Help me out of the postponement trap!

Q.: One more year has come to an end and I think I have wasted a whole year. I could not live up to any of my plans. It feels terrible and I no longer feel motivated to have any plan at all.

– Anonymous

A.: Dear Anonymous,

I am sure your sentiment is shared by many others! It is common to start the year with a lot of drive and enthusiasm to accomplish goals. But slowly and gradually we may tend to lose steam, feel demotivated and fall back into our pattern of delaying work and not getting things done on time. However, at this point, it is important to avoid being overly self-critical. This gives rise to more anxiety and negative feelings and we sink deeper into the cycle of putting things off. Instead, practice self-compassion. Tell yourself that this is normal. Procrastination is a habit and like all habits, this too can be broken.

Q.: What can I do??

Think about the reasons you want to accomplish your goal. What are the consequences and how are they going to benefit you? In other words, how valuable is the goal for you and why? Take ownership for your goals.

Learn to set SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound

A good way to start is to write down your plans/goals in specific, measurable terms. For example, instead of saying “I want to get fit”, which is vague and non-measurable, tell yourself “I want to lose 5 kilos in the next 12 months”.

The second key is to break long term goals into smaller, short term goals. Long term goals can often appear to be too overwhelming to achieve. This may generate feelings of anxiety related to the task, which, in turn, leads us to avoid it. Hence, divide the task into smaller achievable chunks. For example, in order to achieve the long term goal of losing 5 kilos in 12 months, one’s short term goal, to begin with, could be “I will consume more fruits and vegetables in my meals and do brisk walk 3 times a day for 20 minutes, for the next one week”. This break down helps us to keep tab on our progress. It also makes the task more manageable for us.

Remember to reward yourself for the small gains you make for accomplishing these small goals. It helps to maintain motivation. Also, be prepared that there may be days or moments when you might slip. It is normal and expected. Be kind to yourself. Do not get disheartened. Begin again from where you left off.


Experts: Janhavi Devdutt & Noufal T.H.

Clinical Psychologists & Junior Consultants, Department of Clinical Psychology, NIMHANS