How to avoid tasks feeling monumental when you’re low.

Back in 1953, two intrepid climbers reached the top of the world for the first time. After a gruelling climb, Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing got to the summit of Mount Everest.

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These days, hundreds climb Everest every year, with extraordinary newspaper photographs showing traffic jams of people awaiting their turn to get to the top. I’m sure it’s still a remarkable achievement for those who make it (however, although the numbers have increased dramatically, the danger hasn’t diminished – and many sadly don’t) but one can’t help but feel that what began in the 1950s as a bold expedition has become rather more routine.

Pioneering or not though, you’d have a clear goal in mind if you set out to conquer a peak, and goals can be good things. They give you purpose. They help to define your life. They equip you with something tangible to focus on.

Setting goals is all well and good when your spirits are high, but if you’re heading through a bad patch, it will probably be far harder.

With a low mood, there’s a tendency to take a pessimistic view of the world, believing (possibly correctly) that you’re capable of achieving little. Belief drives activity, or in this case, inactivity.

But even tiny goals can help.

Clearly you’re not going to climb mountains when you’re feeling dejected, but even a messy kitchen can seem like Everest in such circumstances.

So what do you do? The answer is probably to break a big task into much smaller bite-sized chunks. Rather than expecting yourself to knuckle down to get the whole kitchen spick and span, it could be sensible to promise yourself that you’ll spend no longer than ten minutes doing (some of) the dishes.

Even a small achievement such as this can help you feel better, leaving you better equipped to tackle another ten minutes a little further down the line.

Goals are goals, big or small.

6 thoughts on “How to avoid tasks feeling monumental when you’re low.

  1. Great advice. I find setting a timer really helps, even if it’s just for 5-10 minutes. Starting a task is definitely the hardest part, and quite often I find you can keep going for a while after the timer has finished.

  2. This is something I have done and it really helps. As a counsellor I suggest those I’ve counselled to try it too. Now, though, as I try to fulfil a dream of working in private practice I don’t seem to be able to complete the smallest of tasks – to complete an application form to join a professional organisation. To set up my own practice seemed like a huge task, my own Everest! I broke it down into manageable pieces, but this final stage has become an insurmountable brick wall!

  3. Thank you for this reminder!

    My experience has taught me that I need to discern which type of “feeling low” I am experiencing. Having survived both chronic fatigue syndrome and severe depression, I find that my approach differs depending on whether my energy is being used to attack myself or whether my energy is exhausted. If it is low mood, I find that breaking tasks into small pieces helps. If it is exhaustion, then I find myself unable to make decisions. I can’t decide how to break down a task, or I have managed the breakdown but am unable to decide which piece to do first – even when this is obvious.

    My partner, who struggles with generalized anxiety, also struggles with breaking down tasks. She can see only one solid wall of awful–smooth and slick, with no seams or handholds–and can’t imagine how to get over it. It can be very difficult to walk with her through these challenges.

  4. I found this moodnudge very helpful. When I have a very messy kitchen I look at it all and feel defeated but perhaps if I follow your suggestion, Jon, and just look at part of it, I shall be able to begin the task and eventually complete it.

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