This Common Habit Is Probably Keeping You From Achieving Your Goals

Written by Gretchen Rubin
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The below is excerpted from Gretchen Rubin's Better Than Before: What I Learned About Making and Breaking Habits — To Sleep More, Quit Sugar, Procrastinate Less, and Generally Build a Happier Life Copyright © 2015 by Gretchen Rubin. Published by Broadway Books, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.

All those old sayings are really true. Well begun is half done. Don’t get it perfect, get it going. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Nothing is more exhausting than the task that’s never started, and strangely, starting is often far harder than continuing.

That first step is tough. Every action has an ignition cost: getting myself to the gym and changed into my gym clothes can be more challenging than actually working out. That’s why good habits are a tremendous help: they make the starting process automatic.

Without yet having a name for it, in fact, I’d invoked the power of what I would come to call “Strategy of First Steps” [in the process of researching this book]. I’d spent months reading and taking copious notes, and I had a giant document with a jumble of material about habits. This initial period of research for a book is always exhilarating, but eventually I have to begin the painstaking labor of actual analysis and writing.

What was the most auspicious date to start? I asked myself. The first day of the week, or the month, or the year? Or my birthday? Or the start of the school year? Then I realized that I was beginning to invoke “tomorrow” logic.

Nope. Begin now. I was ready. Take the first step. It’s enough to begin. Now is an unpopular time to take a first step. Won’t things be easier — for some not-quite-specified reason — in the future?

I have a fantasy of what I’ll be like tomorrow: Future Gretchen will spontaneously start a good new habit, with no planning and no effort; it’s quite pleasant to think about how virtuous I’ll be, tomorrow. But there is no Future Gretchen. There is only Now Gretchen.

A friend told me about how she used tomorrow logic: “I use a kind of magical thinking to procrastinate. I make up questionable rules like ‘I can’t start working at 10:10, I need to start on the hour’ or ‘It’s already 4:00, it’s too late to start working.’ But the truth is that I should just start.”

It’s common to hear people say, “I’ll start my new habit after the holidays are over/I’ve settled into my new job/my kids are a little older.” Or worse, the double-remove: “I’ll start my new habit once I’m back in shape.”

Tomorrow logic wastes time, and it allows us to deny that our current actions clash with our intentions. In an argument worthy of the White Queen, we tell ourselves, “Absolutely, I’m committed to reading aloud to my children, and I will read to them tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow — just not today.”

The same tendency can lead us to overcommit to responsibilities that take place in the comfortably distant future—but eventually the future arrives, and then we’re stuck.

For more on how to stop procrastinating and escape tomorrow logic, explore these:

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