Picture yourself on the other side

My Medium column this week talks about “A mental trick to make any task less intimidating.” That is a click-bait headline for sure (maybe it should have been “one weird mental trick…”) but here’s the idea. Whenever you’re facing something that seems a bit intimidating, picture yourself on the other side. When one of my kids wanted to ride a particular roller coaster, but was struggling with losing his nerve, I noted that it would be over in less than 2 minutes. Even if it was terrible…it was only 2 minutes. Whereas if he didn’t do it, he’d spend a lot more than 2 minutes debating that choice on the ride home!

Picturing ourselves on the other side is good for discipline — you can picture yourself on the other side of that cold morning run, elated and on a runner’s high. That image can help nudge you out the door. But it’s also good for happiness. As with the roller coaster example, sometimes we don’t do things because they seem challenging in the moment. But if you are excited about doing something, most likely you will be happy to have done it. You just have to overcome a little inertia (or sometimes a little anxiety) in the process.

In the second half of the column, I used the example of going to a downtown outdoor ice rink. That might have seemed random, but in fact I wrote the column as a reminder for me. I’d bought timed tickets to take the big kids to an outdoor rink on the river in Philly on Friday afternoon. It seemed like a cool adventure, but then there were various things in the moment that made me tempted to…not do it.

For starters, our original skating time (4:00 p.m.) was canceled due to a snow storm. The rink said we could reschedule or they would honor our tickets later in the evening. Going in the evening seemed easiest, but that meant I was going to be driving downtown on newly snowy, icy roads in the dark. Not my favorite! Also, I learned to drive in Indiana, so urban parking just makes me anxious. Where can I park? Will my car fit? There was going to be the rigamarole of getting four kids in rented ice skates, and I haven’t ice skated in years, so was I going to fall down and hurt myself?

This all seemed like a lot of bother in the moment. But I figured that by 9:30 p.m., we’d be home. And since it sounded like fun when I booked the tickets, most likely we would be happy to have been ice skating.

And sure enough, that is what happened. To be sure, the experience was not pure bliss. For starters, Google maps took us to the bus circle over the ice skating rink — you can get down on foot, but not by car! So we had to circle back through downtown to wind up at “sea level” as it were. I feel like several of my children are old enough to have required less help lacing up their ice skates than they did.

But! Once we were on the ice it was a lot of fun. After a snowy day, the night was nice, the lights were twinkly, the air crisp. We skated for about an hour and I drove home feeling like I had conquered a mountain — a sense of triumph that was enough to take me through an unexpected detour (power line work on the main road home).

The kids enjoyed it so much that we wound up reserving more tickets for the remaining weeks the rink is open. So we’ll have more outdoor winter adventures to look forward to. Good that I pictured myself on the other side.

11 thoughts on “Picture yourself on the other side

  1. It’s always great to hear other parents feel the same way and have a hard time getting motivated to do something. I often sign up for something but once the day comes, I’m not sure it’s worth the effort. Outings with kids are not always easy and as you and Sarah say, the memory self is often the most enjoyable one. I brought my three year old to an art museum with my mom for her birthday yesterday and wondered if it would be worth it, but I think I will be happy to have that memory. Another way I try to motivate myself is reminding myself that staying home isn’t always full of bliss either!

    1. @Megan – yep, I think that last part is key. Staying home is going to be painful too chasing a toddler, refereeing fights and such. Going somewhere fills the time, and sometimes we do need that.

  2. This is definitely a strategy I am going to employ in the future. There are many times recently that events, two just this past weekend, have made me somewhat anxious. I mentally stew about all the logistics needed to successfully pull off attending an event and imagine either not having a great time or the things that could go wrong. Most of the time, well…almost all of the time, everything works out, and I feel silly about my feelings prior to the event. I haven’t always felt this way. It seems like I feel this way more since the COVID pandemic and going out is more limited. Thanks for the wonderful suggestion, Laura.

    1. @Katherine – thanks – I think that Covid has many of us out of practice of leaving the house for stuff, which makes any given event feel more momentous. Hopefully that won’t last forever either!

  3. I used to use this technique when I was in medical school because I had really bad nerves before exams. So I would say to myself “No matter what, it’s over at this time tomorrow and you can relax with a movie (or whatever)”. It was a useful mental trick. I like the idea of using it for certain activities that require effort too.

    1. @Sarah K – yep, good or bad it will be over. Nothing lasts forever — which has its upsides and downsides!

  4. Good point. I have just 1 kid which undoubtedly makes things easier for the experiencing self, but I am totally about getting the kid (and thus, often, me though he is now old enough to be kicked out solo) out of the house. So for me that’s a great motivator, not a challenge. Ditto the dogs, both of whom benefit from and one of whom is a lot easier to live with if she’s had a long run. Today. Conveniently a “long run” (from the dog’s perspective, doesn’t necessarily involve me running) or walk is something I enjoy. But as much of what I enjoy involves being outside (plus I’m sure my perception is skewed as the pandemic has ended a lot of indoor activities, for now), bad weather days and dark days are demotivators to doing other stuff I would enjoy having done, even though I might not enjoy them as much in the experiencing moment (organizing old photos springs to mind as something that isn’t literally housecleaning but still sort of ends up getting pushed aside).

    That said, I did give up C25K when I realized I was having the opposite problem with it — I spent way, way, way more time thinking uphappily about next time I had to run, than actually running. So I quit. (Funnily enough I landed on Dr. Mama’s Listen Up, Maggots! approach to running which — although the end result/recommendation is almost exactly the same thing, run 30 minutes every other day — worked much better for me. So I have ended up being a runner, or at least a jogger, despite that.)

  5. Love this – I have started in a new position which has moved me away from my work comfort zone. I am using this strategy to deal with my feelings of anxiety around whether I can do the role, by reminding myself that in a few months I won’t feel like that anymore. Thanks for the tip.

  6. I used this last week when Houston was frozen. It was 14 degrees (and the power was out) but we knew that the forecast was 70 for Sunday. We just had to get through the week. And we did!

  7. A great article Laura. The concept of the three selves is profound. I will be utilising the anticipating self principle to help get progress a current project. May thanks for your insights.

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