You will not be a different person tomorrow

A few weeks ago, we got a parking ticket, which sometimes just seems like part of living in San Francisco. For some reason, we needed to go to the Department of Parking and Transportation to take care of it, and since we’re going to be out of town, today was the last day we could do it without paying a fine.

Alexis had planned to take care of it yesterday, but something came up so she asked me if I would do it. I was a little busy yesterday and just didn’t feel like doing it, so I instinctively said I would get to it tomorrow (now today). You can guess what happened: today rolls around and it turns out I’m not any more interested today than I was yesterday.

We ended up just paying the fine instead of spending an hour and a half trekking down to deal with the fiasco that is local government in San Francisco. In retrospect, I think that was probably the best choice in terms of the value of my time (and stress), but the whole episode got me thinking about how we view ourselves and the (misplaced) optimism we often have to how we’ll behave in the future. I didn’t really consider whether I’d have any more inclination to get it done today, just pushed it off.

New Year’s is just around the corner, when it’s traditional to set a ton of lofty goals, most of which will be abandoned by Feb 1st. Why do we continually do this? I think part of it is that we want to believe the best about ourselves. We want to feel good about our goals and improvement, and let’s face it: putting our goals down on paper does feel good. We feel like we’ve accomplished something, but we really haven’t.

Now, this isn’t to say that we should never schedule anything for the future. But if you find yourself putting it off because you don’t feel like doing it now, you probably won’t feel like doing it tomorrow.

So here’s my new rule of thumb: I try to assume that behaviorally, I’ll be the same tomorrow as I am today. I assume that if I slacked off and didn’t exercise or eat or work like I was supposed to, it’ll be the same tomorrow. I have some goals for 2011 and I’ve been working for a couple weeks now on getting into the groove, rather than planning on jumping into everything on Jan 1st. I know myself too well for that.

If you want change in your life, start to make it today. Don’t say you’ll start in the morning, don’t put it off. Just do something about it today. Even if it’s something small, getting some tiny bit of momentum is valuable. If you want to start working out tomorrow, go for a 5 minute run (or walk) today. If you want to start a blog, go sign up at right now.

Just figure out what the first step is, no matter how tiny, and take it today. Because you can’t change who you were in the past or who you’ll be in the future. You can only change who you are right now.