The ‘Postponed Start’ Problem & How to Fix It
Most of us suffer from the postponed start problem. Here’s how to fix it.
One of the most common self-defeating behaviors I have witnessed in the general public is what I call the Postponed Start. If x is your desired habit, the Postponed Start usually takes the form of the following statement: “I’ll start doing x after y happens”. For example:
- I’ll start eating healthy after I get back from my trip,
- I’ll start going to the gym after my exams,
- I’ll start my writing habit after I move into my new place,
And so on, and so on.
The unfortunate reality is, though, that we are extremely ineffective at fulfilling promises to ourselves of the above form. Inevitably, y will occur. Our beneficial habit, however, rarely follows. The vast majority of the time, we either a) push back y so that it is now some other, later event, or b) start saying that x was never a priority in the first place (rationalization).
In my own life, I do this all the time. Before I went on a trip to Europe in May, I had statements of the form ‘I will start exercising at 7:00am in the morning when I begin my trip’. I envisioned some disciplined, motivated Nick living the life of his dreams overseas, and that Nick always did what needed to be done.
When I was actually on my trip, though, reality set in. I was not that person. Things became inconvenient, and my statement immediately changed to ‘I will start exercising at 7:00am in the morning when I get back from my trip and my life gets a little more stable’.
Likewise, when I started working for myself, I had statements of the form ‘I will start writing every morning after I move out’. I was still living with my parents at the time, and (of course) there were distractions here or there, so I thought that it was too difficult to start now and I would wait until it got more convenient. Future me, who was independent, efficient, and unburdened by the distractions of home life, would surely feel motivated enough to write.
Wrong. The second I moved out, my y predictably moved goalposts when I realized how…