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It’s like walking into a dark room and not being able to find the light switch. We just can’t start that task, goal, or life change. Labels, judgments, will power – all are as futile as pawing the wall in vain. Darkness continues.

Our switches are internal. And there’s not one but four. Your internal switches are not hard to find – or flip – if you know where to look. Simply put, our internal switches are in the off position whenever things are too unrewarding, too risky, too hard, or too much. What’s lacking is the energy of commitment, confidence, competence, and control.

Too Unrewarding – Turn Up Your Commitment

The mind is turned off by meaningless, valueless, boring, tedious drudgery. There’s no hope, promise, or guarantee of benefits. Here’s how to turn your internal switches to turn up your commitment.

  1. Dangle the rewards. Stop for a moment and identify all the physical, psychological, personal, public, immediate, and future gains you can think of. Then commit to getting those. Write them on cards, think about them, and imagine having them. Replay them whenever negative thoughts occur. The stronger your attachment to the benefits, the more you’ll move to get them.
  2. Feed yourself well and often! Remember how good and motivated it felt to have a coach or teacher say, “you’re doing great”? Praise is quite simply the fastest, feel good motivator there is. Don’t wait until you’ve finished the task. Praise yourself for taking it on, getting ideas about what to do, and every little step along the way. It’ll increase your determination to stay the course.
  3. Take a hint from what distracts you. They’re pleasurable, in the moment experiences. Ask yourself, “what makes them so?”  Maybe it’s working with others, being creative, using colorful tools, gaming rewards, or trying out new apps. Apply those characteristics to the current job. Joy gets joy: commit to getting more!

Too Risky – Bolster Your Confidence

New can be scary. Knowing that anything can happen raises stress doubts about our ability to handle the unknown. Here’s how to get your confidence back.

  1. Choose your comfort zone. Stress stops us in our tracks. So, back up a little and identify where you’re most comfortable. Is it best to start with something safe, a little uncertain, risky, or very risky? In a math class, for instance, you could review past notes, review the sample problems, try the problems with answers in the key, or work problems without the answers. Start where the unknowns are manageable; then work up from there.
  2. Warm up first! Start with something known and familiar to remind yourself that you are capable. You might straighten up your work area, review your notes, look over a completed task, jot down a task to-do list. Then, tackle what takes more effort.
  3. Take a learning point of view. We gain knowledge in steps and stages. Often it starts easy and then, sometimes, there’s a plateau where we have glitches or don’t make much progress for a while. But practice and new learning can take us up that next step. So, take just one step; if it goes well, continue onward. If it doesn’t work or is strenuous, identify the problem and fix it. Nothing has to be final until you say it is.

Too Hard – Upgrade Your Competence

If you’re thinking “this is too hard,” it is. That is, it’s beyond your current knowledge, comprehension, and know-how. To get going, add more of any or all of those.

  1. Get more knowledge. Information that’s hard is “over your head.”  It’s simply too advanced for your current level of knowledge. The solution? Get more background information. Go to sources that are directed at those with very little knowledge, such as basic texts, online videos, or blogs. Time spent laying down a more complete foundation of information will save hours of wheel spinning.
  2. Increase your understanding. Confusion is hard; clarity is easy. When it’s all a puzzling mess, your grasp of the subject has gaps in the information or the way it’s organized. Identify what’s confusing. Is it the ideas, logic, vocabulary, instructions, objective, data, or organization? Take each item and find out what you’re missing. Seek help and resources. But don’t work in the dark; turn on your internal switches!
  3. Use expert techniques. Amateurs often use inferior tools and methods, making the job harder. Find out what the experts use and do: follow them! So, for example, professional writers usually begin by reading in the subject area or brainstorming ideas. They don’t start by trying to write a complete draft. Using their ease-into-it methods will add skills and progress for you too!
  4. Simplify. Complex is hard; simple is easy. Organization is the key here. Break it down: what are the pieces of this task or topic and how do they fit together? Trying to start your taxes or analyze data? Sort the items into categories like medical, educational, and charity, or group them by size, date, graphing styles, or sorting algorithms. Want to make a decision? Compare and contrast the alternatives. Or create a chronological list of steps you can take. Logic is the simplifier that puts the mind at ease, turns on your internal switches, and starts it all going.

Too Much – Increase Your Control

Overwhelmed/Too little time? Don’t know where to start? Then, beginning is unlikely. The mind is frozen trying to decide which way to go to find your internal switches. Controlling the situation is the starter switch. Here’s how to increase your control.

  1. Start small! Tease out a really short task. Trying to clean the garage, catch up on emails, or read an assignment? Get your supplies ready, sort emails by sender or subjects (not dates), or write a list of chapter headings. Do whatever puts you in charge and in motion!
  2. Eliminate clutter. Whether it’s physical piles on your desk or endless, mental to-do lists, unneeded items clutter and clog the mind. Pick what you need. Remove everything else in the quickest way possible. Those piles, for instance, can just be moved out of eyesight onto the floor. For the mental arena, try an A-B-C priority system so that the ones that put you on your “A game” rise to the surface.
  3. Use time management tools. The fastest way to clog the mind is to mentally plan busy days. Short term memory is short: a few minutes at best. To keep all the balls in the air, your mind will have to revisit every little thing over and over so nothing gets dropped. Stress and overwhelm are the result. Instead, grab a calendar and start plotting when to do things and seeing how much you can spread them out. Control your time and get back to reasonable, doing days!
  4. Make a deal. Agree that too much is too much for your internal switches! Cut down the size of a project or the number of tasks to do until the mind says “OK.”  After all, you can only do one thing at a time: so what is that? The real question is not how to get it all done, but what can you do in the here and now. Make that now so short, it feels too easy. Tell yourself you only have to do 10 minutes of work and your can-do-control will kick on your internal switches!

In the End…

Getting started is all about seeing the likelihood of success. And that comes from the 4 C’s. Think of them like lamps: there are four in your internal room. Each one adds more lighting. Flip the switch on one, more, or all as needed! The power is yours!

If something is…

  • Unrewarding, turn on your commitment
  • Risky, bolster your confidence
  • Hard, upgrade your competence
  • Overwhelming, increase your control

About the United States Distance Learning Association (USDLA)

The USDLA, a 501(c) 3 non-profit association formed in 1987, reaches 20,000 people globally with sponsors and members operating in and influencing 46% of the $913 billion. U.S. education and training market. USDLA promotes the development and application of distance learning for education and training and serves the needs of the distance learning community by providing advocacy, information, networking, and opportunity. Distance learning and training constituencies served include pre-K-12 education, home schooling, higher education, and continuing education, as well as business, corporate, military, government, and telehealth markets.