We are motivated to take action when we sense a feeling of reward at the end. If you look at your messy house in its entirety and feel like you won’t get that “reward” feeling unless the entire house is clean, then you will feel overwhelmed fairly quickly and end up doing nothing. Why waste all that time just cleaning the bathroom, you may think, when you’ll still have to look at the rest of the house?
The same mental process applies to getting healthy or any other goal. If you know that it’s going to take two months of working out to see real results, then the alternative — taking it easy with a bag of chips on the couch — starts to look pretty tempting, especially since the reward is felt so immediately.
If you’re already prone to anxiety, depression and self-consciousness there is even more mental resistance to taking action. In a recent study entitled “Neuroticism and Attitudes Toward Action in 19 Countries,” published in the Journal of Personality, researchers found that people with neurotic tendencies tend to “look less favorably” on action and more favorably on inaction compared to more emotionally stable people. Those who tend to prioritize social harmony and avoidance of conflict had the strongest aversion to action.
But everyone, even those of us with neurotic tendencies, can begin to accomplish big goals with far less anxiety if we simply tweak our mindset a little bit. Instead of seeing the whole forest and getting overwhelmed, just focus on one tree, or even one branch, at a time.