The wall of awful and the miracle of submission

ADHD specialist Brendan Mahan coined the term ‘Wall of Awful’ to describe the emotional barrier that prevents you from doing seemingly easy tasks. Sometimes short, routine tasks are the most insurmountable. No amount of post-it notes, to-do lists or Alexa reminders will give me the ammo I need to crash through that wall. Although crucial, even positive emotion isn’t always enough.

In these circumstances only accountability can motivate me to get things done. A popular form of accountability is “body doubling” or coworking. This is great for providing a supportive environment to work on those pesky admin tasks. However, it is counterproductive when I have an assignment due since I do my best translations alone and in hyperfocus mode. I rarely get much notice before a project begins so scheduling co-working sessions is tricky. If my schedule happens to align with a friend’s and we can fit in a last-minute session, great. But when I’m in the translation zone weeks can easily go by with my important-but-not-urgent tasks going untouched.

So, what is a self-employed translator with an unpredictable schedule and a routine allergy to do? This probably wins the prize for my most atypical tip and is one that I guarantee you won’t find in any self-help book.

Enter, the BDSM app Obedience. Wait, hear me out!

I can’t tell you how I discovered this app. I’m not part of the BDSM community but I stumbled across this and have adapted it to meet my (non-sexual!) needs. I’d tried countless apps that made big claims about making habits stick but they all fell by the wayside and left me disappointed.

Obedience is different. It’s not about accountability, it’s about submission. For this to work you need a “Dom” and a “Sub”. The “Sub” enters the tasks they want to get done each week and assigns points to each task. Each time they complete a task the “Dom” receives a notification and the “Sub” wins points to be redeemed against previously agreed rewards.

The beauty of it is that two people can be each other’s “Dom” and “Sub” and compete for points. Gamifying your habits offers instant gratification and injects motivation into tasks that would usually require consistent long-term commitment before you see a return on your investment. It’s easier to get my workout done if I know my “Dom” is notified of my success and I’m earning points towards a meal out.

There are a couple of other nuclear options out there that I have yet to try. Boss as a Service uses real humans to take you to task if you fail to tick off your tasks (you need to give them evidence!).

Beeminder takes this to a whole new level and will fine you a pre-agreed amount if you don’t meet your goals. I’m not sure I’m brave enough to try that one. Is accountability important to you? Who holds you accountable?

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