Getting rid of clutter, organizing your home and office, and living simply can be ambitious goals, especially if you find it difficult to become motivated or to muster up the self-discipline to get started. I’m not passing judgment, as I understand the desire to sit on the couch and watch television instead of tackling an attic organization project.
But, if your stuff is stressing you out and you want to change, you’ll probably need some help altering your behavior. Unfortunately, most of the popular self-help books on procrastination are based on two flawed assumptions:
- They assume that someone who wants to complete a task is actually motivated enough to start that activity, which isn’t necessarily the case. A 2005 article in Fast Company magazine entitled “Change or Die” explains that 90 percent of people do not change their destructive lifestyle after having bypass heart surgery. You read that correctly — 90 percent of bypass surgery patients choose almost-certain death over changing their behavior.
- These books also assume that if people have a system in place, they’ll finish a project. If someone doesn’t start a project, however, then a system is pointless. I like systems. Getting Things Done is a wonderful productivity method. But, just having a system doesn’t mean that someone is actively using it.
John T. Molloy’s 1987 book How to Work the Competition into the Ground and Have Fun Doing It doesn’t make either of these assumptions about behavior and recognizes a person can lack motivation or self-discipline. It does, however, have a controversial bent. Its suggested method for improving self discipline involves brainwashing.
Molloy was fascinated with cults and their ability to completely change people’s personalities and get them to abandon their families, friends, and lives. He admits that he doesn’t support what cults do, but he knows that they do it well. He decided to research the methods cults employ to brainwash their membership, and see if there was a way to positively use the techniques to help people gain more self-discipline and motivation.
Here are a few of his observations:
- People are more susceptible to programming when they’re exhausted. If you’re going to listen to motivational tapes or talk yourself into being self-disciplined enough to do work, you should do it right before bed after a long day of physical and mental activity. He recorded a series of positive messages and repeatedly played them as he was falling asleep.
- He also decided that these positive messages could be played at other times, more as background noise throughout the day, to act as a motivating reminder. If you’re trying to become motivated to clear clutter from your home or office, then your recorded message could focus on that activity: “I live an uncluttered life and have the motivation to keep it perpetually uncluttered.”
- Do what you can to participate in a “dynamic event” to get a rush from an outside force. Attending a conference on uncluttering, going to hear a motivational speaker, watching a show like Clean Sweep or even reading Unclutterer can help you to think about the subject in a positive way and believe that you are capable of being an uncluttered person.
- Subliminal messages apparently work. Try making a playlist on iTunes that has short, positive recorded messages between every song. “Back to work,” he suggests, is a good one to help with productivity.
- Block out distractions with repetitious self-talk. Whenever your mind wanders while uncluttering, chant your “back to work” or “I’m uncluttered” message. This was one of the most successful methods employed by his research subjects. The block out chants used by cult members usually relate to their leader or their guiding purpose. Creepy, but effective.
- Molloy’s book and many other sources, including the Fast Company article mentioned earlier, discuss the power of others to help teach you to be the person you want to become. For the purposes of uncluttering, a professional organizer might be that guide. If you can’t afford a professional organizer, getting a group of people together to talk about uncluttering can provide a motivating peer pressure and inspirational guidance.
While I find brainwashing to be freaky and bizarre, it still might be a worthwhile method for helping people become more motivated and increase self-discipline. Molloy’s suggestions seem to be fairly reasonable in concrete form, albeit a little quirky. Also, the effort involved in reciting a productive chant is so small that anyone can do it. I tried it sporadically, and, after a few days, it was impossible to walk past my laundry heap without wanting to wash my clothes — so, I washed my clothes.
What do you think of these suggestions? Have you read Molloy’s book? Do you have any thoughts about it? Whatever your opinion, I’d be interested in reading it in the comments. This is bound to be a controversial topic…