Photo Credit: Eric Rothermel,
Photo Credit: Eric Rothermel,

So it’s the first of the month, or New Year’s day, or some other nice, clear point in time.

Today’s the day, you’re going to be up off the couch, eating right, and dropping that nasty smoking habit. Today’s been coming closer and closer, looming like a storm that’ll wash away your bad habits and leave you with a clean slate to build your new life.

But wait, for some reason you’re not walking out of yoga class with an organic kale smoothie like you planned. You’re actually in your underwear rewatching Game of Thrones and starting on your second pack of pop tarts. What happened? You put all your eggs in the basket of a round date. And the truth is: round dates don’t work.

They don’t. Round dates are imbued with superpowers as if they alone can change bad habits. We look at them as if, once they get here, we’ll be able to magically make the changes that we weren’t able to the last week, month, or year. They almost always fail us, leaving us at the mercy of the same bad habits on the second of the month that we were in the 30th. Why’s that?

Today’s The Day

New Year’s Day/the first of the month/Monday’s here and we’re ready to take control. The thing is though, it’s just a day on the calendar. Round dates don’t have the inherit power to solve our problems. There’s no magical difference in today from yesterday. That means that we’re the ones who have to be different. Without a difference in the actual day, the responsibility falls back onto our shoulders. We’re left feeling that we wrote a check to ourselves that we can’t cash.

In these situations it feels like we’ve passed the ball to the guy we’ve trusted 100% to take the game-winning shot; only for him to pass the ball back to us and say it’s on us. Now the pressure to nail this shot seems like an ocean weighing us down. Instead of feeling liberated, we feel the same powerlessness over our habits that we did yesterday.

Round Dates Beget Round Dates

Without the expected magical help of the special day, we usually fail to break the rhythm of our bad habit. So life continues on as normal and we say that we don’t have the energy/time to begin the process of stopping our bad behavior. We say, “it only makes sense to ride it out for the rest of this week until we can regroup over the weekend and try again for next Monday.” It’s a revolving door of missing the train and deciding to wait for the next one.

Well, In The Meantime…

Even worse, dates give us an excuse to indulge in our bad habits for the time being. Let’s say someone said, “This is my last week of drinking because on Monday, it’s bye-bye booze.”

You know that weekend’s going to be one hell of a party. Round dates not only give us a hall pass to not improve our bad habits until they come around, they give us an excuse to indulge in them.

In our minds we consider one minute after the round date begins to embody the converse of our current lifestyle. So if I’m going to be squeaky-clean sober as soon as Monday hits, I may as well make this weekend count. Habits have inertia, and round dates actually make our bad behaviors that much more static and difficult to move.

Act Now, Not Later

Round dates are seductive because they satisfy our need for symmetry and allow us to continue our bad habits guilt-free in the meantime with the surety that we will stop them soon. We want to believe that this time will be different and hit reset on the whole behavior.

The only solution to this ineffective planning is random immediacy.

See a behavior you want to change or adjust? Act now. Right now. Not because it’s the first of the month, or it’s precisely two weeks before a vacation you’re taking, but simply because it’s  Wednesday.

Acting immediately keeps us from indulging in the behavior in the meantime, takes away the pressure that builds on the way to the round date, and brings the power back to ourselves, rather than placing our hopes in the power of something arbitrary.

Also, acting on a random Tuesday afternoon’s much more effective than waiting to see if next Monday’s the one you can actually make it happen. Acting randomly helps you link the behavior to your every day routine rather than this magical date in the future that’s been hyped up like a title fight.

Lifestyle behaviors are done all the time, we just do them. Deciding to go to the gym in the same casual way you drive home from work or go get coffee helps take away the active decision to start doing them. We tell ourselves that this is a regular behavior and it’ll just get repeated like other regular behaviors do. Round dates send our brain the opposite of that message and say this new behavior is linked to a “special” day.

It’s not a change in the day, it’s a change in us. No turning of a clock or calendar can facilitate that. Take back your control.