We're still in the dog days of summer, but throughout the United States children have returned to school, many greeting the new academic year with optimism, yet far too many falling back into old habits within weeks, if not days. The same holds true for adults at work. Each new period can be viewed as an opportunity to take stock and make a new start. But how do you create new habits that will stick?
Setting realistic goals and determining the milestones along the way and steps needed to reach them is a good start. But how do you ensure you'll take the steps that lead where you want to go instead of reverting to well-worn comfortable paths or new routes that go nowhere near your destination? And why is it often so hard to take the actions we know will lead to the best results?
The problem of veering off course is not unique to modern life. The ancient Greeks had a word for it: akrasia. James Clear, author of Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones, wrote that akrasia "is when you do one thing even though you know you should do something else. Loosely translated, you could say that akrasia is procrastination or a lack of self-control. Akrasia is what prevents you from following through on what you set out to do."
And the culprit behind this age-old phenomenon? According to Clear, it's something called "time inconsistency," a term coined by experts in the field of behavioral economics. Time inconsistency refers to the tendency of our otherwise miraculous brains to value immediate rewards more highly than future rewards.
The problem lies in the fact that when we're making plans and envisioning our future selves, everything is in sync. We're fully behind what we've set out to do. However, in the moment-to-moment decision making that guides our lives day to day, our brains are engaged in a different way. Our future self is not uppermost in our minds; it's our present self, the one in the here and now, faced with immediate, tangible rewards (or what seem like rewards in the moment) for the taking.
So, really, to follow through on our goals, most of us will need to sharpen our ability to delay gratification. Adam Sicinski, founder of IQ Matrix, offers five steps to help in doing that:
If you're like me, you're probably already strong in some areas and weak in others. That's where Sicinski's third step of building a strong support network comes in. The payments community is full of examples of colleagues – and even competitors – offering each other support. Some schedule in regular phone or video calls; others meet in person. It's great to get support from those in your immediate sphere, but it's often helpful to also receive input from someone who is looking in from the outside.
So do you have a clear vision of your goals for the end of the third quarter and the all-important fourth quarter to follow? If so, all you need is a good plan to address akrasia, so you can bid farewell to procrastination and be the dynamo you always knew you could be.
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