How the yuck-o-meter got my to-do list back on track

A couple of projects have been stalled lately because my Inner Toddler has refused to settle down and work. One look at the to-do list, and the Inner Toddler screams! she kicks! she pounds her fists on the floor! Then she runs off to read still more recaps of Mad Men and Project Runway.

From my experience as an aunt (and more distant experience as a babysitter), I recall that neither scolding nor pleading gets you very far with toddlers. Empathy, on the other hand, will nearly always steer you right.

So that’s the tack I took this week.  I looked at my to-do list.  My Inner Toddler stamped her feet. “You really, really don’t want to work on this!” said I, the Kindly Rational Grownup. Inner Toddler glared, arms folded. “You really think it’s going to be tedious and hard,” I said. She’s still glaring, lips pressed together tight. “I don’t think it’s going to be as tedious as you think. But let’s find out. We’re going to work on this project for an hour, and you can operate the yuck-o-meter. At the end, you tell me what the yuck-o-meter says.”

So she kept busy with the yuck-o-meter while I made headway on the task list. It wasn’t tedious, exactly, but there was a lot of frustration. Oh, right—it usually takes a lot more time than I hope to get past the second-guessing-every-decision phase, until I feel some momentum. No wonder she didn’t want to settle down! Yuck-o-meter reading: Medium High.

I’ve also observed that once past the first-however-many unpleasant hours of uncertainty and frustration, things start (slowly) to get easier and more interesting. The Inner Toddler has trouble with that concept, not being so skilled at delayed gratification.

But she does like running the yuck-o-meter. So she’s getting to do that all week.

Note: Predicting how difficult/satisfying a task will be, and comparing that prediction to reality, also happens to be a technique from cognitive behavioral therapy. The Inner Toddler prefers the yuck-o-meter.


  1. Janet: This is my first introduction to the yuck-o-meter. Love it! I’m also a fan of cognitive behavioral therapy.

    I’ve been noticing a bit of intermittent stuckness myself lately. I’ve recently been in a “clearing-the-decks” mode and keep reminding myself that this, too, is a valid and important place to be. Accepting that I need and want this phase of the process has been more challenging that I would have expected. Apparently, I’m a lot more attached to achieving externally visible achievements than I realized. Not sure how all my various inner rebels play into this, but I notice that when I can *accept* the truth of where I am, things tend to flow so much more smoothly.

    I love hearing how you creatively work with your Inner Toddler. I hope you’ll write more.

  2. I love the idea of the yuck-o-meter…and the Inner Toddler! Because yes, some days “Inner Child” doesn’t cut it for me–she’s much less mature than that. 🙂

  3. Janet Bailey says:

    @Laila – It’s so tempting to de-value Clearing the Decks when we’re used to looking for a certain type of result. How great that you’re acknowledging the importance of this phase.

    @Michelle – I firmly believe that we’re all toddlers at heart. 😉

  4. J.D. Meier says:

    I heard long ago that delayed gratification is a key to success in life.

    One of the best little rules I learned in a “feel good” book is that action often precedes motivation. I find that to be true in a lot of scenarios … I don’t always have motivation to start, so I “just do it”, but then motivation follow suit once my wheels are in motion.

  5. Janet Bailey says:

    @J.D. – Yes, waiting for motivation might mean waiting forever, whereas “acting as if” sometimes leads to motivation. And when it doesn’t…yuck-o-meter to the rescue!

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