Meet Mark

Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

Tell Me More
Stay Connected
May 08, 2014

How to Overcome the “I’ll Do It Tomorrow” Instinct

By Mark Sisson
51 Comments

Start Today!It’s a long and irrelevant story as to how this movie reference re-entered my consciousness lately, but bear with me. I’m not into Rom-Coms (surprise, surprise), but let’s just say I have people in my life who are. There’s a famous scene in the old 80s flick When Harry Met Sally (no, not that one…) when Billy Crystal runs a couple miles through Manhattan fueled by the realization that “When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.” Don’t give me too many points for this (thanks, Google), but that line has stuck with me since I heard it who knows how many years/decades ago. Yes, it’s a nice sentiment, but at the time I admittedly connected (again, little surprise) more of a trainer’s message to it. (Shameless, I know.) When you know the life you want, why wouldn’t you want to begin it now? Why would you put off what you want today for tomorrow? No, Rome wasn’t built in a day, but there’s a lot to be said for the feeling of being on the path. Mentally and physically, you reap the benefit of every day you live a better life, no?

Yet, damned if we don’t play that old, sabotaging card – putting off our goals for a mythical tomorrow. What is it with us humans? For some strange reason, we bring this magical thinking to time, imagining that tomorrow will somehow be fundamentally different than the same hour today. Yes, a different date will come up on your phone tomorrow morning, but that singular digit holds no particular capacity. Do we honestly think something will be changed tomorrow? We’ll win the lottery and not have to go to work? The kids will dress and feed themselves with no reminders or aid? Our brains will be more motivated and capable of accepting change? Our bodies will have gained strength and stamina overnight to crave a hard workout?

You could say it’s simply abject laziness. You could call it inertia. I’d suggest you’d be right to a degree in both cases. Add to this, I think, the acknowledgment that the human mind is immensely gifted in the art of mental games. While we rationally know we earn our goals one exertion or test at a time, we see future investments as somehow more fruitful. I wonder why we accept that illusion so readily? The fact is, all days themselves are created equal. Yet, today is the one you have in front of you. It’s the one you have to work with. Tomorrow will actually be “today” in a few hours, and all that magical thinking you imbued it with will vanish. It will – gasp! – feel just like today except you’ll have lost the benefit of the day before. And we will once again be surprised.

Whether it’s a modern or simply human tendency perhaps doesn’t matter. The real question is this: how do we push back on our tendency to put off what could be started (and enjoyed) today?

Lose the cold turkey mentality.

Sure, it works for some people to make change in one big push. However, if a fixation on the cold turkey method keeps you from actually making meaningful change, accept that this particular approach isn’t going to work for you. If you can’t make a perfect choice, make a great choice. If you can’t make a great choice, make a good one. If you can’t make a good one, then at least avoid going nuclear (e.g. skip the drive thru).

Commit to something that will push your process forward.

Behavior change experts often cite the “cycle” of change theory, which holds that people go through a series of steps to institute a behavior change, including a beginning precontemplation stage (denial and justification), a contemplation stage (consideration and information gathering), preparation (planning and troubleshooting), action (implementing and substituting behaviors) and finally maintenance (continuing and refining action). If you can’t bring yourself to action today, do something to push forward your contemplation or (better yet) preparation. Make a list of healthier meals you could make for dinner, buy better food for any snacks you feel you must have in a day or come up with three ways to fit in some kind of physical activity after work. If you don’t do anything different today, you won’t be in a position to achieve anything different tomorrow.

Make a “present moment” commitment.

Overwhelmed by devoting a whole day to healthy behavior? Choose to make better (not perfect) decisions for an hour. If it needs to be 15 minutes, make it 15 minutes. That’s all. Walk past the vending machine. Don’t eat anything left over from the meeting that’s sitting in the break room. Get up 15 minutes early and make some eggs for breakfast. Do some bodyweight exercises for 15 minutes. Spend 15 minutes of your lunch hour walking and getting some sun.

Make it easier.

If you’re resistant to doing what’s healthy today, maybe it’s because you associate too much effort with a good choice. When we’re early in the behavior change game, a little extra effort can feel larger than it is. Keep healthy as simple as possible. Do as much as you can to make it difficult to fail. Set an alarm for yourself to go work out. Accept any workout as a small victory. Go out to a restaurant where you know you can simply order steak and salad. Go to bed an hour early. Go for low hanging fruit today if you’re tempted to wait until tomorrow.

Surrender the delusion that change is about the right circumstances.

It’s so easy to blame a long day at work, your kids, your spouse, budgetary constraints, daily stress, a bad night’s sleep, the weather, yada, yada, yada. (Who or what in the universe is your favorite scapegoat? Go on. We all get cranky some days.) Guess what? Life never gets easy. If you’re waiting for a magic, barrier-free stretch, good luck. People who experience the most success, satisfaction and peace in their lives are the ones who don’t wait around for it. Tomorrow will present its own set of annoying circumstances. Beginning will still be as inconvenient. Effortlessness is and will always be fiction. Accept reality and build your effort around it.

Get in a better mental place.

If the idea of committing to healthier behavior itself is too much, consider whether there’s a legitimate need behind your resistance. Are you tired? Hungry/”Hangry”? Overstimulated? Anxious? Lonely? Are you ready to eat that donut because it’s 2:00 and you’re realizing how much you hate your job or because it’s 8:00 at night and you resent being stuck at home alone? What do you need to do to get out the emotional trap? (Hint: Krispy Kreme or Ben and Jerry’s won’t help.) Do something fun. Yes, a brisk run or healthy salad would work your biology toward your emotional advantage, but do what you can. If it needs to be eating a hardboiled egg to drum up the energy to make something more substantial for lunch, do that. If it needs to be turning around a cynical, woe-is-me mind by watching 10 minutes of Louis C.K. on YouTube, do that. If you need to get 5 minutes of sun to wake up, there you go.

Contact somebody – anybody.

For the love, don’t think you have to do it alone. If you don’t have a friend or partner you can count on for encouragement, get involved in the forum here. Send a message today. Now would be good. (The comment board below can work, too.) Even a well-designed app can be a holding container or feedback source in a pinch. I highly recommend getting out of your own headspace as often as possible. Sometimes it’s your greatest asset. Other times it can be the most defeating place you’ve ever visited. When your best thinking is keeping you stuck in the illusion of “I’ll start tomorrow,” it’s high time you tapped into someone else’s perspective on what can be done today.

Have you ever found yourself on the inert side of “I’ll do it tomorrow?” What got you over the hump? Share your anecdotes and suggestions, and thanks for stopping by, everyone.

Prefer listening to reading? Get an audio recording of this blog post, and subscribe to the Primal Blueprint Podcast on iTunes for instant access to all past, present and future episodes here.

Subscribe to the Newsletter

If you'd like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

Leave a Reply

51 Comments on "How to Overcome the “I’ll Do It Tomorrow” Instinct"

avatar

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
wildgrok
wildgrok
2 years 4 months ago

good read, and I am number one again 🙂

Jo Baxas
Jo Baxas
2 years 4 months ago
so timely! Not even to do with Primal or healthy eating, I’ve got that going on okay at the moment. I have a project in my head, I want to start it but it’s huge. I keep waiting for the right time – I’ve run it by my close friends, they love it – go for it Jo it’s awesome. Listened to a couple of podcasts recently – interview with Dave Austin on Vinnie Tortorich and a Dave Asprey one: Took these key things out which have finally got me into implementation mode: Do I dare? You might not like… Read more »
Lauren
2 years 4 months ago
This is an awesome reminder for me! Whether its making healthy lifestyle choices, starting a new career path, or even just getting the garden started. It seems like there is always inertia to overcome! For me, making my ‘list of 5’ every day has been very helpful! I list the 5 most important things to do each day (write it the night before) and highlight the #1TOP priority, which gets done before anything else! A list of only 5 items is very doable and by keeping it this simple, I am not likely to become overwhelmed and wait for tomorrow!… Read more »
Kim
Kim
2 years 4 months ago

I am totally using this idea! I love it!

Kevin Grokman
Kevin Grokman
2 years 4 months ago

I have ADD and have begun using a similar methodology. And I am scheduling more things. I find I am better at scheduling life right now than I ever was while I was in school! Best part is it seems to be working for me, too 🙂

Denise
Denise
2 years 4 months ago

Thanks for sharing this great idea Lauren….will start this “tomorrow”!

Emily
Emily
2 years 4 months ago
Becoming primal definitely fell into the “I’m too overwhelmed, I will do it tomorrow (I mean next year)” category for me. I’m chipping away at it one step at a time and having more success than I expected. Started by cutting out wheat. That felt hard enough at the time but I felt so much better (no more horrible deep infected acne!) and after a few months it just wasn’t as hard. Next step was giving up the rest of the grains. It has been about 4 weeks on that and I’m starting to see that it isn’t as bad… Read more »
Benjamin Thomas
2 years 4 months ago

You are being smart taking it one step at a time. It’s far too difficult to go 100% all in all at once and make 20 changes right away.

Ara
Ara
2 years 4 months ago

I felt the same way about beer. And now I don’t even think about it. Takes time and practice… You can do it.

Monica
Monica
2 years 4 months ago

Well, this was definitely something I needed today – and a message I’ve been getting bombarded with all morning.

No more waiting. Now.

C L Deards
2 years 4 months ago
Next to my computer at work I have a post it with the number 500. I long to be a writer, so each day I write 500 words at least. 500 words is one page of a decent length novel. I took this approach to writing my first novel, The Tome of Worlds. With two children (now three) and a full time job I bit off small bites. The process took a year, but I ended up writing a fantasy novel. Now I am in the editing stage. The strategy Mark posted here is the one I followed to write… Read more »
Jill
Jill
2 years 4 months ago

This post couldn’t have come at a better time! I’ve been struggling with getting into the mindset of weight loss mode, and this really helps! Thanks Mark! It’s been a long time comin’ to being primal/paleo, and I’ve finally been able to make good choices, even at home, which is the hardest for me. So now if I need something sweet, I make sugar-free pumpkin coconut flour muffins instead of making full-sugar-flour cookies. I just need to be able to commit to a workout plan and I’ll be set.

C L Deards
2 years 4 months ago

That is a good approach. Piecemeal. Take one meal a day, or one recipe that you make regularly, and change it up.

N. Lockard
N. Lockard
2 years 4 months ago

i clicked and scrolled down to say “i’ll read this tomorrow”

Luke
2 years 4 months ago
Funny, I talk to clients about “the most widely used fitness program in the world. Called the tomorrow program” I love the making a “present moment commitment” that’s a great one. It’s easy to have a millions things to do and do none. Just coming up with one thing you can do now, and doing it, really can get the ball rolling. When I have a huge list of to dos and find myself doing none of them I start by doing dishes by hand. I feel accomplished and it drives me forward into the next thing. Kinda silly but… Read more »
Michele
2 years 4 months ago
I have found that the things I wind up putting off are things I have not fully committed to for a number of reasons, usually there is something holding me back that I have not reconciled. Once I address the issue of why I’m avoiding head on, it usually clears the roadblock and then I can be very deliberate (sometimes impulsive?) in my actions. Basically, once I fully decide with my mind heart and soul that I want something, only then can I get into action mode and go after it. Sometimes, the thing I have been “meaning to do”… Read more »
cate
cate
2 years 4 months ago

It’s true. When you really, truly want something you WILL be motivated. Plain. Simple. After 65 years on this earth it still holds for me. It took a long time to accept responsibility for my actions (non actions) but when I truly kicked myself in the pants that’s when stuff happened.

Erok
Erok
2 years 4 months ago

I hearken back to what I’ve been told is an ancient Chinese proverb:
“The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

Shary
Shary
2 years 4 months ago
I could add a few suggestions to the ones in the article, such as: If you tend to procrastinate regarding certain things, dig into your emotions a little to find out why. Maybe there’s a good reason for it. If the reason is bogus, you can attack it with a little common sense if you know what it is. Also, going Paleo doesn’t need to be a case of all or nothing. Depending on how sensitive you are, you don’t necessarily need to eliminate all grain products forever. Unless you are sugar-addicted, you don’t need to swear off all sweets… Read more »
Kim
Kim
2 years 4 months ago

I can’t agree more with this post. I have done this so many times I feel like “Ill start Monday” is on replay in my mind. However, I pushed through that way of thinking. About three months ago, I started on a journey of clean eating and daily exercise that I had been putting off for years and I couldn’t be happier 🙂

Helen O'Neill
Helen O'Neill
2 years 4 months ago
Wow! For me this was your best post ever. I read your book a year ago and read MDA every day – and yet – just couldn’t commit. I’m 70 years old – after a lifetime of struggling with weight it has just been extremely difficult to try “one more thing”, “one more time”. Two years ago I was walking an hour a day and had slowly lost 30 pounds. Then, in the middle of making guacamole I dropped a butcher knife on my foot. Cut tendons requiring surgery. I’ve gained back the 30 pounds and haven’t walked around the… Read more »
2Rae
2Rae
2 years 4 months ago

Way to go Helen and welcome back to better eating!!!! I love the idea of reading up on all the information, gets the thoughts into our head, then after a while it’s more stressful to NOT do what you know to be right than it is to continue with the “same old, same old” that you know isn’t working. Enjoy the good energy you are getting!

Wendy Hay
Wendy Hay
2 years 4 months ago

Wow, what an awesome reminder that you alone have the power to change your attitude, and your life, by just taking one tiny step at a time.

Amanda
Amanda
2 years 4 months ago

Wondering if anyone has “Pinned now to read later” #ohtheirony 🙂

Michael
2 years 4 months ago
Trent
Trent
2 years 4 months ago

Funny, I was just talking about this with my students after reading Walter Mitty.

Nice post, Mark. I liken this to the New Year’s Day syndrome when people think they’ll magically change overnight because the calendar changes.

Good reminder not to fall into that trap.

Mary
Mary
2 years 4 months ago

My favorite saying, “A year from now, you’ll wish you’d started today.”

Bear
Bear
2 years 4 months ago

I once read a comment that went like this: “If you knew you had only 6 months to live, what would you do?” (Fill in answer)…”Then why aren’t you doing it now?”

Linda Sand
Linda Sand
2 years 4 months ago

That one does not work for me. If I knew I only had six months to live why would I put all that effort into getting healthy? I’d just play all day. Which is pretty much what I do anyway now that I am retired.

Bear
Bear
2 years 4 months ago

Who said anything about getting healthy?

Kevin
2 years 4 months ago

How motivating! I have been thinking also of how I’m gonna get my ass started on my program once again. This post just hit me and it hit me hard! Here I am, all guilty of procrastinating in my fitness programs. I do know what to want, and I’m motivated now, more than ever, to start today. Thanks!

2Rae
2Rae
2 years 4 months ago
I think I shall start with a tanning appointment. There is waaaaaaay too much cold, rain and darkness in my life right now. The thought of starting exercise, even 5 to 10 minutes, seems overwhelming and depressing to me. So the tan will help with the Vit-D and get the sunny disposition jump started, it’s at the work out room anyway. Those machines will call to me, I actually enjoy exercise, not that you could tell by my lethargic life right now. If my son goes he’ll talk me into playing raquet ball with him, that’s exercise AND having fun… Read more »
Jennifer L.
Jennifer L.
2 years 4 months ago
One aspect of change that hangs over my head is “What if I am not right?” I am always on a quest to be healthy. Some things I can rationalize as being givens–sleep, sure; exercise, definitely…but diet throws me for a loop a lot of the time and my diet (by many standards is pretty amazing). I am still filled with self-doubt. I often feel that no matter how much I exercise or eat well or do x, y, and z, the vegetarian (or other dietary thing) friends still seem healthier, thinner and more robust. I eat sauerkraut and drink… Read more »
Kevin Grokman
Kevin Grokman
2 years 4 months ago

Hi Jennifer,

Mark is a huge proponent of self-experimentation, so I am sure he would say generally, you absolutely are on the right track. You’ve eliminated some troublesome things but apparently may have more to find. And they might *not* be diet related. But don’t give up! Keep the momentum you have!

Storm
Storm
2 years 4 months ago
One approach is to attack this in bite size pieces – don’t rely or wait to come up with a magical “system” that you’ll start follwing once you’ve worked it all out, as that very idea implies something like “I’ll get the system all sorted out sometime in the future”. Try and focus on what you are doing right now, at the moment. Starting right now, the very next thing you get presented with to eat, ask yourself “is it primal”, and remember you can use the 80 /20 rule, i.e., 80% primal diet, and 20% allowance – if you… Read more »
framistat
framistat
2 years 4 months ago
Yes, it’s tricky. Huge learning curve. Keep reading, it’s an exciting time. What if you’re right? Your attitude is right. Your mindset is right. Your approach is right. Yes, there’s more to do, but give yourself credit for what you’re accomplishing every day. Comparing yourself to others who seem more healthy is not productive – this is a lot like comparing yourself to other women who you think are prettier than you. Just be the best YOU can be. Have you reduced your toxic load: switch to natural household cleaners (baking soda, vinegar, borax), change your soaps and shampoos, buy… Read more »
Jennifer L.
Jennifer L.
2 years 4 months ago
Ha! Yes, I read them all and I try all of those things. We definitely have the house cleaning/bedding/whatnot sorted out and those are things I don’t think about anymore. A good functional medicine practicioner may be able to help, but finding the right one is tricky. I live in the Bay Area and the list of who to chose is somewhat daunting. I love the blog forums, but in reality, what often holds me back a bit is being left out. I *love* to cook for anyone and everyone. However, it’s really hard for me to accept invitations to… Read more »
Energy!
Energy!
2 years 4 months ago

Jennifer, have you tried keeping a food/feeling log? Just like a scientist’s lab notebook, it can reveal patterns such as you ate X and later or the next day felt great or awful. You don’t have to keep the log forever, just until you get the results you want. Include exercise, and whatever else is relevant.

Also, have you worked on gut health? Mark has several posts with plenty of info and links. I have gotten rid of my pre-diabetic symptoms (excessive thirst, hypoglycemic feelings, fatigue) by adding resistant starch.

Jennifer L.
Jennifer L.
2 years 4 months ago

Oh yes, I food log like a champion. It’s a forte (hobby?!) of mine. 🙂

Kevin Grokman
Kevin Grokman
2 years 4 months ago
Great article Mark! I put things off too frequently, but less than in my past. And it isn’t so strange that we do this; we are often overwhelmed because we don’t break down our tasks and goals into something manageable (sorry…maybe exchange “we” for “I”; I’ll only speak for myself!) Personally, I sabotage myself all the time with different thigns. I have ADD and that presents its own challenges, especially to time management and time awareness. Naturally, this affects everything I do (or don’t do) in the course of a day. Scheduling or being spontaneous both can work at times,… Read more »
Rick
Rick
2 years 4 months ago

“As I sit quietly, doing nothing, Spring comes and the grass grows of itself.”

Maura
Maura
2 years 4 months ago

Can I just say that this is just what I needed today. After a weeks worth of overtime I finally got home and decided I still needed to get some walking in, despite how tired I was. What do I flip on the computer to see? This. Thank you so much Mark 🙂

Storm
Storm
2 years 4 months ago

I’ll think up a really good response tomorrow…

Barbara
Barbara
2 years 4 months ago
I’m both happy and annoyed. I need to deal with this. Up until last year I trained 5-6 days a week but after my Mum died, I became burnt out. So, I changed martial arts clubs and took a more relaxed approach. Even though I am eating healthier than I ever have, I cannot budge the extra weight I put on after I reduced my exercise. I need to do something every day but I struggle with motivation. I no longer compete and gradings don’t excite me. Damn, this is frustrating. Yes, I needed to read this today. Now I… Read more »
Ann
Ann
2 years 4 months ago
Barbara I was badly stuck with ten pounds of (mostly) belly fat not moving but FINALLY something worked – fasting! I didn’t think I could fast but I did for 18 hours and it was actually easy, because I had been eating Primal probably. I even worked out (twice – once was a long walk) before breaking my fast. The next week when I weighed in – two lbs gone! Only eight more to go! Can’t wait to fast again this week. (Caveat: it really is best to have had a good night’s sleep :)) And Thanks Mark for the… Read more »
Sarah
Sarah
2 years 4 months ago
This was just what I needed to read. I’ve been toying with paleo/primal for 6 months and have just found out Inhave autoimmunity (Hashimoto’s), and feel almost certain that leaky gut is at the root. Years of IBS preceded my recent decline into brain fog, weight gain, low-level depression, etc. I think this means I need to go whole hog, so to speak, into an SCD or other healing diet. But each day I resist and have settled into a kind of permanent limbo, living in dread of eating only chicken and mashed carrots…. But I’ve decided now that I… Read more »
christy whittaker
christy whittaker
2 years 4 months ago

Great article! Just the kick in the ass I needed! Today is my tomorrow. Thanks for the motivation. Its been lacking after losing 35lbs but this is what I needed to get back on track and tighten up my nutrition. Thanks again!

Angel
Angel
2 years 4 months ago

Time is a nonrenewable resource, we can’t be arrogant and assume it is just waiting for us.

Abhi
Abhi
2 years 4 months ago

Damn good article. Sometimes I even put things off to next year and not tomorrow! Next year will be a great year. I will make new resolutions. I think its an escape our mind uses to get out of activity. Sometimes my goals are too big so I keep putting things off. Breaking my goals up into tiny steps helps me.
Try breaking your goals up into small chewable size goals. Once the momentum builds up your actions will come out of habit.

Kristine
2 years 4 months ago

Procrastination, the number one killer of all good intentions! I’m guilty as well…

Excellent post!

Lisa
2 years 4 months ago

Great post. I have clients always looking for the “right time.” There is never a perfect moment to do anything. Every moment there is a decision to make is an opportunity to make a healthful decision. If you miss the first one today, make the next one that comes up. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this, too.

wpDiscuz