Q: I am a terrible procrastinator – constantly putting off paying my bills, organizing my closets, or even washing my dishes after I cook for Shabbos. I know I shouldn’t put off tomorrow what I can do today, but I just have no idea how to get myself moving. Is there any hope for my procrastination?
A: Procrastination, like any bad habit, is not an easy thing to kick, but it is possible. Bad habits, such as nail biting, compulsive shopping, over-scheduling, or putting yourself down, are something that becomes ingrained in your psyche. As with anything that is part of your daily routine, the process is not easy.
Replace lost needs. For many people, bad habits fill specific needs. For instance, nail biting relieves anxiety or procrastination simulates relaxation. You can’t expect to cut out bad habits completely without feeling any repercussions. Therefore, think about what the bad habit provides you with (anxiety relief, relaxation, feeling loved). Then, figure out a way to replace that need with something that is less destructive. Therefore, if procrastination makes you feel relaxed choose another form of relaxation that is scheduled into your day. And then tell yourself that there is no procrastination allowed – you have already done your relaxing.
Avoid triggers. Often, bad habits will be prompted by familiar objects or places – otherwise known as “triggers.” These triggers could be a favorite store for shopaholics or getting on the scale for people who constantly put themselves down. The best way to not fall back into bad habits is to avoid those triggers to begin with – so if you procrastinate by talking on the phone, don’t walk around with your cell phone or cordless. Instead, keep all phones upstairs so that you cannot easily access them.
Write it down. Nothing helps you stick to a goal more than writing it down. It is very easy to dismiss thoughts, but not very easy to dismiss written notes to yourself. Therefore, write down the habit you are trying to kick – and how you plan to do it. This reinforces the idea in your mind and doesn’t allow you to shirk your responsibility later when you would like to.
Keep it simple. Don’t make a million little rules that you need to follow in order to kick your bad habit. Instead, come up with one or two simple guidelines. For instance, don’t go to sleep with dishes in the sink or Mondays are bill-paying days. With simple rules, you will be able to follow through on your goals.
30, 90, 365. Behavioral experts believe that there are three benchmarks when trying to gain a new habit or get rid of an old habit. The first thirty days require the most will power and chances are you must constantly remind yourself to stick to your plan. After ninety days, if you are sticking to your goals, the bad habit should be neutralized – you no longer need to actively fight it. After a full year, the bad habit should be kicked, simply a remnant of the past.
Obviously, a year is a very long time to work consistently at something in order to achieve a goal. However, think about how much happier and fuller your life could be without your bad habits slowing you down. What are you waiting for? Start today!