing the activity more on their own after the experiment was over!

Character strengths – in this case the strength of curiosity – helped to transform the boring and the mundane. It brought the participants to not abhor and avoid such tasks but quite the opposite, to actually engage in them more.

Let’s put this into action for a more complex task – one that is often boring and avoided by many people: the task of transforming or organizing your workspace (or a space at home).

What follows is an example of a stepwise approach in which various character strengths, starting with curiosity, can be applied to not only complete the task but to enjoy it more. Why not turn to your natural energy reserves to help you? Research shows it works so let’s put it to the test! These 5 steps might be referred to as a “space audit” you conduct on your environment:

bored1.) Turn your attention to your work-space. Use your curiosity to ask questions such as:

What is currently working well in my work-space?
What about my space enhances my energy and makes me feel good?
What in my work-space drains me?
How might I bring more of “me” into my space?
How might I express my personal values in this space (e.g., family, hard work, friends, spirituality)?
Be curious and reflect on what emerges for you.

2.) Tap into your strength of creativity.

Allow new ideas to pop up in your mind. Let go of your “judging” mind and inner critic. Instead, be open to all ideas as you brainstorm the possibilities of what your work-space could be like.

3.) Use your prudence strength to organize.

Prudence can help you map out your ideas, plan, and decide what you would like to implement. To be practical (i.e., prudent), start with one idea and take action. This might be to organize a drawer, to add some new photos, to bring in a plant, or to move some furniture.

4.) Stay focused, using your self-regulation strength.

When you get distracted or lose interest in your space audit, use your strength of self-regulation to stay focused and return to the task at hand. Repeat, again and again.

5.) Use your strength of appreciation of beauty to savor what you’ve done, each step of the way.

Sit, breathe, and observe your space. Pause. Allow yourself to feel joy, excitement, or even peace as you observe your “new” or emerging space. Prolong the positive feelings. Appreciate your space.

Ryan M. Niemiec
, Psy.D., is the education director at the VIA Institute on Character.

This article appeared in Psychology Today on 16 May 2017

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