By Leo Babauta
One of the biggest problems we face when we’re forming a new positive habit is procrastination.
We’ve all done this: we’re trying to meditate or exercise or floss, but we’re tired or busy. So we put it off, and then the next day we do it again, and soon we’ve just dropped the new habit.
It’s easier to put off the habit than to just do it, right? What’s the solution?
I was taking a walk with my mom, Shannon, a couple days ago and we were talking about habits. She’s very good at just doing any habit that she knows is good for her: if she finds out she needs to take some vitamins every day, or do foam rolling, or do a daily walk, she’ll just do it. No fuss, no problem. She’s the same way with anything — finances, tasks she has to do for her work, Guampedia.
So what’s her secret? I questioned her until I found out.
Me: Most people get to a point where they skip doing a habit when they’re tired, or stressed … but you don’t. Why not?
Shannon: I just tell myself, “You’re not getting into that. It’s only going to take two minutes. Just do it now.”
Me: What do you mean by, “You’re not getting into that”?
Shannon: I know what happens when you go down that slippery slope. I’ve been there. So I just decide not to go down it. It only takes two minutes, so it’s better to just do it now.
Me: So you’ve been down that slippery slope before, and you know how it turns out.
Shannon: Yeah. If it’s flossing my teeth, I think about how bad my teeth will get if I don’t floss, how expensive and painful the dental work will be, and I think it’s better to just take care of it now than to have to deal with all of that.
It turns out that she visualizes all the consequences of going down the Slippery Slope (or just knows them by now). If it’s eating junk food, she has seen the ravages of diabetes that people she knows have gone through because they didn’t eat healthy enough.
This is a skill that many successful people I know have, especially ones who have good habits around health, productivity and finance. It works.
So to recap, here’s Shannon’s Method:
- Know what small action you need to take in order to take care of yourself (for health, work, finances, etc.).
- Know when you’re supposed to do it, and when the time comes, just do it.
- If you are tempted to skip the habit because of tiredness, busy-ness or stress, think about the Slippery Slope that you’re going down if you skip it. Visualize the long-term consequences of not doing this habit — not just this once, but ever again. You know what happens to people who don’t have this habit.
- Tell yourself that compared to the misery at the end of the Slippery Slope, just doing it now is much, much better. It’s two minutes of easy work vs. years of horrible stuff.
- Then say, “You’re not getting into that. It’s just two minutes. Do it now.”