Practice of the Week: Starting Rituals

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. Ask your friends. Or copy what the great thinkers, artists, leaders, etc., did. 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, 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 (“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.

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About Us

The WYSIWYG Co. is the coaching partnership of Caroline Sugarman and Aaron Sugarman. We are members of the International Coach Federation (ICF), with more than 40 years of combined coaching and consulting experience.

We work with individuals and organizations, through a mix of one-on-one coaching, workshops and group work that builds leadership and communication skills and improves team performance.

We support our work with assessments that generate insight, highlight strengths and areas for development, and help organizations make better hiring decisions.

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