Starting Rituals

By Aaron Sugarman

Procrastination sucks. Oh sure, it may seem like a good idea at the time, but like your mom probably told you, it’s all fun and games until you’re on your death bed wracked by regrets about all the things you didn’t do. So here’s something you can do to tame that soul-sucking beast: Create a Starting Ritual. That is, a repeatable practice that will serve as a trigger and transition to get you going on something that you typically procrastinate over.

Maybe it’s listening to a particular song. Or a mindfulness meditation. Brewing a cup of tea or a double espresso. Going to a particular place or space to work. Going for a walk. Setting a timer (“I can do whatever I want for the next five minutes, but when that bell rings, I start working.”). Setting out your favorite pen and paper. Bottom line? It can be anything that works for you. If you don’t know what works for you, experiment. Get creative. Copy what the great thinkers, artists, leaders, etc., did.  Or ask your friends what they do. You can even ask them for support. (“I’ll call you when I’m starting my workout and I’ll call you when I’m done to let you know I did it.”) Do NOT put this off until tomorrow.

With this ritual, you are making a clear declaration: “I will do X, and then I will do Y.” It’s both a habit and a rule – when that cup of coffee is finished, when that song ends, when the clock strikes 4, you begin the thing you need to begin. No debate, no exceptions. By and large, procrastination is not so much a problem of finishing things as it is just getting them started. Once you actually get going, procrastination isn’t an issue. (You may have to deal with distraction, but let’s save that for another day.)

Rituals are a particularly effective technique for building good new habits, with a variety of positive side effects – they enhance confidence, ease anxiety, calm stress, and focus attention. They combat willpower fatigue and improve performance. Repeat your ritual a few times and it will get easier and easier. Don’t be surprised if you start to feel a pleasant anticipation at the very thought of your ritual, the sight of ritual objects or places, the approach of ritual times.

Too often, we get stuck trying to logic out the “why” of procrastination. If you can unravel the story behind your bad habit (“You know, there was that time when I was six and I was so enthusiastic and my sister said that thing and I was horribly ashamed… Ick, I can feel the burn even now!”), great. But you don’t have to. Rituals enable you to access a more productive state by addressing your body and emotions directly. Different route, same destination.

No one wants to live with regrets for the things they just didn’t get around to. And the more we do the things we need and want to get done, the more we’re really there for others. Win win. Ready to get something started?

Aaron Sugarman is a Newfield Certified Coach and has garnered numerous awards for his creative work online (Webbys), in film (Key Art), print (National Magazine Awards) and advertising/marketing (Cannes Lions). 

He works with individuals and teams across North America who are committed to excellence and willing to make strong promises to achieve their goals.

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