Sometimes you shouldn’t finish, so that later you can start
It feels good to finish something. You get a hit of dopamine and feel accomplished. The brain becomes addicted to the process — start a task, work towards it, then finish it. Let’s call this the task loop where we continuously start and finish tasks.
When you don’t finish a task, you don’t close off the loop. This causes frustration in the brain and the brain seeks to fix it. This can be a useful tool in our efforts of productivity.
Two ways the mind seeks closure.
1. Recycling information
The mind, in an effort to get closure, will remind you of the uncompleted task. It will continuously recycle the information to your consciousness. This is why you get distracted about that email or project, when trying to concentrate on something else.
There is a temporary fix to this. Something that will hold off smaller tasks from distracting you. Writing it down (I like to use ToDoist). This tells your subconscious that later you will close the loop so it doesn’t feel the need to remind you.
If after continuous recycling without progress, the subconscious will resort to other means to close off the loop. It will rationalize why there was a need to do the task in the first place. For example, imagine trying to learn a new language but not making progress. The mind will fear it may not close the loop and will begin to make you question whether you actually need to learn another language. After all, your phone does have a translator right? Or the mind might delay the task to a later date so that it can have some relief of the frustration. After all, it’s a celebration tonight, we can diet next week to lose the weight, right?
The longer a loop will need to be open (length of time required to complete the task or goal) the more uncomfortable it makes the mind. How do you combat this?
1. Develop a history
2. End on a good note
Develop a history of achieving goals that take effort over time.
The reason an open loop is uncomfortable is because the brain seeks the dopamine response. Dopamine is addictive — think alcohol, cocaine or heroin. When the brain doesn’t get it, it gets frustrated. To alleviate the frustration it will recycle the information and then rationalize it away, however, this can be prevented.
You can think back to a previous time you accomplished a long term goal. This will give your brain a small amount of dopamine and assure it that you will eventually close the loop. Start small and develop a history, building motivation from previous successes.
End on a good note
It’s easier to start things that are enjoyable. If you end on a good note, your subconscious will remember that feeling and make it easier for you to start. Just made a three-point-swish but have 2 more minutes of basketball practice left? End there. Just had a breakthrough on a project but have 10 more minutes to work? End there.
Not closing the loop can be useful for short term goals also.
Let’s say you are a writer. Stop midway through your last thought. Your mind will seek the closure and will motivate you to begin at a later time. And when you start again you will know exactly where you left off.
How do we balance closing loops and keeping others open to maximize our productivity and happiness?
Open loops motivate us to continue but they are uncomfortable and can overwhelm us. An effective strategy is to compartmentalize open loops (my next article will show you how to develop this skill). Basically, only allow your mind to focus on one loop at a time. You want to prevent the loops from stacking which may overwhelm you into inaction.
Let’s say you are working on a large renovation project in your home. If you add a second renovation project, these projects may stack in your mind. When you think of starting, you may think of both and the amount of work is likely to overwhelm.
Instead, if you had only one renovation project and took on learning a new language you could compartmentalize the work. You first allocate the time to spend on one or the other. And when you think of the renovation project, your mind won’t be considering what it needs to do to learn a language because that is not in scope.
The balance of keeping open loops vs closing them depends on your energy level. This can sometimes be difficult to gauge as energy and motivation comes like waves. At the highpoint in energy the increased motivation will make you want to take on more and more, but at the low point the open loops can feel like a burden.
This is where most people fail. They get excited on high energy days and commit themselves to open loops that they can’t handle when things become difficult. At these times, the mind will rationalize temporarily closing off the loop. And the longer the loops stay closed the less likely your mind will want to reopen them.
Here at mindprove, we anticipate obstacles. We see the above failure of others and account for low energy days. We take on open loops gradually, and as we improve our compartmentalization skills, and anticipate upcoming difficulties in our life, we add on more.
To Sum Up
The mind evolved to motivate us to finish tasks. Finishing a task rewards the brain with dopamine and makes us feel good. Not finishing a task makes the mind uncomfortable and can motivate us to start again.
This is called an open loop. Open loops put our minds in thought patterns that motivate us to pick up our project and find them more enjoyable. They can also overwhelm us into inaction. When balanced correctly, open loops are a great tool to increase our productivity and happiness.