Episode three of Mood Ring, hosted by Anna Borges, explores the One Minute Rule. Coined by Gretchen Rubin, the concept dictates that if it takes less than one minute to complete a task — think washing a dish — then you should just get it done right away. Anna interviews behavioral psychologist Dr. Ayelet Fishbach, exploring why following this rule can prove so challenging for some, and ways to reconsider your real priorities.
Anna Borges: Every Friday, I count on the minutes until the workday is over and the weekend begins. And every Friday there is always one thing standing between me and a night of relaxation, a list of chores, as long as a CVS receipt. I always tell myself that I'll do it differently. Next time I tell myself, next week I will wash my dish. As soon as I'm done with it next week, I won't let these mugs accumulate on my nightstand and have to do the walk of shame to the kitchen with them. Like next week, I'll scoop the litter box every day. I will not let these chores pile up and ruin my relaxing Friday night, except I do. I always do. Come Monday, I'll finish dinner and bring my dish to sink. And instead of taking literally a minute to wash it while I'm there, I just set it down and walk away. And then the next day I set another dish on top of it. And then the next thing you know, it's Friday again, and I'm telling myself next week will be different. I just want to understand why is this so freaking hard?
I'm Anna Borges and this is Mood Ring, a practical guide to feelings, even when you're feeling overwhelmed by the smallest of tasks. Every episode we’ll explore one new way to cope with our feelings, with our baggage, with our brains, with our dishes or with the world around us.
In this episode, we're talking about something that I hoped once upon a time would solve my chore problem. The one minute rule, it was coined by Gretchen Rubin, an author who among other things specialized in topics related to productivity and happiness. The one minute rule is straightforward: if a task or a chore will take less than a minute to accomplish just do it, don't think about it. Don't add unnecessary steps, like adding it to a to-do list, just do it then and there done. Boom. It seems simple enough, right? Except it didn't turn out to be that easy for me. I tried to live by the one minute rule, probably a million different times, and it's just never stuck or made much of a difference. So why do an episode on the one minute rule? Well, because this rule is known for its simplicity and its effectiveness, and I want to see if there is a way to make it work for me once and for all. So we decided to hit up a psychologist, specifically a motivation expert. Uh, Ayelet Fishbach PhD who wrote the book, Get It Done, surprising lessons from the science of motivation. And I didn't waste any time asking what I really wanted to know. Why do I struggle with this so much?
Ayelet: Well we all discount the future? And that, uh, sounds like a fancy terror, but what it actually means is that anything that is in the future worse less than if it happened right now, uh, meaning if, uh, you consider doing work in the future, that seems like less work than if you need to do, uh, the work now, uh, if you need to pay a price in the future, that seems like it's less costly than if you paid now and also for good things. Okay. If you think about doing something exciting next month, well, it's not as exciting as doing it today. So as, as people we discount the future, which means that we, we like to postpone.
Anna: Yeah, that is, that is very at least true for me. I think just the instant gratification of it all feels very human at least, but is hard to push against, you know, like, because I think, for example, like when it comes to like goals and stuff, I'm pretty good at breaking things down into smaller tasks and really building toward it. But with, for example, my dish example that is, feels like a lot of effort right now because I'd rather be doing something else, but it feels very low reward. So I'm kind of like, how, how do I change my perception?
Ayelet: What do you do?
Anna: Yeah, no, like literally what do I do? Like, how do I, how do I change it? So I am motivated like motivated to do things in the present instead of just being like, screw you future Anna.
Ayelet: So let, let me introduce another, uh, concept for, uh, research and motivation, which is, uh, a broad decision, uh, frame. Uh, what that means is that you make decision not just for now, but for every similar situation. Uh, in other words, you set a rule. And so it's not about whether I will wash my plate now is whether for the next month, every time I finish my dinner, I'm going to wash my plate. And when you accumulate these decisions together is often easier to see your priorities. It's often easier to see the self control, uh, conflict.
Anna: So is the specificity at play there what's important. Like, for example, if I was going to say, yeah, every time I eat dinner, I'm gonna do my dish right after. Is that more motivating potentially than like the overarching 60 second rule or one minute rule that might be too broad?
Ayelet: Yes, it is. Uh, more specific. It sets a rule about what to do when you have a plate in your hand, when you finish eating. Uh, I, it's a very example, but every time I, I finish eating, I will wash my plate rule, uh, means that you don't really need to think about it. And whether it's under a minute or over one minute, and whether this will even applies or just like, uh, the ideal is to make all these behaviors like washing your teeth. You don't really debate with yourself or least, most people don't have this like internal argument do I wash my teeth or do I not wash my teeth? It's morning. I woke up, I wash my teeth.
Anna: Not if you have depression, first thing to go is my personal hygiene. No one, judge me if you're listening to this, but no, no, I, I definitely, I definitely really love it. Kind of speaks to what I was hoping would happen for me with the one minute rule, which is that these things would become automatic. That if I approached it with intentionality, then eventually it would, I don't know, become like brushing my teeth when I'm in a good mental health place, you know? But what, what's the difference between something that becomes kind of a habit that you don't have to think about and the things that feel like they take so much work?
Ayelet: The one thing to realize is that there is a range. Like it's not either it's a habit or not. Okay. So washing your teeth is kind of the extreme example, but how about exercising three times a week, even when people tell you that they have the habit, it's very easy to quit that habit.
Anna: I am curious then since the goal doesn't always have to be to make it a habit, even though I personally would love to make these boring things, a habit. Is there a way to make doing them when they're not a habit, feel more fulfilling or be present in these moments or affirming to myself or the life that I want to live,
Ayelet: Make it fun.
Anna: I can't make doing my dishes fun. How,
Ayelet: You know, the music, uh, find a way to, uh, uh, just make it, uh, more pleasant, uh, but seriously, like what's what predicts what we do most of the time. It just, it feels good at the moment. It's not so much, it's important for us in the long run. It's like people with clean houses have found a way to enjoy cleaning.
Anna: I'm gonna have to try that tonight. It's as we're recording, it's a Friday and Friday is my deal with all the crap that's accumulated night, truly. It's like all the dishes that I'm talking about not having done, but tieing to like, no, I know this is a podcast about mental health. Like I have my own mental health struggles and I'm sure a lot of people listening do too. And I'm curious whether or not in your experience, something like the 60 second rule can help with motivation or decision making, you know, when things are like things mentally are stacked against you is almost how I put that, but I'm not sure that's how I want to put it, but you, you know, when you're depressed as hell!
Ayelet: When it gets to vision. I, I, I think that really is that the most important thing in your life to have clean plates and, and to finish this, to do list, is, is this the reason to, to do things? Uh, uh, because it sounds to me like a, you know, sometimes we just, we want to deal with all these errands. Uh, so our desk is clear and, and we feel that our mind is clear and we can do something else, but really the, the doing something else is the goal. Right? So like,
Anna: Well, actually, I, I am really curious about how this ties into your work about like creating an environment that's sets you up for, I don't know the life that you want to live, but you know, how your environment might, might impact things. And so for me, like dishes is a really great example of that. Like, I may not care about my dishes that much, but I'm like, oh, I also know that like my environment being clean does set me up, I think for like, decisions that I wanna make and stuff like that.
Ayelet: Yes. And so the way to change behavior is by changing the situation in which the behavior occurs. Okay. And like, that sounds fancy. It's not such a fancy principle. Okay. Like if, you know, if, if you want to wake up in the morning, you set an alarm clock, uh, because if you are in a quiet dark room, then it's easy to stay in bed. Uh, uh, we all do it intuitively. Other changes to the situation are less intuitive, uh, changes that involve, uh, removing certain objects from your environment, because they're unhealthy for you or removing certain people from your environment, because they're unhealthy for you and, and bringing other people to your environment. Uh, these are changes that, that require some, uh, more, uh, sophistication and then a whole new level of sophistication is even in a given environment, change the way that you think about it. So, you know, in, in like one thing that we explored a lot is whether you focus on what you have done or what you have not done. And I, I feel like I will stick to the plate because it's a really nice way to position everything in motivation science, the dirty plates, they're also clean plates in your house, hopefully. Okay. Maybe one, you know, uh, and, and so you can focus on, uh, the, the many things that you could clean, or the few things that you already cleared from your desk or, or cleaned in your, uh, sink.. And when we are unsure that we can do something that we are committed often, the, the way to move forward is actually look back. It's not about the work that we need to do. It's about that. Like, let let's see the work that I've already done.
Anna: Mm-hmm but does it have to, can it like, could your goals align with like your aspirational self, you know, because like half the time I'm kind of like, you know what, you're right. I don't get care about the dishes. I don't care about being prompt when responding to all my emails, emails are fake, but half of me is like, you know what, maybe I do wanna be the person who cares about this kind of thing. Like, how do you balance that? ,
Ayelet: Uh, well, you can certainly aspire to, uh, to be a different person in a way we always aspire to be a different person. I, we always have our ideal self, which is different than our present self, because that person is, uh, is the person that we are going to be in the future. But we need to make sure that this person is, uh, is really like the, the person that we want to be. And, and if that sounds confusing, like we need to see that we don't have something internal conflict where we are not really sure, like, you know, you keep bringing tidiness, like maybe you are not really the tidy person in your mind.
Anna: All right. We'll hear more from Dr. Fishbach back in a sec. And I guess I'm gonna go check out my clean plate to dirty plate ratio. We'll see you after the break.
Anna: Hey, welcome back to Mood Ring. So, I can confirm that I have at least one plate for dinner tonight. So on that note, let's dive back in to my interview with Dr. Fishbach.
Anna: What's so interesting to me is I, I think I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around, like, as like the line between motivation, usually like motivation to me speaks to like wanting something for ourselves, wanting to be something different, wanting to move towards, like, how do we balance motivation with acceptance, like accepting ourselves and the ideal version of ourselves and work toward the ideal version of ourselves. How, how do those coexist?
Ayelet: I, I love this question because … it illustrates such a, you know, a big misunderstanding in … in the field in a way, uh, in order to move forward, you need to accept yourself, you need to, uh, to like yourself and believe in, in yourself. And yeah. Right. And so … like we know that when people say, I, I hate myself, therefore I will change. Well, that doesn't work very well. Right.
Anna: You mean hatred, spite aren't good motivators? Because that's worked for me so far.
Ayelet: I, yeah, I strongly believe that … we need to believe in our abilities and we need to know what we used to call self-efficacy, and I just hate this, this work, but, some general belief in our commitment. Commitment is a two ingredient, recipe. Commitment means that you care about something and that you think that you can do it. Okay. If you just care, but you don't think that you can do it, then you are not trying. Right. And then you say, that's not for me. Uh, if you think that you can do it, but you don't care, then you also don't do it. So you really need the, the two things. And so, you know, if, if you don't start from a point of believing in yourself, then it's really hard to commit to anything. One of the problem with the, I mean, most of the problem with negative feedback is that often what people learn when they have setback backs in their life is that they cannot. Okay. And, and why would you bother there? Okay. Like you cannot, right. you should only bother if you can.
Anna: Yeah. But, but out of curiosity, for, you know, anyone who's listening and for myself who might be in an early or tough stage in like either their like self-compassion journey or self acceptance journey, and they still want to harness something of this wonderful insight you're bringing, what, what is a good in, on like really motivating yourself when you do sometimes struggle with believing that you can do things or caring about things?
Ayelet: A good thing is … maybe look back and … and look at what you've accomplished and, and look at … what worked well, and, you know, that motivates students who only took their first class to study. Okay. So you, you really need very little progress very little accomplishment in order to, to look back and, and, and just like consider the baby step and realize that that was a baby step, okay. That was … something. So at the, for, for novices, for know, people who have a self-doubt, really that looking back is … is the way, I mean, looking back at what you have accomplished looking back at, at what it does work and realize that um, moving forward is, uh, is coming from a sense that, that you can, that you, believe in, in yourself.
Anna: Absolutely. And now, and now I've started thinking about whether or not full circle, the one minute rule are really just small opportunities to accomplish things and show ourselves that we can.
Ayelet: Yes. Yes.
Anna: All right. Like not gonna lie. I was really proud of that little revelation. And in the moment I was like, yeah, I cracked the code. This is the mindset that's gonna help me stick to the one minute rule. And then I promptly forgot and went on with my life. What's funny is that the next Friday, I thought about Dr. Fishbach and the connection she drew between like these small tasks and our larger goals and values. It was the part of the conversation that I was most resistant to because listen, I'm a firm believer that sometimes it's not that deep, sometimes dishes are just dishes, and I was like, these are just dishes. So I was like, you know, that myself doesn't work for me. Take what you like, leave the rest. That's fine. Except I think maybe it did work.
Anna: All right. It has been a week since my interview with Dr. Fishback. And that means it's Friday and true to form I have not changed my behavior at all. And I'm standing in front of a sink full of dishes in my kitchen counter full of dishes and trash. And just like, I'm not gonna lie, it's not pretty in here. And this is usually when I would kick off my Friday night in my weekend by doing all those dishes and promising to do better next week. And maybe thinking about implementing the one minute rule, that whole song and dance. But I think this time, just to say that I tried it, I'm gonna, I'm gonna ask what would Dr. Fishbach do? And I think, I mean, who knows what Dr. Fishbach would do, but based on our conversation, I think that means it's time for me to ask, Hey, do I actually care about these dishes?
And like, okay, like I care about the dishes. Like generally I care about having a clean space. However, I'm narrowing that question to do I care about the dishes tonight. And I think tonight, what I care about more is relaxing and unwinding. And I think I care about having enough counter space to be able to like cook myself a good ass meal. But I think I can achieve that by
putting the dishes on the counter, into the sink and not actually washing them, because I don't think that I care about washing the dishes tonight. I don't think that that's what's important to me tonight.
Anna: The week after that, I kept up with my dishes. Me, maybe not right after I finished every meal and maybe not with the one minute rule in mind, but before Friday, Maybe it was because I was having a good week or maybe it was because I had named what was important to me. Like Dr. Fishbach said, we discount the future in favor of the present all the time. We discount, how much work will take, or how fun it will be, or how our future selves will feel or what they'll want. And turns out we also discount what might be helpful to us in the future, based on what we know about ourselves today. Honestly, this was a good reminder for me about what I said when I nervously started this podcast; I'm going to, really lean in to the learning and the trying, and that means learning through trying. So I hope you'll try things out with me just to see what helps. Maybe that's the one minute rule or trying to make chores fun, or unpacking why these things feel so hard, or maybe it's just very reluctantly trying something you swear is not going to work. Some stuff will work for you. Some of it won't and I hope you'll join me in trying anyway.
Anna: Thanks for listening to Mood Ring, a production of APM studios and pizza shark. We're a new show so it really helps us if you rate review and share this episode with your friends or your family or anyone you think might need it. You can even tag me if you're feeling really into it. I'm Anna Borges. That's Anna B R O G E S. And yes, that is not my last name. And you could follow the firstname.lastname@example.org. Mood ring was developed by Christina Lopez. Our executive producers are Maria Murial, Isis Madrid and Beth Pearlman. Our story editor is Erica Janick. This episode was produced by Georgina Hahn. APM executives in charge are Lily Kim, Alex Shafert and Joanne Griffin. Our music is by Matt Rotenberg and finally I'm Anna Borges, and I write, host and produce the show. I'll see you next episode.