Lifeline


I watched my own brain nearly succumb to this trap when I was researching this chapter. I generally love reading psychology books at coffee shops and then talking about their ideas with my colleagues and students. My brain considers that “fun” and “playtime.” But because I had a deadline for finishing this book and I needed to read those studies for research, suddenly my mindset changed. Reading psychology books was now “work,” and my brain attempted to avoid what I normally love. Tasks I once completed quickly and joyfully now made me feel as though I were wading through mental molasses.

I realized it was time to move the fulcrum. I thought about how I was defining the task mentally (menial labor) and consciously changed it (to reading for enrichment). I also changed the language I used to describe the activity to other people. After telling a few friends I was at Starbucks reading for pleasure, I started to realize that in fact I was. Altering my conception of the time constraints also proved helpful. Tal Ben-Shahar has pointed out that the term “deadline” is about as negative as you can get. How true! He likes to use the term “lifeline” instead. For me, the renewed enthusiasm for my work came when I ignored the constraint entirely and thought only of the intrinsic value I derived from the activity itself, instead of simply when it was “due.” It also helped to stop focusing on how I would “use” the material I was reading later on. When we reconnect ourselves with the pleasure of the “means,” as opposed to only focusing on the “ends,” we adopt a mindset more conducive not only to enjoyment, but to better results. (I’m pleased to report that I did in fact turn my manuscript in on time, in case you’re wondering.)