I hate unloading the dishwasher. I find it to be one of the single most annoying tasks of my life. I think it stems from the fact that it was one of my chores as a kid and I still attach that mentality to it. It could also just be the fact that it’s a chore in the first place, and nobody really likes to do chores.
It doesn’t matter if we run a cycle once a week or once a month, I’m still going to hate unloading the dishwasher. I will pack that sucker full and fit the dishes in like a special edition Thomas household jigsaw puzzle before I run two cycles instead of one. And yet, whether it’s chock full of dishes, or if there are only five plates and a spoon in there, I will still hate unloading the damn dishwasher.
And I’ll still avoid doing it.
To avoid unloading all the dishes, I’m not ashamed to say I’ll pick out the dishes I need when I need them. A fork here, a bowl there. All the while, stacking the dirty dishes in the sink. Where – by the way – I also hate that they collect grimy, dirty water and refuse to touch them later.
This is a vicious cycle.
One day, a few months ago, when I begrudgingly forced myself to set to the daunting and horrible task of unloading the dishwasher in full, I got to thinking about this whole thing. I decided to time myself to see how long it actually took me to complete the unloading. I was absolutely sure the clock would say “FOREVER. IT TOOK FOREVER, UGH.”
It took me four minutes.
I’ll admit I laughed out loud, mostly at my own ridiculousness. Like, are you serious, Kourtney? That much trouble over something that takes less than five minutes out of your day? Jeez, get over yourself. It’s FOUR MINUTES. And then it’s done.
It was a good little life lesson for me, and a great reminder that in a lot of ways, the buildup is what gets to us, not the task itself.
I think about how I do this in other places in my life too. I have been known to sit outside in my car texting or listening to music to hype myself up to go inside the gym. I have definitely done the same before networking events and meetings. Hell, I’ll literally decide to file a year’s worth of paperwork just to avoid writing a blog post. Also, I’ll collect a laundry pile like this about once a month:
Point being, though, that when I finish unloading the dishwasher, I feel good. And all that avoidance seems a little silly. When I work out, the minutes fly by, and I feel fantastic. I love writing, and even if it takes me a few hours, I feel accomplished. Also, it’s nice to have clean clothes, and I don’t mind doing laundry because I really like my washing machine, which I know is very weird. (It’s the sorting. The damn sorting.)
All that buildup for nothing.
OK, not for nothing, because I end up doing the thing anyway and learning my lesson, which I can then share with you to spare you the trouble of learning it yourself.
We all have our things.
We all have the tasks and activities we avoid. Sometimes it’s big important stuff, like confrontational conversations. Or giving two weeks notice to quit your job. Or going to therapy or the doctor. And sometimes it’s mundane stuff, like unloading the dishwasher. Or doing a workout. Or taking out the trash.
We all, also, have our barriers to those things. Internal, external, sometimes both. No matter the size or significance of the thing, those barriers can be real. And they can certainly be real hard to deal with.
While there’s no one way to deal with your barriers and buildup, and no one approach that’ll work everyone, every time, I do think there are a few practical insights to be gleaned from this dishwasher lesson.
First off, be objective.
Take a page from the dishwasher debacle book and time yourself. If you hate vacuuming, go ahead and do it with this more objective view. Time yourself. Don’t think about how much you hate it the entire time, just do it. Then evaluate what you found out when you’re done. Oh, it only took me nine minutes to finish? Huh, that’s not what I thought it would be. Now that I know, the buildup seems a little out of proportion and the task itself seems a little less daunting. Next time, maybe I can detach a bit more from this and get it done.
The four-minute magic really did the trick for me, but I’ll admit there are still some days when I’m like…no. I’ll do it tomorrow. But then I get annoyed with that mentality too, so I resolve to just do the top rack. Never fails, as soon as I start, I finish. Most of the time, this approach works for any task, including workouts and tough conversations. I mean, once you start, it’s not like you’re going to walk away. It might take some guts, but you’ve got those.
Third, figure out if the buildup is worth it.
The amount of time I waste avoiding unloading the dishwasher, or the consequences I pay having to touch the disgusting wet dishes I let pile up in the sink because I’m avoiding the dishwasher, are often not worth the buildup of just doing the damn thing. Same goes for the time wasted sitting in the car when I could be doing my workout or meeting one person and then getting home sooner so I can watch Great British Baking Show.
Basically, what’s the cost of the mental and emotional strife in the buildup vs. the cost and/or benefit of completing the task?
That last one is really the kicker. Often our reasons for avoiding tasks have nothing to do with the tasks themselves, and everything to do with the significance – warranted, or unwarranted – we assign to them. The stories we tell about them. The emotions we let control them (and ourselves). The worry about the process, or the outcome.
And thus continues the vicious cycle.
Listen, we all have priorities in our lives, we all have things that matter to us, things we really want to be doing. And the reality is that we all have obligations in our lives too, things that don’t matter quite as much but must be done, and a few things we don’t really want to be doing. So here’s the real lesson:
We have the power to shift the balance toward the former if we remove the buildup toward the latter. It frees up a lot of the time and energy that we continually say we don’t have available.
And that sounds pretty nice, doesn’t it?
So hey, try to catch yourself in the buildup this week. Even if you can cut it down to half, I bet you can find a more ideal or fulfilling way to utilize the time and energy you gain.
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