Are the Bad Idea Bears about to Hijack Your Day?

The Bad Idea Bears

Photo by The Consortium

Admit it. We’ve all been there.

You’re just about to start on that Big Difficult Task that’s the most important thing on your agenda today.

It could be a phone call to a powerful person. Or that article you’ve been meaning to write all week. Or an artwork you’ve been stuck on but which keeps nagging to be finished. Whichever, you’ve finally stopped putting it off and screwed up your courage to begin.

Then the Bad Idea Bears burst in.

If you’ve seen the musical Avenue Q, the Bad Idea Bears will need no introduction. If not, then you need to know that the Bad Idea Bears are bears who come bearing bad ideas. And they’re intent on delivering them to you.

In the musical, the Bad Idea Bears pop up whenever one of the characters is in need of some good advice. Like when the young jobseeker Princeton receives his allowance from his parents, and the Bad Idea Bears are on hand to persuade him to spend the money on beer. Or when kindergarten teacher Kate has an important assignment to prepare for the next morning, and the Bears convince her to have some ‘harmless’ Long Island Iced Teas…

You get the idea.

So what will the Bad Idea Bears suggest to you today?

Maybe they’ll go for the direct route:

There’s plenty of time, why don’t you put it off till tomorrow? It’s a beautiful sunny day – it would be a crime to waste it indoors …

Or perhaps they’ll be a little more subtle:

You’d better just check your e-mail before you get started – something important could have arrived in the last five minutes …

They’ll try anything to get you on the Internet – they know what happens to time once you start clicking links:

Wasn’t there an important website you were going to check out, for research? It could make all the difference to the final outcome …

If all else fails, they’ll play the productivity card:

Look at all these things on your to-do list. Wouldn’t it be better to start with some ‘quick wins’ by ticking off some of the easy items?

It’s hard to argue with the Bad Idea Bears – they are fond of pointing out that they only want you to be happy. They get very upset when they see you denying yourself pleasure. They can hardly bear to look at you bracing yourself for a challenge. Why put yourself through needless suffering?

After all, isn’t life there to be enjoyed?

Resistance Is Futile

You may be tempted to argue with the Bears, or to use willpower to resist the temptations they offer you.

Don’t go there. It’s fatal.

It might work today. It might even work tomorrow as well. But these are two extremely persistent Bears. They’re in it for the long haul and will wear away at your resistance until you crack.

Until the day you give in to one of their Bad Ideas. And guess what? When it comes to dealing with the consequences, you’re all on your own.

So forget about willpower. If you really want to get rid of the Bears, you need to give them a dose of their own medicine.

Find the Fun

The Bears’ strategy is devious and very effective. Knowing it’s only human nature to seek out pleasure and resist pain, they bait their trap with something none of us can resist for long:


By pointing out how difficult and painful the task will be, and offering an alternative that’s quick, easy and enjoyable, they can make a Very Bad Idea very hard to resist.

To beat them, you need to trump their fun with more fun. You need to find the fun in that difficult, painful task. Here’s how.

There are basically two kinds of fun:

1. The Fun of Doing

This is the pleasure you take in the task itself. Often, the initial resistance to doing difficult complex work (such as drawing, writing or practising a musical instrument) gives way to pleasure, even creative flow. This is what prompted Noel Coward to say ‘work is more fun than fun’.

To beat the Bears: Remember the last time you were ‘in the zone’ while engaged in a similar task. Promise yourself, it won’t be long before you experience that pleasure again – the sooner you start, the sooner you’ll be enjoying yourself …

2. The Fun of Being Done

Let’s face it, some tasks are just plain unpleasant. Things like tax returns, conversations with difficult people and root canal surgery. The only fun to be had with these tasks is getting them done and out the way. But when you think about it, that’s a lot more fun than putting them off and trying to enjoy yourself when you know they are still hanging over you.

To beat the Bears: Think ahead to you how you will feel once the task is done and out the way. Relieved? Happy? Liberated? Take a moment to savour that feeling, then promise yourself it won’t be long till you feel it for real – in fact, the sooner you get going, the more time you will have to really enjoy yourself …

And if you’re stuck for a witty retort next time the Bad Idea Bears come calling, you could do worse than quote the words of George Bernard Shaw:

I never resist temptation because I have found that things that are bad for me do not tempt me.

How Do You Deal with the Bad Idea Bears?

When are the bad idea Bears most likely to visit you?

How do they try to hijack your day?

How do you deal with them?

Mark McGuinness is a poet, a coach for creative professionals, and the host of The 21st Century Creative Podcast.

How to get creative work done in an "always on" world

Productivity for Creative People

Mark McGuinness' latest book Productivity for Creative People is a is a collection of insights, tips, and techniques to help you carve out time for your most important work – amid the demands and distractions of 21st century life.

β€œOf all the writers I know, I have learned the most about how to be a productive creative person from Mark. His tips are always realistic, accessible, and sticky. It’s not just talk, this is productivity advice that will change your life.”

Jocelyn Glei, author and Founding Editor, 99U

More about Productivity for Creative People. >>

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  1. I had already been distracted by the bears when your email came through! And it is only 8:46. I have shown them the door and am back on track. Thank you!

  2. I recall that Thomas Edison had 10,000 bad idea bears before inventing the light bulb; it takes patience & enduring a lot of failures to succeed. Keep checking the bears & one day there might be a Steiff πŸ™‚

  3. Irony of it is that I read your article and re opened Seesmic Desktop to tweet about it, instead of writing that article I’ve been post poning for days ! OK, I’m going to print it and post it in front of me “The Fun of Doing” and “The Fun of Being Done”. Back to work. Congratulations, Mark! You’re really walking your talk.

  4. Great post, Mark. Like Marion, I am going to print this out. I’ve just spent 2 hours on “quick wins”, but now, I’ll show the bears the door and get on with writing that workshop!

  5. There are so many wonderful things about Ave Q and the Bad Idea Bears are just a couple of them.

    Awesome post. I am very familiar with the Bad Idea Bears, and I find myself fighting them off more often than I’d like to admit. Thanks for the tips!

    … I’m surprised you didn’t tie in “the internet is for porn”! πŸ˜‰

  6. I didn’t know that anyone else encounters the “Big Bad Bears”.

    I’ve all but given up on trying to deal with them … they are pretty persistent.

  7. Ha! I love this post, Mark. The Bad Idea Bears are soooo good at what they do. They’re constantly tapping me on the shoulder trying to sell me on their oh-so-clever little suggestions.

    One thing that helps me tremendously when it comes to ignoring “da bears” is using a timer. I use an old-fashioned kitchen timer, but those cool little digital timers or the timer on your watch or even an oven or microwave timer work well.

    I work in 45 to 50 minute blocks of time starting first thing in the morning. But only AFTER I’ve devoted the first hour and a half to two hours of my morning to a shower, brushing teeth, etc., a healthy breakfast, meditation and personal growth studies (reading or audios)… “ME” time.

    I devote the first 2 to 3 blocks of time after that to tasks and projects that require the most creativity, that are the most challenging–writing, etc.–and/or are the most directly related to fulfilling my vision-achievement goals.

    The remaining 45 to 50 minute blocks are devoted to admin- or operations-related tasks and projects.

    At the end of each time block, I get up from the computer, stretch and move around a bit (or take a quick walk), and drink a glass of water, in addition to getting a fresh cup of tea or quick healthy snack. 5 to 10 minute breaks that include movement away from your computer / work are a must!

    Be sure to set aside at least 30 minutes for a healthy lunch. This time block can even include a quick power nap (highly recommended!).

    I set aside 2 to 3 times a day to check email and 2 times a day to respond to it.

    Unless a phone call is urgent, I set aside a block or two of time to respond to or place calls. Coaching calls are a high priority so I try to schedule them either in the morning or early afternoon whenever possible because those times of day are my peak energy and performance times.

    Using time blocks is an incredible way to stay on track, on target and maximize productivity. The more you use them, the more you’ll accomplish with them.

    I recommend starting with only one or two back-to-back assigned time blocks as a beginner. After a couple of weeks, you can start adding more.

    Getting back on track after a weekend or other multiple-day break can be tough. Sticking to my “ME” time routine even on non-working days makes it much easier for me to step back into working time blocks on the first workday of the week.

    The Bad Idea Bears are way too cute! Instead of giving into their mischievous suggestions, maybe I’ll dance with them during my little movement/exercise breaks. πŸ˜‰

    Thanks, Mark.

  8. I’m definitely a sucker for the “quick wins” tasks, though sometimes I use it as a run up to a bigger job especially if they’re going to be on my mind.

    I like the idea of finding the fun in the task though, I can certainly relate to that excitement of having something finished; and on that note I’m going to turn my attention back to the work I should really be doing πŸ™‚

  9. It seems I’m always waiting for the perfect time to start a task, when I know I’ll not be interrupted, it’s not too hot or cold or rainy or sunny and I’m not too tired or too hyper or hungry or thirsty. When my hormones are all balanced and I’ve balanced the checkbook and the house is clean so no mess distracts me and it’s not too close to the weekend on either end and I won’t have to go to the dentist the next day or am recovering from a walk.

    That time is never.

    What I’ve found work(ishes) for me is to schedule goof off time. I have kids and I’m with them during the day. When I have my five minute snatches of time in the morning, I no longer pretend I’m going to get real work done, instead that’s my fritter time.

    Then after lunch and I’ve put them all down for a nap, that’s when I work, no excuses because I’ve already done my frittering.

  10. Bad Idea Bears also come in the form of parents who just want to see you “enjoying life” and keep saying you should “take a break” even when you know you don’t really deserve one yet:). I am going to try to work towards having “fun in the flow” and the “fun of being done.” I like that…

  11. I loved this post! Very true – especially when the task is big and feels overwhelming. My bears usually suggest I clean up a little around the house – not actually having fun, but it seems productive. I’m going to tell them it’s more fun to work!

  12. Thanks everyone – Wow those bears are busy critters! Sounds like they cover more ground than Santa! πŸ™‚

    @ Mary Anne – great productivity advice, sounds like a post in itself.

    @ Tracy – Yeah, wait for the perfect time and you’ll be waiting a long time… Bukowski wrote a poem about that, I’m sure Amy could talk about it. πŸ˜‰

  13. @ Stacy – I’m thinking of writing about β€œthe internet is for porn” next week. I’m sure it would bring in some new readers via Google. πŸ˜‰

  14. Funny story – This article was my bad news bear today. I was just about to get started on a project I have been putting off, and then I saw a tweet pass through my screen with this link. Had to click and read. Glad I did though, because now I have to beat the bears and get started on my project!

    Thanks for the great aticle.

  15. Raid needs to come out with a line of sprays to get rid of them. They just keep coming back for more!

    Anyways, yes, if we just do & remember the accomplishment of getting set task done, they tend to leave ya alone πŸ™‚


  16. I just want you to know that the faces of those bears will haunt my dreams.

  17. Bad idea bears usually encourage me to buy something right before it goes on sale for half price.

  18. Nice article!

    I have trouble detecting my Bad Idea Bears as they dress up as the Good Idea Gophers and trick me when I’m not expecting it. I’m going to stick the lot of them in a boxing ring and let them get on with it, while I do something productive!

    – Julie

  19. “Like when the young jobseeker Princeton receives his allowance from his parents, and the Bad Idea Bears are on hand to persuade him to spend the money on beer”

    Who said it was a bad idea for a kid to buy beer?
    Just kidding. Thanks for the tip. IT kind of helped me. I think that the Bad Idea Bears are just another myth, kind of like Freedom for All, Hope and Change, and the Tooth Fairy.

  20. Thanks everyone. Glad I’m not the only one who has to (ahem) bear this affliction. πŸ™‚

  21. I just do what i always do and tell them my idea is for the three of us to get drunk and we always wind up in a three way πŸ˜€ Always works because after they’re too sore to come after me again for at l;east three weeks πŸ˜€