Easy Action Items, Great for All Ages, Motivating the Unmotivated

Primed for Success

“Focus on your child’s strengths to help her overcome her weaknesses.” Heard that before? Probably – it is a great sentiment and can be an effective strategy, but there are plenty of parents who will tell you that it is hard and sometimes it is not possible. If my child is good at dancing, it can be difficult to see how she is going to directly use dancing to improve her math, spelling, reading, or history. Maybe she is not actually interested in learning about the history of dancing or reading about dancing – and then what do you do?

You actually do not have to be dancing while doing math for dancing to improve your math. Instead, what you do before you start working can make the difference. Dancing for 5-10 minutes before starting math will actually improve your math, or history, or reading… Doing something fun before an activity that is decidedly less fun primes you to enjoy and focus for that second project. A dancer will be energized by dancing for a few minutes before working and will be ready to focus on the next topic. However, if said dancer is bored sitting in his chair tuning his teacher out, he is not prepared to transition effectively to solving math problems.

One of my former clients loved to play the guitar. When I arrived at his house for executive functions coaching, he would show off what he had learned the previous week during the first five minutes of each session. Afterward, he was ready to practice scheduling the rest of his evening, to organize his backpack, and to do whatever else we had on our agenda. Without that five minutes of playing, he would be flipping through apps on his phone, calling out to his mother in the other room, showing me a new toy… His ability to find anything to do other than work was amazing, except when he was primed by playing the guitar.

Priming for work by doing something you love first (or at least enjoy) can help everyone reduce procrastination. As Eric Barker describes, you make it your “personal starting ritual” (2015). You decided that you are going to get started on work after doing X. Before working on a big project, you take a walk, grab a coffee, surf the web, do a dance, play the guitar, take a nap (only one of those things!) and then you are ready to work. You have primed your brain to be ready to work as soon as you are done. Just remember to set a time limit!


Alvarez, A. (2015). Personal communication.

Barker, E. (2015). 5 easy tricks for beating procrastination, backed by researcher. Barking Up The Wrong Tree.