Why’s it so hard for us to make the right long-term moves?

Ramit Sethi · November 8th, 2011

I have a pretty big backyard in my San Francisco apartment, so I recently threw a party. I ended up having a bunch of leftover food, including a huge watermelon. I love watermelon, so I left it sitting in a plastic bag in the corner of my kitchen, where it sat…

…and sat…and sat. I just never got around to cutting it up or throwing it out.

A long time later, I walked in to my kitchen and saw a ton of liquid sitting on the floor. It smelled like alcohol. My first sub-conscious thought, “Sweet, who bought me free alcohol?” which says a lot about me. But then, my mood darkened. As I traced the confusing sitting liquid back to its source, I realized it was coming from the watermelon. But how can a watermelon have so much liquid in it? Isn’t it…just a watermelon? Ohh…it’s a water melon.

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Apparently watermelons liquify and turn into some kind of alcohol-smelling liquid after you let them sit for 5 MONTHS. Who knew?

I’m not lazy. I’m not stupid. So why couldn’t I get around to picking that watermelon up and throwing it in the garbage?

Does it have anything to do with barriers?

More generally, why is it so hard for us to do what we know is best in the long-term? For example…

  • Working out even 30 minutes/day
  • Setting up an automated system to manage our money
  • Calling friends and family consistently

You don’t usually see other money-related sites talking about this. Instead, they simply use a battering ram to shove the idea of “just do it” or “try harder” down your throat…with predictable results.

Let’s get specific.

What’s ONE area of life where you “should” be doing something that would benefit you in the long term…but you’re not?

Why is that?

Leave a comment below. Let’s see what we can figure out together.

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  1. Everyone has things they don’t consider for the long-term because there are infinite things we can do that will help us long-term. Unfortunately there is a finite amount of time to do these things. Naturally, we will gravitate towards accomplishing the long-term goals we care about the most. Those we care about the least (e.g. Watermelon), will fall by the wayside.

    That being said:
    * Finding a woman to marry. (Reason: There are limited quality options: living in the Silicon Valley, as well as limited time to find women: living in the Silicon Valley)

    • I agree, and I would add, “we often make excuses because we don’t want to be judged for making the ‘wrong’ choice.” I made a comment about wanting to change from Bank of America. The main reason I want to? Because many of my friends and people I admire hate the big banks and I don’t want to feel like a lazy jerk who supports The Man. If I look at it honestly, my feeling is, “I just don’t care about making 0.25% of interest or sticking it to the big banks that much if it means screwing with my rewards cards.”

      So many things, we don’t REALLY want to do, we just want to feel better about ourselves. I suspect that we change only when inertia is worse than action (having creditors hunt you down is much worse than paying a bill on time if you have the money) OR when we really want to do something or we really want to do something that requires doing the thing we don’t want to do. Everything else is about our ego — and ego isn’t enough because we can always justify ourselves in another way.

  2. Nick Thacker

    Ramit, great post.

    I’ve had too many similar experiences with a sack of potatoes, a brown bag of bananas, and a pumpkin that “melted” on my hardwood floor…

    Anyway, my thing is (besides leaving vegetables and fruits to die) is building a blog.

    More specifically, building a passive-income machine. I’ve read, read, and read some more, and I feel like I could teach a class on building an income-generating website, but I have yet to really put those strategies into practice.

    Not really sure why–I’ve done little pieces, like started writing posts and articles, but just not enough. I’ve started a mailing list, but just haven’t pushed it enough. I’ve started commenting and leaving forum comments, but it’s just not enough…

    Starting to see a pattern here?

  3. Getting an annual physical to catch and deal with any medical concerns before they become medical problems.

    Getting an annual physical will save you time down road, and money, too.

  4. I’m fat. I mean, I’ve let myself get fat. Like your watermelon, I just let myself go, eating what I want, until the pain of continuing to gain weight outweighs the pain of doing something about it (i.e. changing my habits).

    I think the reason for this, one of the reasons, has something to do with black and white thinking; I’m either living a “healthy” lifestyle (eating right, exercising, etc) or I’m not (sitting on the couch eating ice cream and pizza and watching TV).

    How do I get to the point of accepting levels of grey, and bouncing back from set backs, instead of plunging into a binge?

    • I find that living in the grey actually HELPS me change my habits. For me, a big hurdle(s) is that the pain is not significant enough to warrant the change and I have to also combat a sense of “loss” for having to give up something that I enjoy (even if it is bad for me). Running with the “moderation in everything” motto, I’ve found it easier to begin incorporating small changes without having to give up my former behaviors completely. In the case of diet, tons of recent studies show that planned overeating is actually SUPPORTS fat loss. I’ve changed my diet so that I am eating right every day of the week except one (Saturday). On my cheat day, there are no holds barred – I mean, I get vulgar. Donuts, pizza, beer, gummy bears – you name it. It is not uncommon for me to consume upwards of 5000 – 7000 calories. Come Sunday, back to normal. Not only do I get to have my cake and eat it too (pun intended), albeit in moderation, I have been able to stick to this plan AND have achieved my desired results. I think another key is to simply focus on making the best immediate decision (eating the right thing NOW) rather than thinking about all the future decisions I’ll be faced with (eating the right thing ALWAYS). The latter is way too daunting and seems like an insurmountable task. The former, not so much.

  5. Geoffrey Williams

    Talking to clients is a big one for me! Basically I know in order for my freelancing to work I need to start pitching people often and in my work clients like to see a face instead of endless email with a stranger. I KNOW THIS but I still find it excruciating hard to get out of my car and talk to clients. I’m not socially awkward at all, but when I know its a freelance pitch that I’m about to do then all the barriers start popping in my head. “I need gas first”, “oops forgot to eat, better eat first before I go in”, “Its better If I just send him an email” etc.

    I do have a horrible solution that I have been using, i’ve been taking two shots of freaking “Grey Goose” about 20mins or so before I go and pitch or go into a meeting. It has worked but on occasion I have slurred words, which oddly enough makes me endearing to some clients (I live in the South, go figure).

    Anyways, until I find a better option I’ll have to stay tipsy or just keep filling up my gas tank.

  6. Failing to learn Spanish this year – I do have the excuse that I’m in Hong Kong, but that’s not very useful thinking if I’m going to be in South America in five years’ time.

    A-ron: Losing weight is “easy”, just like saving money is “easy” – in both cases there’s a plethora of tools on the internet to help you. If you’re fluctuating between binge and bust, you haven’t inculcated strong enough habits to stop. I found it fairly easy, but I did have a few steps to go through:

    1. Weigh myself every day. Feel bad if it went up, feel good if it went down, don’t actually do anything.
    2. Rinse & repeat for a few months.
    3. Get a medical check up, have the doctor tell me my cholesterol is too high and I’ll have to go on statins for the rest of my life.
    4. Panic. Stop eating cheese and fried food for a month.
    5. Go back to the doctor and laugh in his face as my cholesterol reading halved over a month.
    6. Weigh myself every day. If I’m getting heavier, eat less. If I’m below the weight I want to be at, eat whatever I feel like.

    It’s only working now because I have a nice feedback loop at stage 6, brought on by the previous steps. Measurement (which a lot of people like) without action isn’t going to get anywhere, but neither is action without measurement.

    But by the sounds of it, you’re not going to really commit to any habits until you get a proper sharp shock, so I think a simple heuristic would be:

    1. get terrified by a medical practitioner.
    2. Schedule a follow-up with the same person a month later.
    3. Spend the time in between fixing the problem.
    4. Carry on with step 3 afterwards.

    If you miss out on 1, and just think “hmm, I should maybe lose some blubber” then 4 isn’t going to stick, no matter what you do in step 3.

    • My husband laughs at me for weighing myself every day but I’ve found that it’s more motivating and keeps me honest every day whereas if I weighed myself once a week, I’d likely slack off the first 3-4 days of the week and then try to be REALLY strict the last couple knowing the weigh-in was coming. I had a nice “I told you so” yesterday when I weighed in and was at my pre-pregnancy weight. It’s hard to deny the reality of your weight when it’s in your face every morning. (Yes, I know weight isn’t ALL you should go by but it’s a big factor and definitely a motivator).

  7. Lots of minor health issues. I have been holding at about 20 lbs above my “comfortable” weight and about 30 lbs above my “ideal” weight for a couple of years. I exercise 3-5 times a week, and track calories off and on, but lately, I can’t seem to force the pounds off. I just recently gave in to ravenous hunger and ate a PB&J sandwich. Terrible? No. But not what I really needed to do to achieve my weight loss goal, either.

    And sleep. I should have turned in an hour ago to get a good night’s sleep. But here I am, cruising the Internet…

  8. dave lawton

    I think you just answered the question right here “why is it so hard for us to do what we know is best in the long-term?” the answer is that it’s not best in the short-term! We have other better things to do with our time right now, or we rationalize it that way. Sometimes it is better I think to live in the moment, not be constantly doing things for the future, but sometimes not. It’s all about balance 🙂

    • Ramit Sethi

      Very good pt

    • ” “why is it so hard for us to do what we know is best in the long-term?” the answer is that it’s not best in the short-term!” ”

      that is so true

  9. studying a new language. Every day. For 10-15min, 30max.

  10. Going out and making new, close friends. I’m all out of the old ones.

  11. Eric S. Mueller

    I have a whole bunch of emails from you from the free courses you sent out. I think some are Earn1k (July 2009) and the others are from this January. I keep telling myself I want to get the most I possibly can out of the, but every time I go to read one, I tell myself something like “I didn’t get enough sleep; I can’t concentrate” or “I have too much on my mind”. So I keep putting them off. I don’t want to read them and not do anything with them.

    • Hey Eric,
      as you’ve become quite famous by Ramits email today 😉 I thought I’m gonna look it up. That’s pretty darn interesting!
      On my coaching-playground-blog I’m right now running a little exercise how to quickly overcome resistance and have been looking for volunteers to try it. If you or anyone else here is interested have a look at my blog. I’m willing to try it with 5 extra people from here for free. Just mention Ramit or iwillteachyoutoberich if you’d like to apply for that.

  12. I should do two things: go to the doctor for a physical and lose weight. Why don’t I do these things? I don’t go to the doctor because I’m overweight and I know they’ll tell me this and say, “Lose weight.” Duh. And I love to bake. I think that if I lose weight, I can’t bake anything, which means no fun, and ’tis the season for baking! So I think I lose the fun factor if I lose weight, not thinking of other fun factors, like cute clothes.

  13. Sebastian Rubin

    Failing to wake up consistently at the same time. Things have improved alot since my girlfriend started working, but I still jump back and forth between 7am and 9h30 and everything inbetween, depending on my schedule for the day (and night before 😉 ). I’ve noticed I feel the best when I wake up at 7.30 after about 7h sleep, followed by a short workout. But I simply cannot bring myself to just set the damn alarm clock and stop adjusting it fifteen minutes back or forth every damn day…

    This would also make it alot easier to consistently work out, whereas now I do go to the gym 1 – 4 times a week, but not on fixed days. I’d like to get more structure in both these aspects, which are very closely knit.

  14. Jennifer

    I go to the Doctor for regular checks (the chick one and regular) but I never consistently take my Calcium pill. I need to take this to counter act the steroid medicine I take daily. My barrier is laziness and resentment at taking ANOTHER pill.

  15. Moving my money from Bank of America to one of two awesome local banks. I even have a plan to do it slowly, and I’m still like, “NOES CANNOT DO, SCARED.” Mostly I’m scared that I’ll somehow miss an auto-payment and get stuck in fee purgatory and/or that B of A will then screw with my credit cards with them — which have been open for over 10 years, are up-to-date on payments, are both rewards cards, have healthy credit limits and are generally the bright spot on my credit report. Also I just feel like it would be inconvenient to do and I don’t like people trying to hard-sell/prevent closures. Then there’s the whole bit where B of A has been pretty decent to me; in particular, they are EXTREMELY pro-active about potential fraud.

  16. Along with many of the previous commenters, I should be going to the doctor more regularly. I have two reasons for not doing this. First, is picking out a doctor and scheduling an appointment. Second, is that I don’t want to give a sense of distrust to my boss and coworkers. I work at a job where someone leaves every 6 months to a year, and they use doctor appointments and sick days as an excuse for job interviews. Nobody really cares about this, yet I have a weird sense of guilt and untrustworthiness associated with doctor appointments. (I don’t hold it against my previous coworkers for leaving. We have a good workplace, but everyone knows we get paid on the low end for our industry.)

    I also fail to take an active role in my future career development. I’m not sure how my current job fits into an overall career scheme (what exactly does that even mean?), or if it even should. I haven’t taken the initiative to join professional organizations or to talk to people that might shed light on the matter. I’ve talked with a few friends/coworkers about trying to become a little more proactive about this, but since there’s no one pushing us we don’t do anything. We continue to float along. My big issue with this long term goal is the fact that it’s too abstract and vague to wrap my head around. I should break this down into small manageable tests/wins, but I haven’t.

  17. When we fail to do what we should our response is often to project blame onto other people or things, and thus avoid taking responsibility for our inaction. “I’m not able to ___ because ____ is [lame excuse]”

    For example:

    I’m not able to loose weight because my office is always full of donuts and candy.

    I’m not able to get enough sleep because Conan is on late.

    I’m not able to learn Chinese because my social sphere is made up of only English speakers.

    Instead of focusing on the lame excuse and letting that stop you, we need to find a solution for it and move forward.

    I’ll bring a fruit plate to the office to share in the break room once a week.

    I’ll DVR Conan and watch it the next evening before bed.

    I’ll reach out to find groups where I can practice Chinese in person.

    My lame excuse recently was “I’m not able to organize my desk because my desk is too small.” My solution was “I’ll suck it up and spend some money on two small file cabinets so I’ll have an appropriate amount of storage space.” I had been hoping to spend the money on something else but having a crazy workspace at home makes it really hard for me to get other things done and I wasted a ton of time rummaging through it everyday to find things. I should have bought the file cabinets months ago.

  18. I watch too much TV everyday, maybe 3 hours or so. I know that I should spend some time reading, cleaning/organizing, blogging, and working on developing skills that I can use to earn income on the side.

  19. i feel your resentment. i was diagnosed with some benign sounding imbalances and assigned another pill, i’m like what? why? i don’t want to take more medicine FROM THE MAN
    (despite possible cancer prevention….. sigh)

    i have not been active in calling up new clients and promoting to them, but i let myself slide because i’m working on lots of new paintings to show them…. so boo for not marketing but yay for producing new work. i ran into a an old classmate this weekend who mentioned she never even uses her art supplies anymore, which was surprising- i figured everyone was still trying to make paintings for what’s left of the art world.

    gimena, i too am guilty of the tv watching 🙂 but i try and pair it up with chores- washing dishes, cleaning up, etc. that way i can still watch tv but not feel so awful about it, lol.

    • Ramit Sethi

      Fascinating insight on one of the reasons people don’t adhere to their prescriptions. Thanks for the comment.

  20. Making 75K working as a faculty in a university. I know I can make much more than that if I move to industry or switch to other alternate career options that are readily available to me. But can’t make the switch. Don’t want to change many things. Leave city, ask wife to leave job that pays much more than me at this point and then look for it in new city, sale house, new school for kids. Too many barriers or is just one

  21. Parasaur

    Your watermelon story is why I cut up all of our large fruit (watermelon, cantaloupe) immediately after I bring it home. It is amazing how much fresh fruit we eat when its already cut up and in tupperware containers! Of course, I do have a moldy piece of corn from a month ago, so we’re not perfect 😉

    One issue we struggle with is incremental cleaning of the house. We’re often busy at nights (excuse!), and can be gone every single weekend in a month (another excuse!), so house cleaning ends up being a full-day affair once every few months, often as guests are arriving (providing purpose to the task). There are mental barriers to clean mildew and soap scum from the shower (not sure about cleaners, best techniques), and the dust bunnies start forming democratic societies by the time we pull out the vacuum (storage as passive barrier). The out-of-sight, out-of-mind barrier occurs with stuff that is left in boxes from our move last year, and some boxes that moved multiple times unopened. There’s so much other fun stuff to do, but we’re too cheap for a cleaning person (another excuse!) That being said, I’ve got a kitchen cleaning system in place, we’re not hoarders, and don’t have pets or kids, so its not like we’re living in squalor, or even excessive clutter.

    I also think that having scripts and plans on finding a good primary care physician would be great. I’m healthy, and did have a PC physician in the past, but we didn’t click, and the thought of finding a new doctor and transferring my medical records to them is a big mental hurdle.

    • Laura in Cancun

      Agree 100% with the fruit! I often set aside 1 night a week to spend an hour or two in the kitchen prepping… I cut fruit, cut up ingredients for quesadillas, etc etc. It keeps my fruit from going bad and keeps me from eating ramen noodles every night 🙂

  22. Sunil from The Extra Money Blog

    interesting post that made me think hard. there are areas that need more focus / improvement, but it’s not that i am not aware of it, it’s just that i have made a conscious decision to pursue something else in turn. everyone has the same amount of time, how we choose to use it differs widely, which dictates the results we get in each field/aspect. if one has clarity/awareness of it, one can switch gears at any point.

  23. Paris Hunter

    I had a self reflection yesterday. In it I discovered something about me and brought it to my conscious mind)

    ‘Finish or be finished’

    I start a lot of projects, ideas,etc but never get around to executing them or finishing them. I realized I cant go on like this. A portfolio of 10 half finished ideas is a portfolio of none. A portfolio of 10 poor quality ideas/projects is still a portfolio of 10 ideas/projects.

    I am now scheduling time to finish one project a day (resume, powerpoint, customer mind map,etc). I can edit when I am done. This will also train me to be proactive.

  24. The ONE area that I “should” be doing more in is eating healthier.

    What you eat affects so many other areas of your life that improvements in this area can have a large impact in other areas. I currently eat decently, but I eat way too many processed carbohydrates and drink more sodas than I would like.

    Why? I think it has too do a lot with environment and habits.

    For example, on environment, I almost never eat candy but after Halloween we had a bunch of snack sized candy bars left over. I have probably eaten more candy bars in the past week than I have in the previous 6 months combined. I should have thrown the candy bars away.

    As far as habits I need to change, need to change what kinds of things I normally eat for snacks and get used to healthier things so I don’t crave pretzels and crackers.

  25. I want to take the steps toward living a more meaningful life. However, each day after my 9-5, it’s much easier to escape into a vice than actually do anything that will benefit me down the road. The vice helps me cope, but only for one more day. It’s a disgusting process that keeps repeating itself.

  26. Here’s one I’ve used successfully–Lets say you want to paint your living room. You’ve picked a color, bought paint, and already have the tools, but you are just not able to get motivated to carve out the time, pull the furniture away from the walls, remove the outlet covers, and get started.

    Next time you have 15 minutes (instead of the hours you need to finish the job), get out your jar of spackle and patch some nail holes. This will get you started but the key is that you will now have a bunch of white patches all over your wall. No holes to patch? Pull the cap off your paint can, dip a brush in (or even your finger) and paint a few strokes in a visible place. Wallpaper need to come down first? Grab a corner and pull–just do something.

    Now your walls are UGLY and partially done. Before you just didn’t like the color, but now you *have* to make time to paint it because you don’t want to live that way. If you have people over, they are going to be like “why is there a foot of blue paint over here?” and you will have to explain that it is because you are lazy.

    You can apply this to a lot of things by either starting the work or eliminating a a substitute–lost weight and need to get some clothes that fit right? try getting rid of some of your fat clothes first to force you to buy new ones (or start opening up a seam on a garment that needs to go to the tailor so that you can’t keep wearing it while the fit is “good enough”).

  27. 1) Figuring out stuff 2) Tracking

    Figuring things out has been a problem because of my rural background. I know I will perform great when I am at school where I get taught, but to teach myself stuff is my biggest hurdle.

    Tracking can be anything. It could be money and budgeting or tracking the results of experiments I read about psychology, negotiation and the like.

    The only upside is I just started taking baby steps. I have wait and see.

  28. robert moseley

    My overall diet.

    I know I should use a 30-day dinner plan, I’ve even gone as far as to pick all 30 recipes, but I haven’t committed those recipes to a shopping list, so I keep falling back on the same two or three things we eat every… single… time… or more likely picking up dinner which is really not wise for the waist or wallet.

    I’m not strapped for cash, however ordering dinner 20 nights a month is equal to the cost of the new asus tablet I’m going to get. Over the season length, those 20 dinner pickups cost as much as decent season tickets to the Lakers for two. I guess the silver lining is that the season is cancelled for the moment.

    • A 30 dinner plan is too huge ! My husband and I do it a week at a time, even that is a lot some weeks, but just pick 6 or 7 meals off your monthly plan and rotate it – after all, you are used to the same foods now, 7 of the same meals shouldn’t be too much of a stretch to get used to.

  29. I have quite a few, but two notables: practicing my developer skills more (I’m learning), and keeping in contact with friends.

    I think the way most people approach this sort of problem is to try to exercise their willpower to overcome their resistance to doing the tasks, or to maintaining the task over time. This rarely works. Willpower is in actually rather weak.

    I think what’s far more important is setting/finding a supporting environment (or example, if you want to quite smoking, don’t hang with smokers), slowly building the right mindset through small actions, developing simple systems that work with your personality and not against it. In other words, stop relying on conscious willpower and make it as easy as possible for our unconscious desires and predilections (which make up the vast majority of our “minds”) to align with our conscious goals.

    Jon Haidt wrote a wonderful book titled “The Happiness Hypothesis” in which he discusses how our minds really function. He uses the analogy of our consciousness as the “Rider” on top of our unconscious “Elephant.” The rider can guide the Elephant, but if the Elephant does’t want to do something, well then….good luck. The only real long term option is to slowly train the elephant.

    I also think it’s vital to build an emotional understanding of “why” we need to do what we’ve set out to do. An example to this would be wanting to see your grandkids be born as a reason to quite smoking. Quitting smoking to achieve this abstract quality of “healthiness” might not pack much emotional punch, but thinking about seeing those cute little babies grow up sure as hell will.

    I’ll sign off with a well-worn quote that encapsulates some of the solution to this problem: “Virtue is a habit.”

    Hope my view proves useful!

  30. I think late teens early 20’s, you JUST DO IT. As you age, you start carrying metal baggage about everything, then from there even a simple task becomes a ‘mind fuck’.

    You have to mind fuck yourself on a daily basis because now your mature and experienced and knowledgeable. When you were young and stupid, you JUST DID IT.

  31. I’m ashamed to admit it, I’m usually financially responsible, but the one long-term thing I’ve been putting off for far too long is my 401k at my current job. In past jobs, the 401k was usually a “Pick a type” plan, and then the specifics would be selected for you. But with this one, they hand us a brochure and ask us to pick our own stocks… And I have no experience with stocks, no idea how to choose, and every time I’ve tried to set it up, the overwhelming amount of confusing (to me) information just makes me throw up my hands in resignation. I have no idea how to decipher all the charts and statistics to make any kind of intelligent comparison, and trying to figure it all out makes my head hurt, so eventually I stopped trying.

    Now it’s pretty much a moot point, because I’m going to be moving out of state in a few months, but what can I do if my next job offers the same thing?

    • Ramit Sethi

      Read my book…of course, now I am guilty of the same worthless tactical recommendations that everyone makes. Damnit

  32. The most important one area of life where I “should” be doing that something that would benefit me in the long term but I’m not is: Setting up an automated system to manage my money.

    Why is that?

    I think its because of certain mental barriers I’m battling: mainly impatience – it’s not best in the short-term! I have better things to do with my time right now and life is short, or I rationalize it that way. Sometimes I think it’s better to live in the moment, not be constantly doing things for the future – looking at the long-term goals.

    However, I fight an internal ethical battle with myself all the time – I have no savings and constantly overdraw my bank account (this happens way to often and “shouldn’t” especially since I make a very good salary).

    Usually the only way I overcome my barriers is when an external negative action forces me make a change.

  33. Honestly? Relaxing. I feel like I’m always doing everything “right” (financially, goal setting, health, cleaning, eating well) but I still beat myself up over any missed work out or bad day or not taking out the recycling or buying a pair of shoes for myself. So much guilt!

    Why? I guess because I’m a perfectionist and feel like when I relax or do something for myself, people will view it as weakness, because that’s how I view it toward myself.

  34. I graduated in May, but am still hunting for the job I really want. I decided it was more important to me not to sell out for money. I have a part-time job that is bringing in some money in the meantime; however, my focus is finding a job that I really want that will put me on the path towards my long-term goals.

  35. I’ve adopted your “take action” approach to a few things in my life recently and have been moving slowly from thinking to doing.

    Often half-assed, toe-in-the-water and uncertain of direction but I’ve been getting closer to the other side of this forest by stumbling blindly through than I ever had looking at a thousand maps.

    I lost 5 pounds in 1 week by poorly attempting things from Tim Ferris’ 4HB. That is 5 pounds more than I ever lost reading about getting fit.

    I have a bank appointment next week to increase my line of credit and move all credit card debt to it. I will be moving from two 19.99% credit cards to a single 6-7% credit line. This will be thousands of dollars saved that I used to spend reading about the perfect bank accounts and credit cards.

    I’ll take 10% of a solution working towards perfect vs 0% of a solution waiting for perfect.

    Thanks Ramit.

  36. Work.

    I am clever enough to learn a marketable skill and make money.

    I just can’t get myself to focus on anything. I go from one unimportant task to the other and never get the essential done.

  37. Hmmm. I would say….putting money in an investment account. I put 10K in a bonds account in my bank (a start) but I really need to set up a proper investment account like you wrote about in your book.

    Just a case of getting A into G and doing it.

  38. I’m 8 1/2 months pregnant. Doing most things these days feels like a barrier – finishing baby room, baby laundry, setting up her college 529, minding my own retirement accounts, trying to find new freelance work, pregnancy yoga, doctor’s appointments… it’s just so much. I feel a lack of control. I want to get to a point I can be more focused and organized but feel I’ll never quite get a handle on it all.

  39. Stacy McKenna

    Dental hygiene. Genetic predispositions and lacking home care have resulted in lots of expensive and painful dentist visits, despite regular checkups.

    Its BORING.

    It’s not “cool” (how many people get up from a dinner and go brush their teeth? How many kids ever brushed after lunch at school?)

    It’s harder to fit into my default routines – by the time it would be logical to brush my teeth, I have to make an entire trip to the bathroom to do it (my morning routine in particular is set up to minimize distance traveled – it satisfies my “efficiency” tick, and I don’t have a stable evening routine – too many unpredictable social situations).

  40. For me, its working towards finding my dream job. I keep putting it off by telling myself that I need to pay off my student loans first or there isn’t jobs in the area I want to work. I find it weird that as a teen I would do anything balls to the walls, but now that I’m 26 I find lame excuses to put off bettering myself in the long term.

  41. Doing your liviing trust & finsihing your tax return asap is a must in the long run.

  42. Exercising.

    I always think I should go jogging, but I’m pretty sure there’s nothing in this world that’s going to get me to go. So I have to find some other way. OK so I did 30 sit-ups this morning. It’s a start. Not much of one maybe, but a start.

    I need to start doing small things that only take a few minutes each and let them all add up. Small steps work.

  43. After working long hours, fighting useless meetings, losing control of what I teach, I signed up for earn1k. After some hard work and some risk, I work for myself and earn more in a morning than what I used to make in a day. I have MUCH more free time and won my latest round of negotiations (I got the increase I asked for). This is not always an easy feat in Beijing.

    Now, I want to start a product based business (a la 4-Hour-Workweek), but I feel a bit lost. I have identified ideas, skills, and problems on paper, but when it comes to doing market research, I stopped. I wanted to look at a variety of niche magazines to generate ideas and discover niche markets along with how to reach them. However, there’s no Barnes and Noble English magazine rack to browse around in Beijing.

    I should go to Writer’s Market, find appropriate magazines, request issue samples, and advertising rate cards. This is the step that I know I can take to own a product-based business and eventually buy health insurance.

    I haven’t done it because: I’m not certain that I can find what I need on Writer’s Market. I have no experience having sample issues sent from the US to China. I’m afraid that magazines will think I’m a dabbler or scammer a in China. I’m afraid that the samples will take a long time or just get lost in the Chinese postal service.

    But it’s the way I know to get started, and I haven’t done it yet.

  44. I just graduated from university. I have an engineering job that’s OK, but I have to live in a town that I don’t like.

    My long-term goal is to live in the downtown area of a beautiful, expensive, coastal city, and to earn enough money to power that lifestyle sustainably.

    I “should” really find out whether or not engineering will let me live in such a city and earn such an income. If not, then I “should” find another field to work in. I “should” really do this before I get stuck in engineering for good.

    I’m not doing this because the problem of connecting my current state to my desired state is such an ambiguous problem. What do I even need to know?

    Comparatively, my job responsibilities are so salient, so immediate, so clear. I know exactly what to do and how to do it. So it sucks up all my time and energy.

    This frustrates me, because my immediate troubles are also TRANSIENT. Trying to solve an engineering problem under pressure might be intense, but the experience ceases to be relevant once the results are delivered. I don’t remember what I did last month, nor do I care. In contrast, the consequences of failing to find out whether or not engineering is a good, long-term fit for me are PERMANENT (rest of my life).

    Yet I don’t do anything… even though I clearly know I “should” do something.

    • Go out and submit your resume to a job posting in a city that you’d like to live in. Even if it doesn’t do anything, you will have made the first step towards your goal.

      My sister’s boyfriend is an engineer who was unsatisfied with living in the wilds of Kentucky with a decent but not fantastic salary. He got two other job offers and one of them was in his hometown, where his parents still live. He put in his two weeks notice and his company, a Fortune 100 company, fell over itself to create a management position for him in his hometown. Just try.

  45. Studying for the GMAT and applying to business school. I’ve even signed up for Manhattan GMAT last summer and missed half the classes. I have no excuses.

  46. I used to have a three-tiered to-do list in Excel that I referred to daily for the last year or so: work tasks, daytime non-work tasks, and evening tasks. The problem is that everything on it started to feel like a chore, even something simple I wrote such as “clean up living room”. If it was on the list, it became LESS likely I’d follow through because procrastination seemed to grow just by a task existing on the burdensome list.
    So I’ve (just this week) stopped obsessing over the list and only write down things I may forget that have a concrete deadline, like library books being due. Otherwise, I try to take care of it when I see it. In the case of the watermelon, if it were me, I’d probably have done the same thing in the past…I’d see the watermelon, realize how much time had passed since the party, and defer throwing it out to later…or maybe I’d have forgotten it was even there.

  47. Another reason we don’t do the BIG things might be because deep down we think all our effort will not lead to success…or maybe we just don’t want it badly enough.

    Sometimes a watermelon is just a watermelon…throwing it out wouldn’t change your life, so you just let it slide. No harm no foul—except for the alcohol smell, which is weird.

    • Ramit Sethi

      You are very right. People are petrified of doing something without a CERTAIN result. I find this over and over in my research.

  48. Ramit,

    I find that people rarely change because they want to but because they have to. I learned this after a great relationship ended. It’s the same reason I won’t write a paper until the day before its due. I’ve started forcing myself to do small things, ie throw out the watermelon, to try and change this behavior and it seems to be helping. When I don’t want to do something that would literally take 2 minutes or less I ask myself why. If my answer is because I don’t want to, I’m comfortable etc I do it. Actaullt seems to be helping my personal life too!

  49. Finishing. I have countless projects in partial stages of completion. I prefer to not do the hard work in the middle that will get you to the end. For instance, I’m working part-time for a startup (already a red flag, I know), and I keep getting features/projects launched, but never see them through to the bitter end).

  50. Doing Earn1k. DEFINITELY.

    I bought it at full price, telling myself “hey, it’s cheapest outright, and I know that if I don’t do it now, I’ll kick myself. So I’ll get it, and have it when I want it.”

    One, dumb. Having quality on your shelf and not using it? Dumb.
    Two, I bought the book, my finances are automated, I have no debt, I did everything in the damn book… but I never get around to getting past the second module (2.2?) of Earn1k.

    I had three paying clients. I loved it. They were all one-time gigs. Then I stopped.

    Personal interaction is THE biggest motivator. If I’m just doing it on my own, for me, then “it”–whatever “it” is—will lose out the next time I want a ham sandwich. But if there’s someone who will ask me, personally “have you done this yet?” it makes all the difference in the world.

  51. First time poster, here. Hello!

    My first reaction to this post, was COMMITMENT. ((my apologies if this is redundant, I didn’t read all of the posts and comments))

    I work crazy hours (Days + Nights). A few years ago moved 20 minutes away from work. The commute is definitely not terrible, but its easily the thing I complain about the most. Its also the easiest thing for me to change. My lease is MONTH-TO-MONTH! I could move back to town whenever I want, but I don’t. And I’m in my 3rd year at my apartment. With boxes I haven’t unpacked yet…

    The mere thought of signing a year lease makes me cringe. It makes me feel trapped. Having the option to move with only a month’s notice makes me feel safer, like I have options. The thought of committing to a full year is something I haven’t been able to bring myself to do – maybe because its not a necessity? Or maybe because I’m not 100% happy at my job..?

  52. Ramit,

    This is hilarious because my wife and I do the exact same thing with our food scraps, which we compost (BTW, it has nothing to do with “saving” a few extra dollars…we just like to have some compost for our garden). It will sit on our kitchen counter for days, until finally it has piled up to an uncontrollable level and starts to smell. THEN we finally take it out. It’s not as if it is difficult for us to pick up the box, walk outside for a minute, and dump it out. There are just way more other things we would rather do, so we ignore it until we have to.

    I also find myself doing the same thing with laundry. I wash it and fold it, but then it takes forever to actually put away. There is definitely some weird mental barrier in my head.

    OK, a real-life example that would have a long-term effect. The one thing we (my wife and I) have not done yet and should is getting a will and/or estate plan together, because we just had a baby (3 months old). We’ve said to each other a few times already…”we really gotta get a will together.” But we still haven’t done anything about it.

    Just two days ago I met a lawyer and it made me think of it, but I haven’t said anything to my wife. Probably because I don’t want to pay for the legals fees or the “hassle” of deciding who gets what and so on.

  53. I’m 25 and I know I should be saving for retirement-I do contribute to my 401k at work and the company matches, but I make just enough money to pay my rent and bills. But honestly, I think if I were to open a retirement account and pay $100 I could force myself to do it and make due with whatever money I have left over.

  54. I should improve my job skills, but I am paralyzed by what to learn, how to learn it, and how exactly I’d benefit. I should exercise regularly, but I am afraid to start.

  55. You’re lucky it was half a watermelon. My ex-wife and I discovered that if you do this same thing with an uncut watermelon, after a few weeks (months?) it will actually explode!

  56. One pretty important thing is home maintenance. I’m not a handyman by any means, but feel good when I am able to fix something. But there are a million things that need to be evaluated and maintained so that they don’t need fixing. A bath tub drips, but it’s not bad enough to be costing me a lot on my water bill. Some of the eaves on my house are warped and allow insects to live in my attic. My gutters are full of pine needles. My furnace is probably close to going out. Etc, etc.

    There are plenty of check lists to go by, but I have a hard time doing things that don’t benefit me immediately. I’d rather catch up on a TV show, or read a book, or play a game with my family, or even sleep in, than try to keep my house or yard from dying, yet I constantly feel guilty about it.

  57. Humans are horrible at gauging risks, investment, and reward. Not exercising or eating right is a huge risk, but because when we do it we don’t see immediate signs of improvement, we associate it with a huge expenditure of effort for no reward. This happens at the Pavlovian level, not a conscious one. Then we emotionally dread getting up to do those things even though we know consciously that we should.

    This applies to everything from working out to starting a 401k to calling your grandma to changing your passwords.

    Working out is moderately enjoyable. It’s not painful at all. Yet we DREAD going to the gym. The mental anguish outweighs the actual discomfort. Most productivity tips come down to, “Just start and see what happens.” Or, “stop doing things that feel productive but actually distract you from the real thing that needs to happen.” We substitute things that have an immediate payoff (cleaning the room, eating the whole pie, watching TV) for things that don’t.

    You can temper this somewhat by providing rewards for key behavior until it’s a habit (we do this with kids). Better yet, you may purposefully structure your environment to make it seem more automatic. But it’s generally impossible to “will” yourself to do something regularly.

    I wish I could automate my eating habits the way I’ve automated my finances.

    • I like going to the gym because it gives me at least 20 min uninterrupted reading time – I read my kindle on the elliptical. I suppose this is my reward which you discuss above.

      As for automating your eating habits, I try to cook enough food in one day to last me a week so that all I have to do when I come home is through it in the microwave.

  58. I think some barriers are there because we don’t know or can’t visualize what the next step should be (probably because we don’t know what we really want to *do* with that watermelon — eat it or throw it out?), our brains have skipped ahead several steps and imagined a mountain of work where there are probably a molehill of steps, inertia (the payoff for procrastination is always NOW), and probably a zillion others I haven’t thought of.

    One thing I could be doing right now that would benefit me in the long term is starting a side-business; it could help me pay off my credit card, it would decrease my dependence on my day job (I could easily fall back to part-time), it would probably make me feel like a ‘bigger’ person than I am now, I would learn some awesome skills.

    Why am I not doing it? My past attempts at freelancing were awful. What if I still suck at it? What if I make the wrong choice and I wind up doing THAT for the next 20 years? What if I fail in a flaming financial death crash? What if failing confirms that I’m already a failure? What if I can’t do it? What if what if what if.

    How I’m trying to counteract this thinking: I’ve joined a mastermind group with some co-workers where we’re encouraging each other to think bigger, take some risks, and actually take action on expanding our skills and career options. I’ve purchased Ramit’s 1st Profitable Idea package and am reading it/watching the videos, thinking about what I want to accomplish by next year at this time. If I’m accountable to someone (like my group), then I’m more likely to take action or squirm with discomfort when they ask me why I didn’t do what I said I would. (Their job is also to help me get around those barriers, not just humiliate me. I already excel at being hard on myself.) (Besides — why do I want to give that negative voice more ammunition? Better to not do anything!)

    An example of a small success: I cannot take my Macbook out of my briefcase until I’ve practiced my banjo. If I open the Macbook to check email, then I never get around to practicing. So I set up a barrier to ensure I do what I want to do. Of course, I could break the rule whenever I want, but that’s not playing the game. And it’s cognitively easier to just follow the rule than debate myself about it.

    Another small example: I’ve told my wife if she wants me to empty the compost bucket, then she needs to put it on the front door mat so I trip over it on my way out. If I see it sitting out in the kitchen (her usual signal), then I think, “Oh, it must need taking out” and then I leave the room. Out of sight, out of mind. But if I can’t leave the house without stepping on the damn thing, then I’ll take it out to empty it.

    Thanks to BJ Fogg’s advice (which I got from one of Ramit’s programs) on taking micro-steps and starting with small successes; best advice ever for thinking about how to get unstuck and how to plan a behavior change.

  59. What a great subject matter! My barriers are the same as everyone else’s:

    1. My short term goals outweigh my long term goals (IOW: I don’t “want” it bad enough or the pain of not accomplishing the task isn’t bad enough yet)
    2. I hate the task itself so I put off doing it in lieu of doing the tasks I do like or get immediate gratification for doing. 
    3. The task is so complicated that i get overwhelmed and am unable to break it down into simple steps.
    4. I’m overwhelmed and even though I may like the task or it may be a simple step, it’s simply the straw that breaks the camel’s back. 

    So I have decided to do the following to overcome these obstacles:

    1. I need to spend time getting my priorities straight. 
        I, too, need to draw up a will, a power of attorney, etc. So I need to visualize my son being happily taken care of by my cousin (if something were to happen to me and my husband) instead of being put in foster care while my family dukes it out.
    2. I need to allow myself to delegate these tasks. I can also find a way to get the job done so it is not so onerous (for example, we bought closet organizers for our clothes and laundry. Doing the laundry is a lot more bearable now that I don’t have to unbury the soap each time.)
    3. I haven’t figured this one out yet. Maybe get a friend to break it down for me? Just pick a step, any step, and just get started without looking at the whole picture? (I did this for getting out of debt.  Figuring out how much we owed was too much so I paid the minimums on everything and put all extra monies on the car till it was paid.  Then I did the same for my spouse’s student loans, etc.  now we have three debts left, which is not overwhelming; so I now know the total debt we have left to pay)
    4. I don’t know how to fix this one either except for maybe cutting back on activities or delegating activities (even if I like the task or it is simple), but this won’t always be possible.  I need a little help with this one.

  60. I have a small retail business that grows two ways, first by adding more customers, and second by forming a team. I know this, I do it occasionally and I’m good at it, I just don’t do it with any consistency. I’ve even downloaded the Habit Lite app on my iPhone to help organize my goals and their habits, but I don’t check the app, Facebook/Twitter sure, text messages/email sure, but no habit app. This is pretty frustrating too, the things I do aren’t moving me towards a future I want, and the things I don’t do would, I know this but it’s not enough…

  61. Kristoffer

    I used to run an active online (ebay) business making decent extra income for myself. During the holidays I would make 3x as much as I did at my ‘real’ job. At some point I lost my interest in taking the time to find new stuff to sell, taking photos, listing etc so I quit doing it. Problem is I probably have tons of stock sitting around my house that I need to sell. It’s crazy that I have 20-30 grand worth of stuff just sitting here – but I can’t seem to ‘gear’ myself up to do anything with it.

  62. That alcohol smell? That was alcohol. You just successfully fermented a watermelon (explosions or other rind-rupturing events caused by a build up of CO2 as a by-product of the fermentation). If you were lucky, the yeast got to it before any bad bacteria and the resulting alcohol protected it against infection. Lucky in the sense that while you were left with a sticky mess, it would be a sticky mess of stuff that was entirely food grade material, rather than something that could make you sick.

    As for your question, I’m over scheduled for stuff that I “should” be doing. If I were to do everything that I wanted to do to benefit myself and my family long term, I’d need far more than 24 hours in a day. So I try to focus on doing something every day. Some days that means just put in a good days work for my employer, some days that means spending time with my daughter, some days that means taking a break, and some days that means making plans and taking action to improve my career or finances. It takes a long time to get things finished this way, but every step is a step in the right direction.

  63. One thing I struggled doing was my housecleaning and housekeeping. I would usually procrastinate and complain of having to do it. It all changed after a 3 day stay at friends. Their house is spotless and could be featured in any high-end interior design magazine.Living with them, I realized that all day long, they would do a little bit of housecleaning/housekeeping as soon as the need appeared. They would not lament over it but simply do it on the spot without even thinking about it. This is what tipped me over and I’ve been doing the same thing for more than 9 months now.
    I am a huge believer in the fallacy of education, but sometimes to really change, all we need is someone to show (literally show) how they do what we want to do. No excuses or barrier really hold in front of this. For example Ramit, do you think spending 3 days at a friend’s house who does his housekeeping effortlessly in less than 3 minutes each day would change your behavior ? Or maybe this is just something else with me: knowing that my friends are better at doing this and don’t need to suffer from doing it.

    • Ramit Sethi

      Good insight. Modeling like this can be very powerful.

  64. As a high school student (grade 12), I think a lot about my future career (fashion) and the steps I need to take to get there. My one problem is that I don’t spend enough time doing the work I know that I should do; anything from industry research or reading to sewing.

    I think the reason for this is because I am afraid of failure even though I know that there is always something to be learned from a mistake. This seems to be a common issue, in that most people don’t want to get nothing in return for their efforts; they want success.

  65. I think it has got to with your priority list. A watermelon in your fridge never becomes the first priority so you keep it until it decays because you even forget that you put it there.

    I have to-do list and try to stick with it. When something new comes to mind which seems a good try, i just add it to the list and don’t touch it untill it is its turn. Things go slower sometimes but at least, i make sure that i do everything i intended to do, or sometimes completley skip it because it doesn’t seem like a great idea any more.

  66. I’m a person who wants to exercise more, but has a hard time keeping up with even a simple walking routine. I’ve tried planning a walking schedule in advancef and buying an electronic walking stepmeter to maintain motivation, but neither tactics worked. Now I realize that “smoothing the path” is one of the solutions to this barrier.

    Recently, I read something interesting by Dr. Weil in one of his recent articles. He mentioned that he’s a fan of integrative exercise, meaning getting your exercise done during other tasks, because this way it’s easier to start and to stick with, as opposed to viewing exercise as something that demands a dedicated time slot. For example, if you walk to the grocery store 3x per week anyway, keep doing that, and over time increase the intensity. Same for yardwork and gardening.

    This eliminates the mental barrier of having to start a new exercise routine. In fact, you’re just using the Tuner Strategy on an exercise you already do. Also, you remove the mental and motivational barrier of scheduling hours only to exercise only to feel guilty later that you didn’t meet your goal.

    • I refrained many times sharing tips here as I don’t think this alone will be the solution to anyone’s problem but as lots of people want to integrate exercises in their daily routine: look-up the 5BX plan. It’s free, you don’t need equipment, you can track your progress and quickly see small wins plus it’s an 11-minute routine. I do it every morning before showering; come-on, who cannot find 10 minutes in their day?! read the warnings in the history part and the pdf can be downloaded in the external links.

  67. Yes, out of unlimited choices EVERY day how do we decide to say yes to one thing and then NO to everything else… Either we make choices or eventually it will be made for us! For example I have several great ideas for products using years of experience and knowledge but I keep waiting…and waiting for? who knows what…Just Do It! sounds great and is a great reminder. Now I will go exercise and start my amazing life altering back pain reliving product!!!!!!!! Have a great day & remember to enJoy as much as possible!!!!

  68. Sending job applications consistently.

    At first, it was fear of wasting my time because I didn’t understand how to write a winning resume.

    I bought this one guy’s service (sorry Ramit, your Dream Job Elite was closed!) and learned some great tips a few nights ago. I sent maybe 3 resumes.

    It took 1 – 2 hours to edit each resume. That’s a lot of time… And I felt so overwhelmed with immediate things that I haven’t been working on it. I’ve also been working to get tutoring clients with no success.

    Just lack of success so far makes me feel like I can put this on the back burner.

    I’ve decided to commit to waking up early Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays to dedicate 2 hours to the job search. 50 minute focused chunks.

    • Hey Doka,

      So how are you doing on your commitment? Have you been able to wake up more early 3 x/week or was it too much of a hassle to start with? I’m curious to know what others do once we hit a wall (ex: being too tired and simply not waking up early once).

  69. The two main things I am NOT doing right now are:

    – completing my course work to finish my degree – I was on the right path.. and then I fell off.. This is what happens to me EVERY time.. and it’s why I’m 27 and haven’t finished a degree, but have started multiple programs!

    – exercising. At all. I was doing great but got sidelined with an injury and haven’t got back into the swing of it in the 4 months or so I’ve been given the go-ahead to start working out again.

    I need to stop being so lazy! But it’s so hard to start! I would rather eat/watch tv/surf the net/shop… etc etc etc.

  70. Stephanie

    Study/take my Series 7 exam. I need to get registerd for my new job but I am finding it hard to stay motivated and keep a schedule. I am full of excuses; I am up at 4am for work everyday, my commute is 45 min, I need my sleep so in bed by 9pm, single mom so when I get home at 3:30pm there is dinner plus the daily parenting stuff….by then I am getting ready for the next day and exhausted.