Stop Anticipating, Start Reflecting

Turns out, seeking satisfaction may not be as straightforward as it seems.

Because when seeking satisfaction, your brain may be oversimplifying things, and this oversimplification may be contributing to regret, dissatisfaction, and unhappiness.

How is that happening? What is your brain oversimplifying?

First, a quick exercise. In terms of an honest positive or negative gut reaction, how do you feel when reading the following three statements?

1) You should go intentionally stub your toe

2) You should go to the gym tomorrow morning

3) You should relax tonight and binge Netflix

Pretty obvious, right? If you’re like most people, you probably answered negative, negative, positive.

Now, something a little different. How do you feel, positive or negative, when you reflect on a time described by the following three statements?

1) A time where you stubbed your toe

2) A time where you headed into work having just completed a morning workout

3) A time where you headed to bed after a night binging Netflix

What were your answers this time? Negative, positive, negative? What’s this tell us?

When assessing how we feel about some task, it can be easy for our brain to assume the feelings about it remain static over time.

If you feel negatively about doing something, you’ll always feel negatively about doing it. If you feel positively, you’ll always feel positively.

But this is a gross oversimplification that can lead you astray. Because how we feel about a task isn’t a single, static assessment, it’s usually three assessments.

It’s how we feel leading up to the task.

It’s how we feel doing the task.

And it’s how we feel after completing the task.

For some, rare tasks, how we feel leading up to them and how we feel about them afterwards doesn’t change. Think of intentionally stubbing your toe, or taking a relaxing vacation.

But for most tasks, this isn’t how things works. For most tasks, our feelings about them before and after aren’t static, they flip.

You may feel negatively in anticipation of going to the gym, but positively about it after the fact.

You may feel positively in anticipation of a night spent binging Netflix, but regretful after the fact.

For these tasks, we’re better off distrusting our anticipatory feelings about them and instead reflecting on how we felt about completing similar tasks in the past.

Instead of looking forwards at your anticipatory dread of going to the gym, look backwards at how great you’ve felt in the past when you’ve had the discipline to get in a quick workout before work.

Instead of looking forwards at the anticipatory excitement for a night with fast food and Netflix, look backwards at how terribly you’ve felt in the past when you’ve had similar nights of unhealthy eating and lethargy.

Is there some task right now that you’ve been putting off because of negative anticipatory feelings? Cleaning your inbox? Having that tough conversation? Checking your credit card statement? Stop focusing on your anticipatory feelings and instead reflect on how completing similar tasks in your past made you feel.

If completing similar tasks made you feel good in the past, go do that task!

Looking backwards, not forwards, and find more productivity, more output, and greater long-term satisfaction.