11 September 2013

My Birthday Wish List

I remember being six years old and crying in my bed one night. I was outraged about something, and wanted my parents to come check on me. Eventually my dad came and did something completely unexpected. He asked me what I wanted for my birthday.

I immediately stopped crying. My birthday wasn’t due in months. Was this some kind of ruse? Confused, I asked him if he planned to buy whatever I asked for. “We will see”, he said. So I told him, “I want a skateboard”, and went to sleep.

My parents never bought me that skateboard, but I can still remember how fulfilling it felt to simply ask for it.

Twenty four years later, crying is no longer an issue, but whining about not wanting to write a research article sometimes gets the best of me and leaves me procrastinating for hours. I usually love my work, and I love writing, but writing research papers is hard. So I recently decided to apply the birthday wish technique that I learned back in my youth.

The Birthday Wish Technique

  1. Grab a blank piece of paper and title it: When I’m done working, I’m going to:

  2. Keep it beside you while you work. Proximity is crucial.

  3. Whenever you think of something you would rather be doing instead of working, write it down.

Why It Works

Writing about something you are planning to do feels, in a way, like you have already done it. Ask any travel guide fanatic. Sometimes thinking about doing something feels even better than actually doing it. Ask anyone that just ate at a McDonald’s.

The majority of the things that you write in your list will instantly lose their appeal the moment you finish working—they were part of the reality distortion field built by your brain to sabotage your attempts at accomplishing difficult tasks.

Spending a few seconds writing down what you crave, and getting back to work, can mean the difference between spending hours browsing the newsfeeds and finishing that damn report in time for salsa class.