New Year, New You

The principles of change

Make This Your Best Year Ever

Walk a new path to success and happiness

Promissory note procrastination occurs when you make timely, meaningful, and relevant promises to yourself and then don't carry them out. For example, you weigh too much. Changing your eating pattern is necessary, pressing, and consequential. If left undone, you're in trouble. Nevertheless, millions put off doing what is healthy. That's why obesity is on the rise. You want to write a book. You keep files of your notes, but don’t put them together. You feel lonely and want friends, but spend you spare time watching movies on TV.

American naturalist and author Henry Thoreau ended his book, Walden, with this thought. If you take a different path from what most others follow, you may hear the beat of a different drummer. The question, of course, is what path to follow?

Be Careful What You Ask For

Life goals can sound impressive and still be too general. You want to be happy. That’s too general.  Happiness is a byproduct of doing something else first. You'll get further faster with specific and goals that can lead to happy outcomes.

Here are three standards for a specific goal: (1) The goal is meaningful. It's something you value. (2) It is measurable. You can objectively assess your progress. (3) It is attainable. You have a reasonable change to accomplish what you set out to do. Follow these three standards and you are less likely to lead yourself astray.

When you have a meaningful goal, it may reflect a problem you want to solve, such as you feel lonely and want to make friends. You know that by engaging people socially, you can make friends and feel less lonely. However, if you procrastinate on engaging people socially, you have a problem to solve. Let’s turn to that challenge next.

Gear-up, Start-Up, Keep-up

Goal setting is a first step in making personal changes. However, goals do not automatically translate into productive actions. You need to push yourself. But you also need an action plan, one that you can adapt as you go.

Goals without plans are like having a destination and then flying by the seat of your pants hoping you'll magically get there. You can gear-up by using concrete plans as stepping stones for positive changes. Let's take depression as an example. You want to feel free from depression. How do you achieve that result? Take a stepping stone approach.

Overcoming depression is ordinarily a byproduct of doing something else first, such as exercising, challenging depressive thinking, and engaging people when this is an important goal. This stepping stone approach gives you a plan. If you prefer a more scientific term for this process, use activity scheduling.

An activity schedule is an outline of what you'll do first, second, etc.  Activity schedules include rewards that follow prescribed actions. After following through with an action step, do something nice for yourself, such as listening to your favorite music or taking a warm bath. 

Here is another activity schedule example. Suppose that your main health goals are getting fit and socializing more. As part of you plan, look for ways to combine goals.  You get a twofer benefit by joining a group for short daily walks. You set a time to start. You create an activity schedule where you research exercise groups, and join one. You follow through. You reward yourself with something you like doing, such as reading news reports on the Internet.

Getting started is the hard part. Use my five-minute method to get started. If the activity is exercising with a group, take five minutes to start researching exercise groups. If you have a report to write, commit to five minutes of writing. After the first five-minutes elapse, you can decide on doing another 5 minutes, etc., until you are done with this start-up step. 

It pays to anticipate problems when you can. Suppose you have a habit of starting and quitting midstream.

Behavioral procrastination is starting and quitting before you are through.  You start an exercise group, and then say you are going on vacation as an excuse to quit. You start a tropical fish hobby by researching fish and equipment.  You buy your fish tank. It gathers dust as do many other hobbies you've started. Bottom line: behavioral procrastination is costly form of procrastination.

To avoid the behavioral procrastination trap, assess where you are likely to stall out. When you get to your expected stall point, have a plan in hand. For example, plan to push yourself beyond this breakdown point. Reward yourself for this accomplishment. In this way, you are following a problem-solving activity schedule.

Persisting where others might procrastinate is like marching to the beat of a different drummer. If you are going to step to this beat, a lot depends on developing an enlightened perspective about your goals and activity schedule.

Expect to stumble along the way. Preplan what you'll do if you veer from your path and tarry by procrastinating. What do you say to yourself to encourage yourself to delay or quit? Write out your thoughts and question them. Remind yourself why you made the promise to yourself. Examine the progress you've made. Consider the gains that you can still make. This reassessment can rekindle your will to pursue a change that you decided was healthy for you to do. Now, give yourself a reward for getting back on your activity schedule track.

Although water will flow along the easiest path, sometimes you have to restrict and channel it to make it more useful for you. If you want to dig deeper into understanding and overcoming procrastination, listen to my free Podcast at For in depth guidance on how to be more efficient and effective, click on End Procrastination Now! To overcome depression, click on The Cognitive Behavioral Workbook for Depression (Second Edition).

© Dr. Bill Knaus

New Year, New You