Putting Your Life Together The IKEA Way

It’s a great idea to buy that bike or bookcase with the label: Some assembly required. In fact, diving in and doing some hands-on work will change not only how valuable you believe something is, but how happy you are.

And you don’t have to be particularly skilled at something to get these results. This is called the IKEA effect, even though it’s actually been around a lot longer than the giant IKEA stores have. Cara shares how to use this effect to improve your personal and team commitment to your project.  

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Welcome to the Cara Brookins Show, where you’ll find all the tools you need to get unstuck and build a better life. I know what it feels like to need a friend to talk you through the hard stuff. From cleaning off your desk, to building a new desk, or even rebuilding your entire life from scratch, I’ll be here with you for every step. Let’s get moving and build exactly the life you want.

My kids have done some really weird things that didn’t make a lot of sense to me at the time. Then again, I bet they secretly say the same thing about some of my projects, so maybe it’s all just a side effect of our family project mindset. Here’s the weird thing though. 

When I look back, I can eventually figure out what underlying purpose their weird project served for them. And that’s even true of their craziest sounding adventures. 

So you may have guessed, today I’m gonna share one of these weird things that one of my kids did with you. But first, let me remind you that my kids are adults now. I know you first met them when they were teenagers on our construction site and Roman was just a toddler out here catching frogs in the mud. But now they have jobs, homes, and lives of their own. Even Roman is turning 16 and has a drivers license in his pocket. So, what I’m saying is, they’re totally cool with the things I share about them. And that means, we can dig right into this story about my youngest daughter, Jada.  

When Jada, graduated from high school, she started looking online at a bunch of… I guess you’d call them adventure sites. Now this was way different than what Drew, my oldest son had looked at. He was all about having big adventures in Australia and Alaska. Things that would be more tourist activities like zip lines, hiking and eating great food. But not Jada. Her mind was aiming for something the rest of the family thought was really bizarre. 

She was looking for a work experience. Or sometimes called a working vacation. But the kind that— as far as the rest of us could see was actually all work and no vacation. She searched sites like Farm Stay US, and the Peace Corps. But mostly a lot of much smaller, family run programs where she would sign up to go do things like: blaze a hiking trail through the wilderness, build rock steps, care for bees or berries, or maybe sheep or turkeys and goats. Have you ever heard of something like this? 

Work. Really hard physical work. And she wouldn’t get paid for it. No pay at all. In fact. Are you ready for this? 

She would have to pay the people running the program in order to be allowed to go work for them. Think about that for a minute. She would pay them, to do the work for them. 

If you ever read Tom Sawyer, I bet this sounds familiar. Like the story when Tom was painting the fence. Remember that one? Tom Sawyer had to paint this long picket fence as some kind of punishment. But when one of his friends saw him and started making fun of him, he made it look like so much fun that eventually the kid GAVE him an apple so he’d be allowed the privilege of painting the fence for him. 

This kid paid Tom to let him do the work. 

Jada was willing to pay someone to let her do their work.

And this is where it gets really, really weird. Tom and Jada aren’t alone. Not only are there huge industries built around this idea. You. And me. And pretty much everyone has done this same sort of thing, more than once in our lives. And we enjoyed it so much, we’ll all do it again. 

But before we get into that, let’s talk about the sites I mentioned a second ago. Farm Stay US. Has hundreds of farms in states like Vermont, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Montana, and Wisconsin where you can pay to milk cows, collect eggs, Harvest crops. You can muck the stables, mend the fences, and other really labor intensive jobs. And it’s not just in the United States, this concept is everywhere. 

You can work with elephants in Thailand, with children in Nepal or Cambodia, or plant trees in Australia. or work on the beach in Bali or even the Galapagos islands. Maybe one of these sounds a little more appealing to you. Or maybe you still think the whole idea is nuts. 

Jada researched hundreds of these places. And guess what she ended up actually doing?  That’s right. She didn’t just research the idea of a pay-to-work adventure, she set off on one and did this for real. More than once, actually. 

Jada found a family deep in the Ozark mountains who was inviting people from around the world to help them build a straw bale house. And a fully functional off-grid homestead. She drove as far as the roads allowed, then loaded her tent, and supplies into her hiking backpack and hiked that last couple of miles to the homestead with her dog Greek. (Yes, this is the same sweet dog you see me walking every day in my IG and FB stories)  

Now this wasn’t a lovely summer hike experience. This was early March in the mountains. Cold enough that she had to brush ice and snow off her tent more than once. Cold enough that Greek snuggled right into the sleeping bag with her. 

And what did she do all day? 

She learned to stack straw bales into a house and cover them with a mud mixture. Think sort of like an adobe structure as the finished product. But with walls as thick as hay bales. 

She learned to milk goats and make butter and cheese. She took care of turkeys and chickens. By now you must be wondering what in the world this has to do with you and your goals. But stick around because the ways you can apply this to your project are HUGE—even if your project has nothing at all to do with chickens, and I recognize that it probably doesn’t, neither does mine. 

 On the days when Jada had time to hike to a spot where she could get a cell phone connection, she told us she loved what she was doing. That at the end of every single day on that homestead, when she was counting her blisters and shivering in her tent with Greek, she felt great. She saw a ton of real value in what she had done with her own hands. 

One weekend, my boys Drew and Roman and I visited Jada at the homestead—and right away they talked us into an entire long day of work building pantry shelves for some home canned goods. And the first thing we noticed that day, was that Jada’s level of pride in the things she built, was a lot greater than the actual value of anything she’d done. 

I’m not saying she was bad at farming, I’m just saying with the primitive tools and materials, the limited solar panel electricity, and the limited knowledge. 

Well, the results were functional, but imperfect, and… not overly attractive. And this right here, is where it all gets interesting. 

Because there’s a really fascinating psychological effect behind why Jada and the entire group was so darn proud of their so-so work. 

And after you hear what it’s called, you’ll start to see the times that you’ve fallen for the same effect. Not once, but a whole bunch of times in your life. Maybe not with farm animals or hay bale houses, but with everything from nightstands to teddy bears. Curious yet? 

The name will really blow your mind. This is called: the IKEA effect. That’s right, IKEA. The big box store that sells stuff you have to put together yourself. 

These do-the-work trips that I’ve mentioned, if you think about it are each a sort of DIY industry. And they’re all based on this IKEA effect of us placing a really high value on products we partially create. What that means is this:

If you go care for bee hives investing your money and time, and then you bring home a jar of the honey your labor helped create, it will taste like the best honey you’ve ever had. And you’ll estimate the value of it at 63% more than the honey you’d buy at Kroger. 

And if you think you’re not the type of person who is susceptible to this IKEA effect, you’re probably wrong. Because the same effect gets you into other places like Build-a-Bear. Where you pay more for a stuffed animal because you help create a teddy bear and you customize its final look. But there’s a lot more to this industry than toys.  

How about the food delivery services like Hello Fresh that send you all the ingredients and recipes for your meal, but you still have to prep and cook them yourself? Or selecting the exterior color of your iPhone? Or subway building a custom sandwich you create right in front of you. The same exact effect goes into these as we saw back in Tom Sawyer’s fence painting or Jada’s goat milking adventure. 

And if by some chance you’ve avoided all of the things I’ve mentioned so far, the same IKEA effect is used by companies that allow you to do high level customization of products without actually doing the physical work yourself. In this case, it’s the brain work of designing something online like a shoe or bike or even your next car’s colors and features by selecting from options that let you build it yourself. 

Oh, and I just thought of another one that fits in some ways. Uber and Lyft! Instead of just calling a cab company and taking whatever yellow car shows up, you pick the level of luxury, whether you’re sharing to save money, and you can even see your driver ahead of time. You are customizing your ride experience. And a lot of these drivers take it a step further, offering you control of the music, water or soft drinks, phone chargers, a chance to ride up front, and other choices for elements of your ride.

By now, you can see that this is a widespread effect used by a pile of industries to get you to pay more for their product and value it more. But you know that’s not all we’re here for. Because what I love most in life is figuring out how to use things like this to our advantage. Right? 

Obviously our brains work this way, now how can we use this IKEA effect to help us start our next project and stay motivated until we finish it? 

Well you might have guessed that I have some ideas of how to do just that. And we’ll get to them after a really short break. 

Before we dig into more details, we’re going to take a short break. 

. . .

I want you to stop and think for a minute about how great it would feel if you could have an idea for a project and then easily just start doing it. Pick up the pen or the hammer. Build the website or hang a sign over your door. Just get moving and do it. 

Why is that so hard, just taking that first step? Why do we end up so paralyzed that most of our ideas land in the “someday” folder.

That’s what my free “Get Unstuck” Challenge is all about. 

I’ve done a lot of things in my life that are really big. I’ve published eight books, built a career writing software, a public speaking business, and I built an entire house with my kids by watching YouTube videos. 

But this challenge right here, this is one of the most important things I’m doing. Because I know how frustrating it is to really want a better life. To maybe even have an exact idea of what you want to do. And to just feel too stuck or too burned out to get there. 

And I know too that it’s possible for you to do what I did. To overcome that feeling of being stuck. It’s 100% possible for you to overcome that stuck feeling and to build exactly the life you want. 

I’ll take you step by step with a series of four video challenges. And at the end you’ll be ready to finally get started on your big project. 

Go to Cara Brookins.com and click on “get unstuck” to sign up for this free Get Unstuck challenge. 

. . .

And now, back to the show. 

There are a couple of big reasons that this little IKEA effect works so well on us, and the thing they have in common is that this effect, this ‘I did it myself’ effect engages you with the goal more completely. And that’s a way to really lock in your determination to achieve this goal. And you already know a thing or two about how really engaging with your goals improves your motivation level. 

It’s because motivation builds motivation. You can start by creating just a little bit and it will keep growing. In fact, when you really engage with your project and get that ‘all in’ feeling about it, it’s easy to keep going. In fact, it feels impossible to quit. Which is a fantastic situation to be in. That’s what we want, isn’t it. We want our brain so locked in and committed that quitting feels wrong and motivation feels easy.

If you’ve already listened to episode 10 about how we can create motivation to get started and keep going, you’ll see right away how this fits together.  If you haven’t listened yet, it’s worth going back after today’s episode because all of these systems in our brain work together. Episode 10 is called: How to Create Motivation When You Don’t Feel Like it. You’ll see right away how the IKEA effect fits with it. 

Now, let’s cover a couple of the ways you can put this IKEA effect to use on your project. And these are true whether you’re doing a project all by yourself, or teaming up with other people. 

First, set up ways that you can interact directly with the project at every stage. The more creative these interactions are the better. In some project, like building a greenhouse or designing a sign for your company, this creative interaction feels obvious and is easy to set up.  Even if there are stages you’re hiring out, make sure you ask for several options from the designers so you have a direct hand in choosing the outcome. Because here’s something cool about our brains. 

The IKEA effect is a magic trick you can play on yourself. Even when you KNOW you’re setting up an IKEA effect for yourself. It still works. It still works! When you intentionally set up a way to be more creatively engaged with some hands-on DIY part of your project, you still take more pride in it because you produced it. You can’t help yourself. 

Especially at really difficult parts of your project when you can feel your motivation waning and you really wish you could find an exit door or a little shoemaker elf to finish the work. These are the times when you now know you can instead find a way to get more directly involved in some part of the project that you can really own. And it doesn’t even have to be something overly difficult for this to work. In fact the most successful way to pull this off is to make the work challenging but not too challenging. 

Ok. You’ve got this for projects that have some hands on elements to them. Physical project.

But other projects that take place completely off site or maybe even in cyberspace. Something you never really can reach out and touch? When the idea of laying your hands on something physical seems impossible, the DIY element may seem more difficult, but it’s still possible to use the IKEA effect to your advantage is some subtle ways.         

For an off site project, or one that has a really long set up and planning stage, engage your hands and your mind by creating a model of the project. 

Or change the office art work or color scheme to reflect an element of the project. Anything from your post it notes to your pens and clothes can help you feel more directly and creatively engaged and connected to the project. This is especially helpful in team environments where members can take turns integrating their ideas in creative ways. A little competition between members for creativity improves the connection even more. 

Some of these actions may sound small and irrelevant at first, but on a psychological level they can tip the balance on how connected you feel to the project, and that will change your motivation, your energy level, your commitment. It will change everything. 

The big effect you will get out of these small creative interactions isn’t just a stronger connection to your project, it’s also an increase in your personal level of competency. It’s that simple. You’re believe in yourself and your  ability to start and finish a thing with positive results. Bolstering your confidence in one area will bolster your confidence in other areas. Taking control in one are will give you a sense of control over other areas. 

And it doesn’t matter if you set that chain off with assembling a bookcase, or custom ordering the thank you gifts for clients, or whatever start to finish IKEA-like scenario you set up for yourself or a team. 

Remember, we derive satisfaction from the feeling that we can influence our surroundings. We are born to create and to take pride in our creations. So using the IKEA effect isn’t something that difficult, it’s a natural way we already think. And after you get into the habit of using it, you’ll see more and more ways to get yourself moving with your DIY vision boards, or color coded notes. And as you work and sense a lag in your motivation, you’ll see more and more ways to inspire your mind back into action—with a little hands on interaction. 

I’m have the urge to dig out an Allen wrench and put something together right now. There must be something around here I can build. And I can’t wait to see what you build too. 

Next week, we’ll be talking about Analysis paralysis, a frustrating stage of planning where you sink so deep into the details that you can’t make yourself move forward into action. 

Thanks for hanging out with me today, head over to carabrookins.com for more (free) tools, and we should connect on social media too. Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast.