Low Spoon Living

Practical Tips for Navigating Daily Life with Low Energy, Executive Function Challenges, and Disabilities

How to get things done when you can’t even get started – body doubling

How often does this happen to you? The dishes are piling up, the assignment / work task is due in three days but you are frozen. You WANT and NEED to get started but just simply can’t. So you stay where you are, berating yourself for not doing the task.

If this happens to you, here is one possible solution that can help. It is called body doubling. This is a productivity strategy for those of us who struggle with initiating or finishing a task.
It’s a simple strategy where the mere presence of another person, physically or virtually, can catalyze action and focus. And the best part? Even if you would rather not socialize with another person this can still be done alone.

What is Body Doubling?

Body doubling simply involves being with another person who is either doing a similar task or is just motivating the other with their mere presence.

At its core, body doubling is not about someone watching over your shoulder. Nor is it about someone helping you perform the task. Instead, it’s the fact of having another individual in the same room or on a call, creating a subtle but powerful sense of companionship and accountability. For many, this presence is the gentle nudge needed to transform intention into action.

There is nothing new about this method and without a doubt we’ve been using it since our cave dwelling days but its power lies in being able to use it consciously – when we become aware of its usefulness and can tap into its potential on demand.

The Science Behind Body Doubling

The effectiveness of body doubling is grounded in both psychological and neurobiological principles. Understanding these can provide insight into why this method is helpful for so many individuals, especially those struggling with task initiation and focus.

The Role of Mirror Neurons

A Mirror Neuron is a special type of neuron in our brains that activates when we perform an action and when we see someone else perform an action. They help in understanding and mimicking others’ actions and emotions, playing a significant role in social interactions and self-awareness.

In the context of body doubling, mirror neurons might be activated when an individual sees another person engaging in focused, productive behavior. This subconsciously prompts the person to mirror similar behaviors. Although the exact function of mirror neurons in humans are still subjects of ongoing research and debate, the theory aligns well with the observed benefits of body doubling.

The Psychology Behind Body Doubling

The effectiveness of body doubling also partially lies in its psychological impact. When another person is present, it naturally instills a sense of accountability and commitment. This feeling can be a powerful motivator. The presence of a body double can subtly but constantly remind you of the task at hand, reducing the likelihood of getting sidetracked. It can also significantly reduce feelings of isolation that often accompany solo work, making the task at hand feel more manageable and less daunting.

Body Doubling when alone (indirect body doubling):

So how can you use body doubling if there’s nobody else around? Even alone, this can still be an effective tool. All you need to do is simply search for a video of the particular task that you are struggling with. It may seem silly but just watching a video of someone washing dishes may be enough to motivate you to get started washing your own dishes. Podcasts or motivational speakers on the task’s topic can also be a great help.

Individuals with perfectionist tendencies, past traumas or fear of judgment and criticism, may find this indirect method a particularly useful strategy.

Are there any cons to Body Doubling?

Something to keep in mind is that body doubling can sometimes work against you. How, you ask? Well, if you are surrounded by a house full of people sitting around watching TV or scrolling on their phones, there’s a good chance that you may find it harder to get started on a task. This phenomenon is not just about physical presence; it’s deeply rooted in the psychology of mimicry and social influence. When we see others engaged in leisurely activities, our brain, often subconsciously, interprets these cues as a signal to relax and unwind. It’s akin to a subtle, unspoken permission to ease off the productivity pedal. The key is to recognize this dynamic and, if possible, create an environment where the collective energy is aligned with your intended tasks. This could be by finding a separate space to do work, joining, or simply watching others focused on similar work. The idea is to harness the power of others to bolster, rather than hinder, your productivity.

Body doubling is a versatile, customizable strategy that can benefit a wide range of individuals. The key is to find what works best for you, respecting your own needs and boundaries. Whether it’s through physical companionship, virtual co-presence, or background activities, body doubling can transform your approach to tasks and productivity.

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