Tuesday, June 8, 2010


Technique Tuesday

My son, at ten and a half, has a curious habit: he eats his meal in order, starting with the food he likes best. This means that he often ends with a lonely pile of something green--peas or lettuce--on his plate and a court order* not to leave until the plate is clean.

I confess I wasn't terribly fond of vegetables when I was his age. But at some point I discovered that my problem wasn't the vegetables (or the non-sweet fruits like tomatoes, cucumber, squash, peppers, etc. that get lumped in with them) themselves, but with the lingering taste if that was the last thing I ate. Once I began taking care to finish up with something neutral, that would mop up the aftertaste, I found I actually enjoyed vegetables.

There are two related techniques lurking in this anecdote:
  1. Doing what needs to be done
  2. Making an unpleasant task palatable

We'll talk about doing what needs to be done another time. Right now I want to share a few ideas about making an unpleasant task palatable.

The motivational games we discussed a few weeks ago are one way to make a task palatable.

Another is to break the unpleasant task into smaller, more manageable sub-tasks. I'm often astonished at the things I can do if I stop worrying about the whole, daunting task and focus instead on a smaller part I know I can do. It's hard to sit down and write a novel. It's much easier to sit down and write a scene.

But the real trick is to find the root cause**--what is it that makes the task unpleasant--and then come up with radical (as in addressing the root cause) solutions, like my discovery that I need to be careful about the aftertaste.

What have you done to make an unpleasant task more palatable?

* His mother, of course, embodies judge, jury, and executioner insofar as legal disputes around mealtimes are concerned.

** Root? Root vegetables? Yes, bad as it is, the pun is intentional. You're free to file complaints.

Image: luigi diamanti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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