Overcoming The Hump Effect

How to Reign In That Annoying Internal Motivational Hump That Keeps You From Getting Stuff Done!

You know you’ve got to get going on that unexciting task. It just has to get done, and soon. So why are you having SUCH A HARD TIME getting started? You’re dragging your feet and having an internal tantrum that could rival a three year old: “But I don’t wanna do it! I don’t wanna!” And then you’re probably arguing with your tantruming inner three year old, “I have to get this done! Get over it! Why do I do this to myself? I’m being a total idiot!

Sound familiar? Most of us struggle to motivate ourselves to do certain tasks, especially those that are un-fun or arduous in some way. Think chores, taxes, errands, or those work tasks that are the bane of your existence because they are super-annoying time sucks. I have affectionately named this phenomenon the “hump effect” because it seems like we have to get over a big motivational hump to actually make progress on these endeavors. Some of us (hi there, me, me, me!) might even experience this struggle around initiating activities that WE KNOW would be good for us, like exercise, meditation, scheduling a regular physical, or getting ourselves to bed at a decent hour.

Even average bears struggle with the hump effect.

Some good news if you struggle with the hump effect: you are in very good company! Everyone is going to wrestle with the hump effect at various points in life. The bad news about the hump effect is that it can really get in the way of getting important stuff done. The hump effect can be especially pronounced if you have ADHD (hi there, me, me, me!), bipolar disorder, or any other condition that affects a set of abilities known as executive functions, which includes important skills like information processing, decision-making, planning ahead, and maintaining focus. For people with executive function challenges, there are real brain differences that get in the way of motivation and the ability to initiate activity. That may sound a bit disheartening but there’s actuallygood news here. If you have bipolar disorder, ADHD, or other learning differences and you struggle mightily with the hump effect, you are not doing it to yourself out of laziness or stupidity. In other words, it’s not your fault! You are, quite simply, having to work a little harder than the average bear to overcome some differences in your brain. If you don’t have a diagnosable executive function challenge, you can still struggle mightily with the hump effect. Stress, depression, and anxiety can heighten the hump effect. For Pete’s sake, who wants to take care of un-fun responsibilities when we’re stressed, overwhelmed, and in a bad mood?! And why are we always asking about Pete?!

“Well, gosh, Dr. Jen. This is all kinda depressing. I don’t want to struggle with the hump effect!” I hear you. I don’t enjoy dealing with the hump effect, either. But don’t despair! You didn’t think I’d leave you hanging mid-hump, did you? Once we learn to recognize the hump effect in our life, we can employ all kinds of strategies to work with it. Here are some steps to help you get over that hump so you can get stuff done:

  1. Expect it: If we expect the hump effect, we are not taken by surprise when it shows up. Expecting it reduces the amount we struggle with it. We can even plan ahead, brainstorming ways we can help ourselves over that hump.
  2. Stop looking for motivation in the moment: This may sound counterintuitive but if you wait until you feel motivated to do your less-than-fun task, you might be waiting for a looooong time. Instead, look for motivation in your higher values. For example, taking your car to get the oil changed will allow you to get to and from work safely and take that family road trip you have planned in two weeks. For more ideas on attaching motivation to higher values, check out my blog on motivation and healthy habits here.
  3. Be nice to yourself: When we are struggling to get something done, we often talk to ourselves in a really harsh voice in a misguided attempt to get ourselves to do whatever it is we need to do. Sadly, this tends to have the exact opposite effect: we demotivate ourselves. SO PRETTY PLEASE STOP BEING MEAN TO YOURSELF! Try being kind to yourself instead and see if you get more stuff done. Research tells us that people who are able to practice self-compassion are not only able to effectively motivate themselves but they are also physically and emotionally healthier. Yes! Want some more advice about how to be self-compassionate? Check out my blog on self-compassion here. You’ll see more examples of my inappropriate use of ALL CAPS.
  4. Don’t fight the petulant child inside you: We all have the petulant child inside who doesn’t want to be told want to do: “I don’t wanna. You can’t make me!” Fighting with your inner child will not help and might even make things worse. If you’ve ever fought with a tantruming three-year-old, you know what I’m talking about. Instead, thank that part of yourself for reminding you that you have choices—it’s only trying to help, after all—and offer some comfort and reassurance. You can also gently remind your internal petulant child of the benefits of getting over the hump to get stuff done, including any rewards you set up for yourself. What’s that? You don’t reward yourself for a less-than-fun job well done? That’s a really important step so keep reading!
  5. Accountability: If you really need to get something done, tell a supportive person or two. Your support people will likely be able to commiserate with you about the un-fun-ness of whatever un-fun task you need to get done. They might be able to help brainstorm about how to get the dreaded task done. If you ask nicely, they might even be willing to check in with you on your progress and offer cheerleading if needed.
  6. Chunk it: Do you get easily overwhelmed by big projects with multiple steps? Me, too! Almost any task can be chunked into smaller, more manageable sub-tasks, which can help our brains feel less intimidated by all of the moving pieces of the project. A less intimidated brain gets more stuff done. Make sure to give yourself a hearty pat on the back whenever you complete one of the subtasks.
  7. Reward yourself: Ahhh, the best part. Try motivating yourself by planning to give yourself a treat once you get the dreaded task done. Make sure the reward is enticing while also being reasonable. I don’t want to give you license to be overly self-indulgent or extravagant so maybe your reward shouldn’t be eating the whole half-gallon of ice cream (even if it’s sea-salt caramel—dang!) or drinking the whole bottle of wine or spending gobs of money that you don’t really have. Don’t poo-poo your reward, either, or you’ll miss the chance to reinforce all of the effort you put into getting over the hump effect. Make your treat something special that you know you’ll like. For example, not long ago, I managed to get myself to sit down for several hours at my office and knock out an important but boring and un-fun administrative task. I celebrated by taking myself out for a meal with my husband at my favorite restaurant. Sometimes, it can be very rewarding just to share your “I got over the hump and got stuff done” news with someone who really gets how much effort it took. Bonus points if they butter up your ego by reminding you that you are a total Jedi badass. Time-sucking tasks and chores and errands can’t keep you down!

Wishing you success in getting over the humps in your life!

Dr. Jen