When will you start? Don’t say Monday!

5 min read

I have had the privilege of listening to people’s most personal stories for the last 14 years. I have met some amazing humans and listened to life experiences that are both triumphant and tragic.  The human spirit is amazingly resilient, and I believe that we are all worthy of success and happiness.  While no two stories are the same, a vast majority of people have commented, “I wish I knew back then, what I know now.”  In fact, I have often caught myself thinking the same thing. 

In our role as Wealth Mentors, too often we’ve heard people say, “I wish I’d started [investing] earlier” or, “If I could do it again, I would start planning much sooner.”  These are not just common phrases but rather sage advice from many people that share a collective experience. 

So, what can we learn from this? 

“Do not put off until tomorrow, what you can do today.”

Benjamin Franklin 

Whether you are looking for a new job, want to eat healthier food or seek to take control of your personal finances, the time to start is today.  However, we all know this is easier said than done.  Despite our best intentions, we often do not act in ways that will help us in the long term.  Rather, we make short term choices that provide instant satisfaction, regardless of the longer-term implications.  There is a concept in the field of behavioural economics called Hyperbolic Time Discounting.  According to Melina Palmer, host of The Brainy Business Podcast, this concept could simply be called the, “I’ll start that Monday” effect. 

I’ll Start Monday

Face it, we have all been there.  It is the start of a new week, new month, or even a new year, and we are going to make some changes.  We are going to eat healthier, get more exercise, spend more time with friends, watch less television, and the list goes on.  Yet when the time arrives to implement these changes, we often find ourselves pushing the execution date farther out.  Despite our best intentions and utmost desire, why is it so hard to follow through? 

What is happening in your brain? 

Imagine you are walking down the street with your co-worker and you run into a friend you have not seen in a long time.  As you do your introductions, various parts of your brain are activated.  In fact, studies have shown that when we talk about ourselves in conversation with someone else, there is a part of our brain that is activated.  When we talk about someone else, your co-worker for example, a different part of your brain is activated.  Here is the real shocker; when you think about your future self, your brain is activated as if you are talking about an entirely different person! So why does this matter? 

 Your future self is a superhero 

When you think about your future self, your brain does not realize it will have to achieve all those goals itself.  It believes it is talking about an entirely different person and that person is a superhero.  They can do anything.  However, when Monday morning comes, and your brain realizes that it must do the work, all the objections and excuses kick in.  

How to fight the “I’ll start Monday” effect 

Time discounting is an inherent human trait and unfortunately is here to stay.  However, there are certain things that we can do to combat the human tendency to choose a smaller reward now (sleeping in) over a larger reward in the future (better health).  A study conducted in 2019 (link) found that Future Thinking Priming or FTP was repeatedly successful in helping people combat the effects of time (delay) discounting.  So how do we put this into effect?  The next time you want to introduce a new habit, take a moment and really think about what that upcoming result will look and feel like – really immerse yourself in that future for a moment.  It is not enough to think about doing the action but rather embrace the results of those actions for the effects of FTP to work. 

You can do it 

No matter what stage you are at in life, we all share these common human traits.  If you want to make changes, start today.  Remember, the best is yet to come. 

“The best time to plant a tree for shade was 20 years ago.  The second best time is today” 

Chinese Proverb