I am the official Washer of Dishes in the Dodds household. Most every night before bed and every morning before I leave for work, I scrub, spray and wipe so that our kitchen is ready for the next meal.
Before we were married and lived in the same house, my wife and I had a great talk about who would be responsible for which chores, and I had told her that I wanted to do the dishes because I enjoyed the job.
A few months into marriage my wife asked me an interesting question: “I appreciate that you do the dishes all of the time, and I know that you said you like it, but why?”
It wasn’t something that I’d put much thought into before, but the answer came easily.
I like to clean the kitchen because most other areas of my life are battles that bring both joy and difficulty, whether it’s a job or a relationship or staying in shape. Most will last as long as I’m alive. All exhaust me at times. Doing the dishes is one of a few things that I can take care of completely—perfectly—in about 20 minutes (most nights). It’s tactical, and every time I rub a drying cloth and put a dish away I can literally feel myself making progress.
Don’t get me wrong—I don’t jump up and down at the chance to wield a fresh scrubber. In fact, most times after a long day there are things I’d much rather do than face the carnage of a hardware-heavy meal. But I do find deep satisfaction in starting and finishing a project quickly and flawlessly, even if the process isn’t fun.
It turns out this process is really good for your brain because of something called Implicit Memory1
Implicit memory is a type of memory in which previous experiences aid in the performance of a task without conscious awareness of these previous experiences. Evidence for implicit memory arises in priming, a process whereby subjects are measured by how they have improved their performance on tasks for which they have been subconsciously prepared.
There’s utility in consistently feeling tangible progress and completeness, even if it’s in something as simple as doing the dishes—especially if you don’t feel like doing it. That small, low-cost push to wipe the stovetop eventually bleeds over into that project at work that needs that last 10% to go from good to awesome, or that special thing you’ve been planning to do for someone that you can’t seem to get around to.
Rewarding yourself with a scotch when you’re done doesn’t hurt either.
1. Implicit and Explicit Memory make for interesting studies. Read more in a Wikipedia article on the subject.