How many times have you set out to have a new habit? How many times have you said, “Tomorrow, I start without fail?” How many times have you really started without fail?
Procrastinating the moment to take action is extremely common. It happened to me hundreds of times; it seemed that my brain put the brakes on long before starting. But, I have applied a super-easy strategy with which I have managed to turn that activity that I postponed again and again into a new habit.
In this article, I explain how you can apply this strategy in your life. The best part is that you don’t need an extra dose of motivation to put it into practice. Keep reading and make a permanent habit of any activity you propose.
“Postponing is like a credit card: a lot of fun until it’s time to pay the bill” –Christopher Parker
A little more than three years ago, my goal was to start this project that you know very well: usually.
I was very enthusiastic, but I came across an obstacle along the way. I had to start writing every day.
It was an indispensable activity that I needed to adopt as a habit in order to have a blog and reach my goal.
Like any new activity, I needed a lot of effort to sit down and face the blank page.
Every time I decided to start writing, something crossed, something was more important, and I found an ideal justification to leave it for later.
‘After washing the dishes now if I start,” “I better cook now, lest I get hungry while I write,” “I better start tomorrow, so my mind is fresher . . .”
With one excuse after another, I continually postponed facing this new activity. Maybe deep down (and without acknowledging it), I was afraid of not being able to achieve my goal.
I’m not the only one. Maybe you, too, have found yourself in a similar situation in which you intend to start an activity to meet your goal and fail.
It is normal that, at first, having a new habit is seen as a very big goal that is difficult to achieve.
Most humans have the same problem; it takes too much effort to find the power button inside ourselves. We think that, in order to take action, we need the magic secret of eternal motivation or restricted supernatural willpower for a few.
We see that many people do achieve their goals, while one sits on the starting line, thinking about the most opportune moment to start.
I felt I was in the same situation until I discovered an easy solution to stop postponing.
For me, it was to start writing, but it can be useful for any other important activity that you want to turn into a habit.
Before I explain to you what this strategy is, let me tell you the worst mistake you are making in setting goals.
This is the worst mistake we make when we set out to do something.
This is the most common mistake when it comes to setting goals:
We set a deadline, but we don’t set a schedule.
Having goals is your compass, so you don’t get lost on the road.
However, having a deadline and just focusing on it can turn your goal into a dead-end maze.
The problem is that focusing only on the deadline has several disadvantages:
A deadline won’t make us click on the power button.
Why is that? Because we completely forget the process involved in reaching that goal.
It’s easier for us to procrastinate.
Why is it easy? Because you unconsciously know that this deadline is still very far away, and postponing has no repercussions on your present.
You are likely to experience a kind of failure.
Why is that? I don’t know. Because when that deadline comes, you are disappointed that you did not meet your goal. Even if you are better than before, the lack of motivation inevitably appears.
This doesn’t mean that setting deadlines are bad; you just have to focus on the daily process rather than the deadline.
Think that the process is what will make you climb that mountain and what will make you achieve your goal.
Start with a small daily decision
Making a small decision to start each day is the best way to achieve a new habit.
Small daily decisions build habits, and that set of habits forms your lifestyle.
Being constant with an activity is not an isolated decision, but is the result of many decisions over time.
You don’t wake up on a good day and say, “Oh! I think today I want to be constant,” and the next day: “Well. . . today is Friday; I’ll leave my record for Monday.”
But you must, day after day, build that habit: Maintaining constancy should occupy most linear time, right?
A recent study analyzed this perception we have about our goals and how it transformed as we took action, specifically in the formation of eating habits.
The results showed that the participants initially described initiating the activity of “eating a portion of vegetables” as “a lot of effort to do,” but, days later, they described this activity as “easy to do” as they had already initiated the process to turn this activity into a habit.
This means that, as time goes by, and you perform this activity constantly, your perception will change completely.
The activity that was once “difficult” will become “easy” (even if you failed many times in the past).
Up to this point, everything sounds great, but the real question is, “How do I get to take action and be constant so as to form a habit?”
It’s very easy. With this strategy, you will finally stop postponing, and you will get a new habit in your daily routine. It worked great for me, and I’m sure it will also give you results in your life.
The strategy of programming in advance
Just as you read it, the strategy I’m proposing to you is simply to schedule that activity in advance:
Mark on the calendar the specific date and time for this activity.
It sounds pretty easy, but believe me, it does work.
If you just wait until Monday to take action, you’ll probably be stuck until the next week, until the next month, or until the next new year.
Instead, deciding exactly and very precisely in advance when you’ll be taking action takes the effort out of deciding when to take the first step and prevents you from endlessly putting it off.
Instead of setting a deadline, it’s better to set a time and date to work on that goal consistently.
“I want to go for a run to lose weight before summer.”
The error is in setting a deadline. The solution is to remove the deadline and schedule the activity:
“I want to run out to lose weight and form a habit.”
- Goal: lose weight and look spectacular in my bikini
- Habit to adopt: constant running
- Specific activity: running 15 minutes in the morning after coffee
- Strategy: write the specific activity in my mobile calendar:
“Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, from 10:00 to 10:15, I will run through the park that is close to home after the coffee I drink in the morning.”
So, when I arrive on Monday at 10:00 a.m., I know what I have to do. I don’t have to think about it much.
“I want to read ten books before Christmas.”
The mistake is in setting the deadline before Christmas. You already know the solution:
“I want to form a reading habit by reading ten books.”
- Objective: To read ten fiction books
- Habit to adopt: Reading consistently
- Specific activity: Read ten pages per night after brushing my teeth on my sofa
- Strategy: Scheduling my activity in advance
“Every night after I brush my teeth, I’ll be reading my book on my couch.”
Is it easy, isn’t it?
Setting a schedule in advance is a magic eraser for eliminating the famous excuse: “I’ll start tomorrow.”
You will notice that the more details you write in your diary or calendar, the better. In this way, your brain captures the image, and you visualize yourself doing the activity.
And if you analyze it, the specific activity is a very small beginning step.
My experience with this strategy
When I deleted the deadline, I managed to concentrate only on writing (in the process).
What I did was set a fixed schedule in my daily routine for writing every day. Since then, the schedule remains the same. I haven’t postponed that activity because writing became a habit.
Having a habit is the easiest way to achieve your goals.
Without scheduling this activity in advance, I wouldn’t have been able to write every day, and I wouldn’t have been able to create this blog. Besides, if I hadn’t eliminated the deadline from my mind, I would have experienced a kind of failure (as happens when we don’t achieve our goal within the time frame we set for ourselves).
Instead, and thanks to you, I’m slowly building one of the most amazing online communities of people who have decided to live healthier lives.
I have published more than 100 articles to date, and on average, they have 2000 words, which means that I have written about 200,000 words (not counting what was written in the post, courses, and other pages).
And the results are noticeable, the last time I checked. There are more than 90,000 email subscribers who read the articles I write every week.
So now it’s your turn.
Set your schedules to get started and focus on the process
Just as it happened to me with the formating the habit of writing, this strategy applies to forming any habit in your life.
Sticking to a schedule and not a deadline will make you be constant.
Remember that what you do continually is more relevant than what you do from time to time.
This is the secret of all those people who excel:
- The best writers in the world are on the same schedule in front of the keyboard.
- The most successful painters have their brush in their hands at the same time every day.
- Athletes with gold medals are running on the same daily schedule.
Because you can’t predict when you’ll be inspired to write a beautiful poem or paint a spectacular landscape, you also don’t know if today is the big day when you will be able to run faster.
Inspiration finds you while you’re taking action. (Read this again.)
The same goes for everyday activities that you want to turn into habits. You don’t know if you’ll feel like running every day, or if you’ll want to eat a piece of fruit or read a book before going to sleep.
The schedule is an incredible strategy, because only in this way can you ensure that you will be doing this activity at the most convenient times.
In addition, this strategy can also work for those activities that you definitely don’t like, such as tidying up your closet, cleaning the house, taking out the trash, bathing the dog, washing the car, etc.
And why not, it also works for those activities that we love and have forgotten or stopped doing, such as playing football or chess, reading in the park, kissing the family, spending time with friends, tuning that stored guitar, or taking a bike ride.
How can I start the strategy of programming in advance?
Now that you are convinced, you only have to follow these three quick steps:
Step 1: Show your commitment
Before anything else, you must commit and not just have an interest in having a new habit.
This is the difference: the interest is simply the desire to achieve the habit, and the commitment is planning and taking action to achieve it, that is, take responsibility for implementing a strategy.
Step 2: Write out your goal (new habit) in detail
Define the habit you want in as much detail as possible, for example:
- I want to go for a walk every afternoon in the park on the corner
- I want to plan a light, healthy dinner on my way home from work.
- I want to read a chapter from a book before I go to bed.
Step 3: Decide in advance when
Establish and write in advance the date and time when you will be doing that activity.
A range of hours is better; this way, we avoid the “all or nothing” mentality.
Ask yourself after what activity or after what habit already in my routine do I start with this new goal?;
- When I get back from work and leave the keys, I change my clothes and go for a walk in the park.
- After the afternoon series, I prepare my light and healthy dinner in the kitchen.
- After brushing my teeth at night, I sit down to read my book.
WARNING: You have to be realistic about the schedule, and the time you will devote to this activity. If you organize yourself better, there’s sure to be a little space in your day to do what you’ve been postponing.
A good idea is to use an extra reminder, so you don’t forget to do your activity. For example, try an alarm on your mobile phone, a digital calendar, or a simple note in front of the mirror.
But the best reminders are habits you already have.
In my case, I used the usual morning coffee to remind me that it’s time to start writing. But, you can do it with any other activity that is already a habit: after brushing your teeth, making the bed, taking out the dog, or reading the newspaper, etc.
What is the habit you want to have? Share with me your answer in the comments.