‘Ugh fields’, or why you can’t even bear to think about that task (Rob Wiblin)

Link post

Rob Wiblin with more accessible explanation of the Ugh Field concept on Medium. Some quotes:

The problem

Have you ever had a long-overdue task to do, a task which isn’t so bad in itself, but which you can barely bring yourself to think about without feeling awful?
Most people experience this from time to time. Here’s how things get to such a strange and dire state.

The first day the task is on your to-do list, you don’t end up starting, because the short-term reward isn’t large enough to overcome the psychological cost of doing so.

Maybe you feel low energy. Maybe you have more urgent priorities. Maybe you’re insecure about whether you can do a good job. Maybe the task involves a bit of social awkwardness. It doesn’t matter the reason — you delay.

Unfortunately, this task is one that only gets more unpleasant over time.

For instance, maybe now you’re going to have to rush it and do a bad job, and you fear everyone is going to judge you negatively.


Limiting the damage

I don’t have a perfect way to escape this mental flytrap but here are some things that might help:

1. Urgh Fields happen to basically everyone, even very conscientious people, so it’s worth trying to see the humour in this absurd design flaw in the human brain. There’s no more reason to feel ashamed about it than there is to feel ashamed of e.g. enjoying eating food.

It’s just how people are built and sadly there are no brain engineers around to roll out a patch to the human race. We have to find practical work-arounds instead.

2. Just recognising and labelling the Ugh Field phenomenon can make it less bad, because it’s an accurate systemic explanation for what’s going on, rather than a misleading personal one like “I’m hopeless and never get things done”.

3. Because you’ve been avoiding thinking about the problem, if you do think about it for a bit while keeping an open mind, you might quickly strike on a way to get out of the task, or a way to do a much shorter version of it.

For instance perhaps you could just email back something like: “Thanks for your patience on this. Unfortunately I don’t see how I’m going to be able to fit it into my schedule just now, is there anyone else who can take it on?”

4. If you think about it calmly, you may well find that the task actually isn’t as important as it has come to feel. The person you imagine is disgusted by your failure may only be 210 annoyed, or perhaps not even have noticed.

Remember, they’ve got plenty of their own stuff going on.

5. By the time something is deep in an Ugh Field, often it’s no longer the most productive thing you could be doing anyway. Especially relative to the willpower it now requires. So consider just deciding to deliberately drop it in favour of something else that’s more motivating.

Actively cross it off your to-do list. Throw away those New Yorkers you’ve been planning to read for months but never gotten to, or whatever else will be a nagging reminder of the task.

You have more valuable things to do; the task is gone.