Procrastination, habits, and building a better mousetrap

Recently a friend and I were discussing our ongoing attempts at self-improvement, particularly because we were both working on similar concepts using different terminology. Her framework that she’s been using is that of Mel Robbins’ “How to change your life in 5 seconds“. I’ve been using Andrew Mellen’s idea of “Unstuffing” (because although he emphasizes physical stuff, it also applies to emotional stuff and overscheduling). The common framework? Delayed decisions, and the negative impact they have. Those piles on my desk? Delayed decisions. Those two week old emails you haven’t answered? Delayed decisions. Debating about stepping out the door for a run versus reading a few more pages? Delayed decision. You get the idea here.

Mel Robbins does a terrific job sharing the neuroscience of why her 5 second rule is so effective in preventing your from delaying those decisions that are tied to a goal- and relating them to habit formation. Simply put, the 5 second rule allows you to change habits by moving from the narrative network to the experience network in your brain.

So, how exactly do you break a habit you want to get rid of…or start a habit that is to your benefit?

I’ll admit that I’m partial to James Clear’s framework that he expands in Atomic Habits. For the quick, 5-step version of the book’s strategy, this post will get you there (and it’s got fantastic visuals!). Start small. Tiny wins. Use chunks. Never miss 2 days in a row. Be patient.

Confession that provides an example: I’m never going to feel like going for a run at 430 am. I’m simply not. But I do it not-infrequently because I know it’s the right thing to do for my physical and mental health, as well as my personal growth. And I do it because even at 430 am I love the freedom of being outdoors. On the days I know that I need to run early because it’s the only time I’ve got, I get up as soon as my alarm goes off, I put on my running clothes that I laid out the night before, I go downstairs and put on my Noxgear vest (because safety!), flip on the outdoor garage light, and head outside. No negotiation with myself- or with the cat who is sometimes trying to get me to stay in bed. No decisions to be made because I already checked the weather and chose appropriate clothes. My reward? Knowing that I have done something for ME- something that is a habit and is “automatic” and that I love doing even when I don’t love the time of day I’m doing it- before most people are starting their day.

Now that I’m motivated with all of this habit-talk, I’m going to go manage some deferred decisions on my desk. And get out my running clothes for tomorrow morning’s run.