by Pauline Wallin
My husband likes to do dishes. That always seemed kind of weird to me, since I’m a person who views chores as activities of last resort. “Not weird at all,” he argues. It’s a finite job with a satisfying result.”
Guess which one of us finishes chores first? Not me. The oppositional part of my mind, which I call the “inner brat,” is too busy complaining about the boring drudgery and finding excuses to procrastinate. By the time I’m done negotiating with my inner brat whether to pay bills now or tomorrow (or this weekend), my husband is done with his tasks, and can sit down and relax.
And moi? I’m better than I used to be, but if I don’t curb my inner brat at the getgo, my chores take at least twice as long as they need to, what with dawdling and distractions and all.
I know I’m not alone. Given that there are hundreds of books about making routine tasks less tedious and more efficient, this means that there are probably millions of people who struggle with their own resistance when it comes to chores. If you’re one of these people, you may have frequent conversations with your inner brat, similar to the following:
You: “Time to vacuum”
Inner brat: “No. I don’t want to.”
You: “Look at this place. It’s a mess!”
Inner brat: “First I have to check my email.”
You: “OK, hurry up and check your email; then get out the vacuum cleaner.”
3 hours later…
You: “Rats! It’s 11:00 p.m.”
Inner brat: “Yes, much too late to start cleaning now.”
You: “I suppose. But tomorrow for sure.”
In the above interchange, the inner brat has used a variety of tactics: outright refusal, procrastination, and rationalization. When you do finally get to the vacuuming, your inner brat may additionally whine and complain, turning a simple task into a major ordeal.
Did you ever wonder why it takes you so long to get around to certain chores? I’m not referring to physically difficult or mentally challenging tasks; just those that are inconvenient or bothersome. These are the jobs that the inner brat just doesn’t feel like doing, so it comes up with excuses to distract you, or it makes promises to do the work later. Based on your inner brat’s track record, do you honestly believe those excuses and promises?
Research shows that avoiding responsibilities is a self-reinforcing, self-perpetuating cycle. This means that every time you give yourself a reason to not do what you know you should do, you are increasing the probability that you’ll avoid tasks in the future. It almost assures you a cycle of resistance, last-minute rushing, and feelings of guilt or regret for not having taken care of the task earlier.
If you allow your inner brat to make decisions about chores, you will end up chronically disappointed in yourself. It’s time to feel in control again. Here are some ways to overcome your inner brat’s whining and complaining:
1. Don’t negotiate with your inner brat. If you do, your inner brat will win at the procrastination game. Make a commitment to your task with the idea that it is like an appointment that you keep with yourself.
2. As you think about the task, focus on how things will look and on how you will feel when it’s done. This will greatly reduce your inner brat’s power over you.
3. Welcome your inner brat’s resistance as a challenge. Are you going to let it win? Or will you just get up and do the dishes and get them over with?
4. While doing the task, do not give in to distractions. This will only prolong the job and encourage procrastination next time. If, for example, during the course of tidying up, you find something interesting to read, don’t stop to read it. Put it in a designated place for reading later. No exceptions.
5. Pay attention to how you talk to yourself while doing the chore. If you’re saying things such as, “I hate this!” you are just reinforcing your inner brat. Change those statements to more neutral ones, e.g., “OK, it’s not the most fun job in the world, but I can think of lots worse ones.”
6. Make the task into a game, or find something interesting about it. For example, while cleaning out a closet, challenge yourself to end up with at least “X” number of items in the discard pile.
7. Keep score of the number of times you override your inner brat’s protests each day. This will help maintain your motivation.
Pauline Wallin, Ph.D. is a psychologist in Camp Hill, PA, and author of “Taming Your Inner Brat: A Guide for Transforming Self-defeating Behavior” (Beyond Words Publishing, 2001) Visit innerbrat.com for more information, and subscribe to her Inner Brat Newsletter. Copyright Pauline Wallin, Ph.D. 2003. All rights reserved.