I have read hundreds of books on psychology, philosophy, self-help, and success, so it’s not often anymore that something truly surprises me. I love looking at the world or an idea in a new way, though, so I am always looking for new insights and treasure the “lightbulb moment” when it happens. One day a few years ago, I decided to try a Wayne Dyer book. I had already read similar spiritual books on the Law of Attraction and know the common talking points like how they believe we’re all interconnected, so I expected to get different words that effectively say the same thing along those teachings. However, I was pleasantly surprised when I stumbled upon a new way of looking at life’s problems that I had thought of partially myself but finally had it articulated very well in one of his works: a concept that I’m going to call “reverse-procrastination” in this post.
Many years prior to learning about Wayne Dyer’s “just today” or “just this one time” approach, I found something interesting about my motivation: I never liked doing dishes…except that it wasn’t that bad doing the dishes, it was that bad deciding to do the dishes and starting to do them. Once I got started, I was now doing dishes and I would finish them. So, I created a trick (or what they call “life hack” these days) for myself where I’d say that I would only do dishes for 5 minutes. Once I did them for a few minutes, I would want to keep going until they were done so I didn’t have to come back to them again later. It was a pretty big insight for me since it allowed me to be much more disciplined in doing my dishes and I stopped having huge piles to do after getting by without washing them for sometimes over a week or so (and, at worse, eating food that only required one washable item and reusing it to avoid it).
So, as I was consuming Wayne Dyer material, I was mostly unsurprised because it was much of the things I had known before about how spiritual practitioners believe that we’re all spiritual beings having a physical experience and such. But there were a few change-your-worldview pieces that pleasantly surprised me and brought clarity to things I had seen before but not thought much about. He mentioned how weight management is much easier to succeed at when you love yourself and, therefore, will want to eat healthy foods to treat your body well. The idea that most people think that dieting is this painful process of depriving yourself of delicious foods when, with the right mentality, you can see it as fueling your body with nutrition and get yourself to want to eat healthier foods and move more to burn more calories. Now, I’ve known about good nutrition and things like stress-eating and other problems causing weight issues, but I’d always bought into the “good things are always difficult” messaging when it’s a lot easier—maybe just as easy in some cases—to do good things with the right mindset.
That brings me to the biggest surprise when listening: how to deal with procrastination. As Wayne explained it, the biggest reason why people procrastinate is that they know that they have a lot of work ahead of them and think about all of that time and effort right when they get started. Through that lens, it’s no wonder why anyone would want to start a project. A book takes months to write, so how on Earth can you just sit down and write a couple of paragraphs? Cleaning the house can take hours, and that home improvement project requires you to learn what to do, go buy the materials and equipment, and then do all the work. It’s reasonable that, looking through that lens, no one does anything.
Insert Wayne Dyer’s mantra for reversing procrastination: “I’m only going to do it today.” As he explained it, the idea is that you take away the implicit commitment to go to the gym for the rest of your life, to clean the whole house, or to renovate the whole house by just telling yourself you’re just going to do it this once. As soon as I heard that point and reasoning, lightbulbs started going off. The first one was how I had come to such a similar conclusion regarding washing dishes: just 5 minutes and then done…only to do the whole thing. The second one was how it was leveraging the same excuse people make when falling off the wagon: “I’ll just have this one drink.” Addicts and procrastinators all the time know that they’ll indulge heavily and so tell themselves that they’ll just do a little to give themselves into temptation. Why not use that same logic—“I’ll just do it this one time…”—to get yourself to do positive habits? I kind of slapped myself in the forehead because it’s such a genius…yet obvious once you see it…thing to do. If you know that you’ll stay going if you just get going, then find a way to get yourself going.
Of course, another great part of that idea is the point that it’s okay if you don’t fully commit or if something comes up and you have to stop for a while. After all, you just did it once, and you can “just do it once” again without beating yourself up about not following through earlier. It’s a great way to do what you need to do without all of the baggage of either past failures or future demands.
Finally, I am guessing that it’s part of the whole “being present” mantra of these spiritual philosophies. After all, if the only thing that matters is now, then the only thing you have to do is the thing you need to do now. So just do it and not worry about the past or the future; be in the present moment and make your life better now.
I hope you use this approach if it works for you. Don’t focus on the hour of dishes; focus on the 5 minutes to just make some progress at first. Don’t worry about writing the book; write an outline or a chapter. Don’t worry about renovating the house; start by replacing the floor. Every step you take forward counts, and much of the time you’ll get sucked into it and will continue long past when you thought you’d want to stop. Walk around the block, listen to 15 minutes of that audiobook, or take that one introductory programming class. When it’s over, you’ll have an accomplishment, an improved skill, and/or a better outcome to show for it. That’s all you wanted and needed, and now you have it. Just do it—it’s only this one time (for now, at least).