What makes some tasks harder than others to tackle? It turns out the time allotted for the work matters less than how our minds perceives the deadline. When a deadline feels like it is part of the present- say, within the current month, we are more likely to begin the task.
Studies find that the brain divides time into discrete categories, with boundaries at the end of a moth or the start of a new year, for example. To motivate yourself to start a task you are putting off, try thinking about time boundaries differently. For a deadline next month, you might call it three weeks instead or design a new calendar for yourself that does not break up the months. Research also suggests that dividing tasks into smaller, incremental steps with their own deadlines, will feel more immediate.
Gazing at images of the great outdoors has been linked with a range of benefits, including pain relief, stress recovery, and mood improvement. Now, research has shown that thinking of and looking at pictures of nature also helps to orient you to the future and reduce impulsivity. Seeing nature or even pictures of nature makes us think more about the future. When time is expanded, it is easier for people to imagine the future and this effect appears to lessen the draw of immediate temptations. This is something to consider the next time you are at the office working late and your desire is to raid the fridge. Watching the sunset or nature landscapes on your computer may help to keep you oriented towards the future and not the immediate temptation.
A pounding heart, rapid breathing, racing thoughts--is it anxiety or excitement? New studies at Harvard University found that by interpreting these sensations as excitement instead of anxiety allowed people to perform better in three types of stressful situations: singing in front of strangers, speaking in public, and solving difficult math problems.
Most people try to calm down when facing high-stress situations, but that approach can backfire by increasing rumination about what could go wrong. Instead choose to focus on the potential high points of the situation, such as looking forward to making colleagues laugh during a presentation or knowing how to solve some problems on a test. Getting excited about how things can go well will give you confidence and energy and increase the likelihood that the positive outcomes you imagine will actually happen.