Procrastination Is a Good Start

Some Assets Wear a Disguise

Those so-called “bad” habits you’ve been struggling to break may be better assets than you realize. In fact, if you really understood what you have here, you might not dislike them quite so much.

True, in their present form, some of your habits may be royally screwing up your life, but here’s an interesting little question for you… who says a habit has to stay in its present form? This simple question uncovers the loose edge of a huge, huge secret. And the secret is that you can actually keep your present “bad” habits, only adjusting them slightly, building on them a bit, and as you retune them, they could become some of your strongest “good” habits.

What Habits Really Are

But first a word about habits in general. You’ve probably already realized that habits and skills are basically the same thing. Each one is an action (or a thought) which you’ve repeated so many times that you’ve gotten very good at it, and now it’s automatic. Habit… skill… they’re opposite faces of the same coin.


Let’s say you don’t believe you can become a fast-starter or a high-achiever because you have a conflicting habit standing in your way. You truly would like to be a get-it-done kind of person, but you’ve been a habitual procrastinator all your life. Okay, the good news is, that’s not a problem.

Now remember, every habit is a skill, something you’ve practiced for so long that you’re really, really good at it. And if you already have that procrastination habit (skill), you’re never going to erase it from your brain — just won’t happen. An example — if you’re a carpenter, it’s not likely you’ll ever forget how to use a hammer and a saw.

Skills and Habits Never Die

Many decades ago, I had a small painting contracting business. And even after all these years, I still know how to paint a house or wallpaper a room. I can still walk in and immediately see exactly how to set up a job and do it.

Of course, my hands would not be as skillful at cutting in around windows or painting trim, but I know I’d be better at it, right now, than I was back when I first started. I still have the embedded skills and habits and they’ll stay with me till I depart this world.

So let’s say you have a world-class procrastination habit. You’re not going to delete that skill, no matter what. You CAN, however, alter it, add onto it, modify it, repurpose it, and re-shape it until it better supports your current goals.

And by the way, although we’re talking about procrastination here, these techniques apply to any — ANY — habit you want to change, whether it’s smoking, overeating, nail biting, insomnia, panic attacks, worry and stress, or fear of phone calls. As I pointed out, your skills (and habits) don’t desert you.

So… erase a habit? No way. But you can retrain that habit — recruit it to your side — and expand it by adding on a few useful new refinements. Even though I did a lot of painting in that former life, my skills don’t include bicycle frames, space shuttles, cars nor stage sets. But with my existing background, it’d be fairly simple to retrain me. And habits are just as retrainable as skills are.

Unrecognized Assets

If you have a seemingly “bad” habit, then don’t fret. That’s actually no barrier at all. In fact, it could be a huge head start for you.

Any lifelong procrastinator is already highly skilled in self motivation, persistence, and unswerving aim. You doubt this? Consider… let’s say you’re in an elevator and you accidentally step on someone’s toes. So they speak right up and ask you to kindly get the hell off their foot, and you do. Furthermore, from that time on, you probably become more aware of where you’re stepping. You’re able to change this behavior because it’s accidental.

But habits are different. As a procrastinator, when you’re late keeping a promise or handing in an assignment, you’re literally stepping on the toes of someone’s schedule… or at the very least you’re walking on their feelings. And as a procrastinator, you already know, from long experience, how others are going to react. But you keep on stepping on their toes. And their schedules. And their feelings.

Now, please understand, I’m not guilt-tripping you here. Instead, I want you to realize just how highly motivated you have to be to face others’ anger, resentment and disappointment. And yet you persist. Again and again, year after year, you put things off. Nobody around you likes it. YOU don’t even like it.

Clearly you are highly trained in being late. You bring to bear tremendous motivation, persistence and singleness of purpose, which are powerful skills. And the good news is, you can start using those skills in new, slightly different ways.

So now you’re probably wondering, “How do I do that? How do I change the way I’m using my motivation, persistence and singleness of purpose?”

What if it Were Easy?

If there’s a new skill you want, here’s a novel suggestion — simply start practicing it — and instead of starting from scratch, you can add it in on top of some other, more-or-less related habit… or… a habit that’s seemingly the opposite of what you want.

Let’s examine procrastination. on the surface it seems like a pretty useless “skill” to have. After all, how the heck do we add something onto a habit of not doing things? Well, it’s basically impossible… as long as we keep looking at it from the same old angle.

But what if we shifted our view just a bit? What if we looked at another side of procrastination? Remember, we said that it takes persistence to keep on procrastinating? We could choose to look at it like that — as the powerful persistence we maintain in the face of opposition from friends, family, employer — basically everybody — as we persist in our unpopular behavior.

Let’s say you’ve agreed to do a project for someone. Maybe a lawn to mow, a car to wash and wax, a big party to plan for, whatever. But after a bit you realize you’re procrastinating. Putting things off.

First, we already know the kind of things you’ve done in the past to try and “motivate” yourself. They’ve never worked before, and they’re not likely to start working now, so it won’t hurt if we try something different for a change, will it?

Let’s try this: deliberately and consciously congratulate yourself for your determination and persistence. Praise yourself lavishly. (Isn’t this the exact opposite of what you usually do to yourself?) Simply pour on the self approval. What we want to do is create a new emotional meaning for our behavior. This disconnects the old emotional meaning and immediately begins turning this habit into something slightly different and new. In other words, we’re starting to take command. This opens the door for still more small changes. Right away, we’re breaking the old pattern and making a way to reshape it.

Next, let’s say something like, “And to help make my persistence even stronger, I’m going to do (some tiny little beginning piece of the task you’ve been avoiding).” You might even add additional explanation to yourself, such as, “And with this act, I’m making my persistence and determination even tougher and more unconquerable.”

One Small Step Forward — That’s All

And then do that one tiny little piece. Nothing more — at least not for a few minutes. Stand and bask in the fact that you have the power to shape and strengthen your power of persistence and achievement. At this point, you’ve begun treating this habit as a positive, desirable part of yourself.

Now, is this going to transform you overnight into a whirling dynamo of activity? Maybe not. Not overnight, anyway. But it’s the first step of a journey in the right direction.

Fact is, it doesn’t even matter how well you do this at first. Building up to a high level of skill and control — that comes later. The first days are for building the habit of starting and doing.

So start. Do. No matter how clumsily, just begin doing it. Remember — habits generally get built in only one way: repetition, repetition, repetition.

Or let’s say you set your sights even higher. Maybe you’d like to be a fast-starting high achiever, but something inside you drags its feet at the mere thought. Instead of grappling and struggling against that feeling, let’s do something else.

One of the markers of a fast-starting high-achieving personality is to know in advance exactly what you’re going to do first thing in the morning, then upon arising, to do it.

Paper Adds Power

The thing to do then, is to start doing your own list every evening. Not as a high-achiever would do it (not at first), but in your usual, easygoing manner. You don’t have to shoot out of bed in the morning and leap into feverish, hyper-activity. Drag your feet if you’d like — even make a bit of a game out of it — but just do the things on your list. Do them as nearly first in your day as possible. Yes, I know you need to go tinkle and caffeine up first, but then…

And don’t make the items on your list too heavy. Maybe only one or two things. Maybe not even big things. What we’re doing here is forming a pattern to build on — we’re certainly not going to try and turn you a high achiever overnight. First comes the slightest little shift in self image and confidence. Later comes the bigger stuff. Doing things step by step is the realistic, real-world way.

I want you to become acutely aware of this one thing — the early days of skill-building are not for high skill, they’re for building the basic foundation, the pattern of behavior. Later you’ll polish that basic skill till you become as good as you’re dreaming of.

If your goal is to hit bullseyes — to aim at objectives and achieve them consistently — then start aiming and trying. Will your aiming ability be lousy when you first start? Well yeah, probably. But keep on and it WILL get better. It’s called skill building.

Now, procrastination may not be what’s bothering you. Instead, you may be struggling with shyness, or a desperate fear of bridges, or feelings of unworthiness. The details don’t actually matter. All habits are built up gradually over the years, and they can be changed the same way. The only two things that matter are first, starting, and second, not stopping.

The good news is, when any task begins to feel overwhelming, this feeling of overwhelm is also a habit. It too can be changed.