Science and Sensibility

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13 Tips to Make This a Year to Fondly Remember

How to follow through on what you want to do

Like practically everyone else, you have something that you want to do to improve and enjoy your life. You want to lose weight, exercise, and feel less stressed. But first you need to feel motivated. You want to write melodic music with memorable lyrics. But first, the muses must inspire you. You want to make new friends.  But first, you have to read every book that was ever written on overcoming social anxieties. As the New Year rolls around, you think, “I’ll make another resolution. I’ll stop procrastinating."

Here are 13 self-help ideas to stop procrastinating and make personal changes: one for each month of the year; one extra to make a baker’s dozen.

1. Making meaningful personal changes can start as a sloppy and inconsistent process with many false starts and setbacks. At first you may feel adrift in a sea of uncertainty. You'll get your bearings by experimenting with ways to progress, and by persisting.

2. Don't bite off more than you can chew. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with trying to catch up on every personal change that you ever wanted to make.  Pick what is most important. Start there. However, include time for practical priorities, such as taking care of your car payments.

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3. Keep perspective on what is most important.  Use the autobiography trick. What are you lacking in your life that is within your capability of doing that you want to include in your autobiography?  (Achieving a dream may take a lifetime of chipping away at barriers as you stride in the direction you truly want to follow.)

4. Change is challenging. Avoid distracting yourself with promises that you suspect you won’t fulfill. Instead, get started and keep doing what has enough meaning to merit attaining.

5. Check the validity of your commitment.  Do short-term and long-term benefits analysis to assure that the change you have in mind has enough value to make the sloppy process of change worth the effort. For example, the short-term benefits of continuing to smoke include better concentration and avoiding withdrawal symptoms. The long-term benefits of quitting enable you to save money and probably achieve significant health improvements and longevity. You have to give up the short-term benefits to get the long-term ones.

6. Personal changes, such as learning to speak up for yourself, normally involve uncertainty, discomfort, and work. That’s why wishes for quick personal changes fizzle fast.  You may prefer to wait to be certain and feel comfortable. That delay strategy rarely turns out well. Make accepting uncertainty and discomfort part of your change plan. Paradoxically, you may feel more certain and comfortable about executing a meaningful and healthy change.

7. Set clear goals. Here are three goal-making standards: (1) The goal is meaningful. It's something that has a clear value for you. (2) It is measurable. You can objectively assess your progress. (3) It is attainable. You have a reasonable chance to accomplish what you set out to do.

8. To increase your chances of following through, make sure you are clear with yourself about what the goal entails. Suppose you want to act more confident. What would acting “more confident” look like? What difference would you observe in your thinking, feelings, and actions?  Use action as a guide. Act as if you were in control of your change actions. The actions you take to follow through empower you to do more of the same.

9. Goals without plans are like having a destination and then putting on blinders hoping you'll magically get there.  Map the path. What will you do first, second, third, etc. Since change is often a sloppy process, expect to find blocks and impediments. Plan to detour back to the path that you mapped. Of course, if the map is wrong, plot a different way.

10. Put a different twist on action planning. Consider using backward planning. Start by imagining that you’ve made the change. Then follow the steps you took in reverse order. What step did you take before you achieved what you resolved to do? What was the step before that? Follow this approach and you do what a Zen archer might do. The archer visualizes an arrow moving back from the target to the bow. The archer sees the trajectory, releases the arrow, and hits the target. Use this flip technique as a planning aid.

11. Consider that small improvements count! If a major league baseball player hits 300, he's doing an excellent job; if he bats 350, he's a superstar. Yet what is the difference between those two levels of success? The 350 hitter gets one more hit in every 20 times at bat.  That small difference makes a big difference. Remember, becoming an achievement superstar doesn't mean hitting 1,000. It means taking steps that cumulatively add up. (Your prefrontal cortex may be fast to grasp something new, but it takes primitive brain regions time to adjust to a change. Incremental change can help the brain accommodate to change.)

12. Instead of procrastinating, you make a goodwill effort to follow through. Support your goodwill efforts with the “do it now” principle. According to this principle, the key to getting things done involves consistently doing reasonable things, in a reasonable way, within the time and resources that you have available in order to increase your efficiency and effectiveness and sense of accomplishment and happiness.

13. As you plan for a change, create multiple incentives to support it. For example, follow action with appropriate short-term rewards that are a normal part of your daily routine, such as drinking coffee or reading the newspaper. By making “natural” rewards follow goal-directed actions, you may discover that you can persist with vigor.

At the turn of the year, resolving to change is common. This resolution making time is an overrated tradition. There is nothing magical about the turn of the year for making a change. If you want to make a change, you can start any time.

For coping with procrastination click on: The Procrastination Workbook and End Procrastination Now

Special to this blog is Bird in Flight by Dale Jarvis, AreaOne Art & Design Fayetteville North Carolina.

 © Dr. Bill Knaus

Bill Knaus, Ed.D., is the author of more than 20 books; one, "Overcoming Procrastination", was co-authored with Albert Ellis.

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