Try This One Weird Trick to Overcome Resistance to Homework

A student with their head down on a crowded desk

You don’t like to be told what to do. Parents tell you to do chores. Teachers assign homework.


These out-of-touch grown-ups tell you what to do, and your brain responds by generating massive, seemingly unreasonable amounts of resistance.

Don’t worry. You’re not alone. This is completely normal.

It’s something that nearly all teenagers experience. And it’s actually part of what makes humans human. If our ancestors had always done what their parents told them to do, we might have never invented tools or fire or art.

Progress comes from doing something different.

But notice the key word there: doing. To make something of your life, to leave a mark on the world, you have to take action. And, unfortunately, the resistance you feel to what adults tell you to do most often leads to inaction.

It would be one thing if you said, “No, I’m not going to do my homework. I’m going to invent a more efficient solar panel.” Or if you didn’t have time to mow the lawn because you were busy running an NGO that’s solving homelessness. Or if you were creating a new genre of music instead of studying for your Spanish test. But that’s not what resistance usually produces. Usually, resistance leads to, well, the path of least resistance: scrolling through social media feeds, watching YouTube, playing video games with friends, and so on.

In fact, if you wanted to take on those types of grand, world-changing projects, you would encounter a whole new kind of resistance – the kind you feel when you think about doing the very best and most important thing you could possibly do. Oftentimes, resistance is a compass, pointing right at the tasks that matter most.

a compass held at arms length with mountains in the background

So you need to learn how to overcome resistance. Both the everyday boring kind of “I don’t want to do my homework” and the big, scary kind you feel when the chance comes to pursue your dreams. And all those times you feel resistance to doing what adults tell you to do are opportunities to practice overcoming resistance in general.

The classroom, the desk in your bedroom, the kitchen – these are your training grounds. Math homework, literature essays, doing the dishes – these are your training exercises. These are tasks you can use to strengthen your willpower muscle and improve your willpower identity. So when you have a really important opportunity, and you feel resistance, you’ll be strong enough to fight through it.

So what’s the trick to overcoming your resistance to doing things grown-ups tell you to do?

Tell yourself to do them by writing them down on your personal to-do list. By writing them down, you’ll be taking ownership of the tasks, transforming them from things you’ve been told to do into things you’ve chosen to do.

A young man thinking about what to do and writing on a to do list

A to-do list (or a planner or a calendar or a smartphone reminder) isn’t really about remembering to do things. You can always check the online portal for school to see what homework you have. Your parents will nag you about chores if you forget to do them. Or the world will serve up natural consequences if you truly forget. No. The point of writing something down is that you’re effectively saying to yourself, “I want to do this. I’m going to do this. I choose to do this.”

The point of writing to-do lists and mastering other executive function skills isn’t to earn better grades – though that will probably happen. The point is to become a more powerful agent in the world, capable of designing a life of personal freedom, more prepared to help solve all the problems grown-ups have left you with.

So when you feel resistance to homework, see it not as a reason to avoid it, but as an opportunity to practice exercising the power of choice and a chance to incrementally improve your ability to do what needs to be done regardless of how you feel.

You’re Smarter Than You Used to Be

A middle school student working hard

There’s an old math topic that was really hard for you. Maybe it was fractions. Maybe it was long division. Maybe it was memorizing your multiplication facts.

Now here you are in middle school or high school, and this topic still haunts you because new math is always built on old math. You know it would be helpful to patch that hole in your knowledge, but you don’t think you can. You think it will still be too hard for you.

But you’re wrong.

You’re way smarter than you used to be.

How could you not be?

That “super hard” math topic was from years ago, and your brain has been getting stronger the whole time. You’ve learned far more difficult things since then. So you’re more than capable of going back and learning that old topic.

Put in a few minutes a day until you’ve got it down, and you’ll have easy access to that knowledge for the rest of your life. I promise you won’t regret it.

When Should You Learn How to Swim?

A child learning to swim

When should you learn how to swim: before or after you get dropped into the middle of a lake?

On the one hand, if you were dropped into the middle of a lake you’d be very motivated to learn how to swim. But on the other hand, it’d be too late because you’d be drowning.

This is, of course, a metaphor for learning skills like organization, planning ahead, and effective studying.

Most students wait until they need these skills before they’re interested in learning them – they wait until they’re drowning in the middle of the lake. This is understandable. Prior to needing these skills, they had no motivation to learn them.

The trouble is that, in the middle of the school year, when you’re feeling overwhelmed, when you can’t figure out why your test scores are so low, you’re not in a good space emotionally to learn big new skills. You don’t feel like you have the mental bandwidth to take on new habits. You don’t feel like you have time to do anything extra on top of your current workload.

It is better to organize your physical and digital worlds before you succumb to the chaos of the school year. It is better to learn time-management strategies before you feel like you have no time to spare. It is better to practice neuroscience-based study techniques before you need to put them to use in AP Biology.

And it is wiser, of course, to learn how to swim before you’re drowning.

P.S. Summer is the perfect time to work on these skills, and we have a whole team of academic coaches who would love to help! Email today to schedule.