How to stop procrastinating, get what you want and be happy

Updated to Habits on December 27, 2022.

It’s always seemed strange that some people are unhappy.

Sure, if you’re dirt poor and begging on a street corner, that makes sense. But, if you’re reading this, that’s not you.

I’m writing this in Cape Town at the tail end of month long family trip through Southern Africa. It’s been a lesson in resilience and happiness. Everywhere we went people were happy. They would cheerfully give directions, walk us to the store we needed if we were lost or (if we didn’t have the local currency) tell us to pay them tomorrow for the ride they just gave us.

They are content, resilient and they are happy.

What about you? Are you happy?

If not, what are you waiting for?

It might be that you’ve picked up the Someday disease.

From someday to someway

There is a silent disease that has been spreading like wildfire and causing incalculable havoc in our modern society. The World Health Organization doesn’t track it, you won’t see it on CNN and you certainly won’t see a remedy in your local pharmacy.

It’s called the “Someday” disease. It shows up like this…

We finish our work day and think “Someday I’m going to work on something I care about.” 

We wake up and think “Someday I’m going to get up earlier and meditate, or exercise or read.” We drive past the gym and think “Someday I’ll take better care of myself.”

The Someday disease starts with procrastination, spreads with repetition and grows to a way of life (I wrote more about procrastination and how to be more time-effective in this article.) We live a life hoping that Someday will come.

This is the life of “quiet desperation” Thoreau wrote about.

The cause of the Someday disease has to do with how we think.

How we think

We think things happen to us. Like someone drives like a jerk and ruins our morning or our coworker frustrates us (I wrote about thinking differently in this article.)

The list goes on.

In fact, you can look at pretty well any aspect of your life that’s not working and it’s pretty easy to find someone or something to blame.

We’re too fat because our work takes up all our time. We’re unhappy because our partner doesn’t give us enough attention. We feel poor because our neighbours all have nicer cars.

It’s a ridiculous obsession that minimizes our true potential. As Dustin Hoffman famously put it “Blame is for God and small children.”

The list goes on and on.

It’s like visiting the Grand Canyon, but viewing it through a camera. You’re in the right place. You have what you need. But you can’t see the whole picture because you’re viewing everything through your lens.

Here’s how to take the lens off. You need to break the pattern.

Break the pattern

Our brain loves patterns and shortcuts.

Once you’ve thought “someday” often enough, it becomes a pattern – a knee-jerk reaction. It’s the magic button that excuses all your behaviour. That pattern burns a path through your neural circuitry and it becomes the default route to explain much of what life looks like to you.

Now it’s much harder to put the camera down and to look at the situation in a new light. “If you think adventure is dangerous,” wrote Paulo Coelho, “try routine, it is lethal.”

What you need is a pattern interrupt.

Just like changing the channel on your TV, with one thought, or action, or trigger you can experience a completely new view.

Feeling good about your body again is a solvable problem once you commit to learning about new solutions and take small steps. Same goes for money, sleep, addictions, relationships and work.

Your pattern interrupt can be a thought, an action, a meme written on a sticky-note stuck to your fridge or a habit stacked on an existing habit. Ask yourself what you can do to control my situation suggests the authors of The One Thing.

Stack the habit

An instructor in a workshop on mindfulness told me she uses her morning habit of turning on her coffee maker as a pattern interrupt (this is one of my favourite articles on habit building.) Instead of checking the news (her old pattern), she intentionally uses that time to look out her kitchen window and enjoy the morning scene.

For years I would switch from fussing about what I did or didn’t do at work to thinking about my family and home life by stacking a habit (what I said to myself) on top of an existing habit. “Design your life to minimize reliance on willpower.” suggests BJ Fogg.

As I passed a corner store about 3 blocks from my home (my existing habit) I would say “End of work, beginning of home.” Six words that immediately interrupted my worrying about work and turned my attention to what everyone was doing at home and our plans for the evening.

Change the world

If you want to change the world you need to be happy. Even if you’re not ready to change the world, start by changing your world. And to do that you need to practice your pattern interrupts.

Frustrated? Incessantly mad? Disappointed (maybe in yourself)?

Interrupt the pattern.

The Someday disease is curable—just as we created it, we can cure it.

You are the cure. Now get started.


Enjoyed this article? Here are three more about pattern interrupts and the strange ways we are wired. Enjoy.

How to live like a millionaire with zero-based living
3 daily habits that will transform your productivity
How to Stop Being a Drama Queen and get Stuff Done

Photo by Marc-Olivier Jodoin on Unsplash