Staying motivated

I’ve been looking at a pile of empty and filled picture frames and an incomplete child’s photo album and, lately, papers, that has been lingering—a pile that is easily ignored except when I see it every night before I go to sleep—and I remembered that I am not a person who, once she sets her mind on something (like eliminating clutter), just gets it done.

A recent article in the New York Times offers suggestions based on behavioral economics research on keeping New Year’s resolutions. I was surprised not to see “accountability” called out more strongly and specifically, because I think that has truly been the key to sustaining my efforts to live better by simplifying. Here’s what is working for me.

1. I write down what I want to do. Mostly this is a running list of achievable tasks, but there’s also a list of bigger picture goals (see below). Having a written “to do” list gets that stuff out of my head and guarantees a tiny instant pleasure hit when I can cross something off.

2. I make myself accountable to others. I used to wonder why I could knock off all kinds of tasks at work—even boring ones or ones I felt were unnecessary—but would inexplicably put off quick and easy tasks in my personal life. Then a friend pointed out that, at work, I know that I am accountable to my colleagues and the rest of the organization. Aha!

To make myself accountable in my efforts to simplify, I talk about what I am trying to do with other people. I also maintain this blog, which forces me to articulate what I am trying to do, helps me connect tasks with my bigger picture goals, and makes me feel accountable to everyone reading it (at the beginning it was three friends and that was enough). For people who aren’t interested in blogging, I think keeping a private written journal and rereading your entries could be a great alternative.

3. I let myself be inspired by others. Periodically I read a handful of other simplifying blogs. I also try to notice people around me who are living the way I want to and copy what they do (as an example, I’m now regularly taking the stairs at work because I noticed a guy who sits near me doing it).

What works for you?

P.S. I dealt with the papers in the pile and updated the child’s photo album. Pile is now smaller!

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