Our Bad Habits May Be More Than Just Poor Motivation

Jennifer March, MS

The planning fallacy that is involved in your bad habits can be helped in a few easy ways.

I’m that person who is always rushing out of the door in the morning for work. I’m constantly running around my house, looking for my keys, or just trying to fill up my water bottle. I get frustrated, angry, and overwhelmed because I don’t have enough time to properly get ready in the morning.

I thought I had all this time to get ready before work, but it turns out I didn’t have any time at all. So next time, I am determined not to underestimate my time; I will use every minute wisely!

Unfortunately, I repeat that cycle many times over. Of course, I’ll go through periods where I have it together, but now I know that I can’t do that as well as I want to. I am constantly stuck in this loop of overestimating how much time I genuinely have before I need to get going.

My example of before-work procrastination falls into the category of bad habits. Everyone has bad habits in one way or another; no one is free of bad habits!

But with bad habits can come a cycle or pattern of behavior that can become harder to notice.

If this resonates with you then maybe you’re stuck in a planning fallacy.

What is a planning fallacy?

A planning fallacy is when we underestimate how much time it takes to complete a task. A planning fallacy can come in many forms and areas of everyday life.

A planning fallacy can influence our bad habits by keeping us in the same cycle of behavior. We ultimately fall into a routine by naturally approaching tasks with an optimistic bias.

Putting a name to this phenomenon can help you understand and break down your behavior. Knowing what a planning fallacy is can help us avoid falling into this trap.

We can also understand a planning fallacy as time blindness. Time blindness is when someone is unaware of the minutes ticking by; it can sometimes feel you’ve lost time throughout the day.

Why is that?

We’re living and experiencing every second of the day — so how are we able to lose chunks of time with little thought or care? There can be many factors that can produce a recurrent planning fallacy.

Those with ADHD may struggle with paying attention to tasks, and even some mood disorders like depression or anxiety can inhibit someone’s ability to look beyond the current moment.

Let’s look at what goes into a planning fallacy.

Breaking down a planning fallacy

When we are planning tasks, we may underestimate the issues that could arise with a specific task. When we minimize the time and effort that it takes to complete a task, we’re essentially setting ourselves up for failure.

An optimism bias affects how we perceive the tasks we have to complete, but being overly optimistic about our outcomes. With the optimism bias, we tend to view our future expectations more favorably, leaving out the bumps that could arise.

If we examine the optimism bias and compare it with a planning fallacy, we can see the similarities line up reasonably well.

If I underestimate how long I take to get ready for work in the morning, I am most likely viewing my future events with an optimism bias. Therefore, I am more likely to feel confident about my actions and behavior even with past knowledge showing what the outcome most likely will be.

If you live with a mental illness, it may be harder to plan or focus on completing your daily goals or tasks. But know that there is always hope right around the corner.

Avoiding the trap of bad habits

So how can we avoid the trap of a planning fallacy? Well, there are a few things that can be done. According to The Decision Lab, we gravitate towards a planning fallacy because we only focus on the positive. We want to stick with our original plan and ignore negative information and the social pressure in life.

We all seem to gravitate towards what is the best and brightest outcome for us. We don’t expect things to be overtly tricky all the time, so that can lead us into a planning fallacy.

Even with mounting evidence to back up imminent failure, we are still faced with reality.

Things will never go as planned, so we should allow ourselves more time to go through the motions of a specific task thoroughly.

Some people may also be more disposed to falling into a planning fallacy. Those with ADHD may also be more likely to fall into a planning fallacy due to ‘time blindness’ or poor time management.

Regardless, we can all avoid the planning fallacy with a little bit of extra planning or more effective time management.

Below are a few things that I have learned while trying to navigate my planning fallacy ruts.

Add on extra time for task completion

If you think that getting ready and dressed for work is possible in 5 minutes (as I have unfortunately learned that is not possible), then maybe it’s time to reconsider how long it takes. If you think it will just take 5 minutes, then add on 10 minutes to that. Start getting ready 10 minutes earlier and notice how rushed or confined you feel.

If you notice you feel less stressed and you are not rushing to get out the door, then maybe this is a step in the right direction!

Use timers to understand actual task length

This was an enormous help for me. I started timing tasks I thought either took too long or were ‘quick’ in my mind.

I found out that what you believe takes forever is nothing more than a minute, and what you think only takes a minute can take half an hour.

Change your attitude about the task

Instead of looking at the future task with an overwhelming sense of ease, remind yourself that it isn’t as easy as you remember it being. If you’re perpetually late to work like I was, maybe changing your tune about it can help.

I can no longer get up in the morning and think, “I have plenty of time!” to “I should start getting ready now.”

Remember, through every day, be sure to forgive yourself and always show yourself kindness.

Overall, a planning fallacy is something that we all experience at one point or another. Unfortunately, for some, it can be a constant occurrence that makes simple tasks more difficult. Remember, with practical time management skills; you can work past your bad habits, one day at a time!

As Originally Posted on Medium



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Psych nerd turned freelance writer | MS in Psychology | Mom of two cats and some house plants | #MentalHealthAdvocate #BeKind


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