Have you ever noticed how many of us start things on a Monday? Whether it’s joining the gym, cooking healthy meals, or opening a savings account, all too often we put off until tomorrow or next week what we could easily (and rationally) start today.
Believe it or not, there’s a method to the madness. Researchers have found that we are more likely to follow through with our goals if we start on a Monday or any other ‘meaningful’ date – like the start of a new season, new year or even a birthday. It allows us to disconnect from our past negative selves; to put our failures behind us and look ahead to future success. Psychologists call it the ‘fresh-start effect’.
But what happens when those ‘fresh-start’ opportunities come and go, and we’re still no closer to pursuing our goals? Yes, life is busy. I get it. We live in a culture that values busyness. Even though forced COVID lockdowns have helped many of us learn to slow down and appreciate simple moments and pleasures, there is always something holding us back from exploring those ideas and plans that have been niggling at us for months (even years). I’ve got too much work on. The kids need me. The house won’t clean itself. We complain (but really brag) about our full schedules to show how much we’re valued and needed. And sometimes we use it as an excuse to avoid tasks that scare or challenge us.
Studies support the idea that people generally choose to work on easier rather than harder tasks. (We probably didn’t need a team of researchers to tell us that!) It’s no surprise that we tend to follow the least demanding course of action – both in terms of physical and mental exertion, because we see hard tasks as more costly. And if the deadline for a particular goal is way off in the future, we’re even less motivated to get started. Our tendency to devalue something based on time – known as delay discounting, is a common procrastination practice. Achieving a goal is a delayed reward, which lessens its value right now. And the further away the finish line, the more our enthusiasm wanes.
Yet it’s often these costly ‘big picture’ tasks that deliver the greatest rewards. We’ve all heard the dramatic story about the dying 80-year-old who regrets working too much in a job they didn’t like; who wishes they’d pursued their dreams, spent more time with their family or not worried so much about what people think. We also know that life passes by quickly and it’s short. We don’t want to miss the moment. This is not about living life from a place of fear; it’s about understanding that we will never have today again. That every moment counts.
So often as coaches, people will tell us, “I’ve been wanting to do this for five years…” or “If I had just been brave enough I could have finished that study by now”. We get motivated and determined, but then life gets in the way. But ask yourself this: what do you want your life to look like in one, three, five and 20 years’ time? And what do you need to do now in order to realise that vision?
We grown-ups are so great at starting stuff, but not always so great at finishing. And we are experts at telling ourselves a story about why we didn’t go all the way. But successful people don’t need any such excuses. They set goals and go after them, refusing to give in when setbacks (or life) get in the way. They see things through to the end. They know that life is a constant work in progress. That success and change happen when we do small things every day, consistently. So take a leaf out of their book and commit to 20 minutes of learning or planning per day. Make that phone call. Fill out that form. Sign up to that course. Say no to something that you need to let go of. See every single day as a new opportunity to get yourself closer to whatever it is that matters most to you. Your future self will thank you.
- The Coach Place team.
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