A Simple Way To Make Difficult Tasks More Enjoyable

A Simple Way To Make Difficult Tasks More Enjoyable

About two weeks ago I went running and at the end of my run I saw the high school track near my home and decided to use it help measure my running speed – something I haven’t done since high school (I’m 32 now).

I noticed I was slower than I thought I’d be – running at a pace of close to 11 minutes per mile – but I also noticed that after the second lap I felt I couldn’t bear to do the two more I needed to complete a two mile run.

Since reading psychology researcher Barbara Fredrickson’s book Positivity, I know how useful it is to reduce negative emotions and increase positive ones (it’s much more useful than I ever imagined) so I figured that instead of just forcing myself to complete the final two laps, I would do something to make them more enjoyable.

I decided to look at completing the next two laps as a worthwhile challenge. I’d read that this works based on research that involved teaching people who respond negatively to events (low resilience) to think of them in the same ways that people with more positive emotions (high resilience) do.

Researchers discovered this strategy by announcing a surprise public speaking task to participants in a study.  Participants had taken a test to measure their resilience before hand.  Some participants had high resilience scores and some had low scores.

All participants experienced stress after the public speaking task was announced regardless of their resilience scores.  Stress levels were measured by heart rate and blood pressure. 

Later, researchers said the public speaking part of the study was cancelled.  The high resilience people seemed to recover right away.   But the low resilience people did not.  Their stress was still high as if they were still anticipating the public speaking event.  This lasted for hours afterward.

When questioned, the high resilience people said that although they were not expecting the public speaking task that they decided to “psyche themselves up” for it and look at it as a challenge.

To see if this strategy could be taught to people with low resilience Fredrickson and her team decided to conduct a second experiment.

This time, they specifically identified people with low resilience scores to study.  All of these people were given the surprise public speaking task as well and told that it was cancelled but with one difference – hey were instructed to “psyche themselves up” and try looking at the experience as a challenge.

This time, after the public speaking task was “cancelled” their heart rate and blood pressure quickly returned to normal.  They got the same results as the people with high resilience scores.

Since I’d recently read about this study, I decided to try the same strategy they were taught – to look at the events as a challenge to overcome.

Once I did, I noticed that I felt better right away. I felt enthused to meet this challenge I’d set for myself. And I actually ran the last two laps a bit faster than the first two.

This gave me a sense of pride. And pride is one of the 10 types of positive emotions that in high enough doses can change your life according to Barbara Fredrickson’s research.

I’ll write more about her research in my next post as she discovered a special tipping point for positive emotions that when reached has far-reaching positive consequences for you.

Until then, leave a comment below.  I can’t wait to hear from you.

Reference for the study: http://www.unc.edu/peplab/publications/Waughetal2008.pdf

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