Time is a funny thing. On a personal statistical level, if I start something on the 1st of the month, there’s a higher chance of falling off the bandwagon by the second week.
But if I start on the 15th — then it’s a different story.
I find myself looking at the calendar and pushing on. There is nothing massively different about the execution — just the start date.
Out of curiosity, I decided to go exploring as to why.
The perception of time
As humans, our ability to judge distance evolved over centuries. In most cases, we can tell if something is closer or further away from us. Moving objects engages our ability to actively make decisions on distance and speed.
If we view time as a moving projectile, sometimes our ability to judge its speed and distance goes astray. When this happens, the goal, deadline or milestone checkpoint either pass us by or smacks us right in the face.
I’m sure that I’m not the only one that experiences this very human flaw in keeping track of time.
Our perception of time changes as we grow older. Time seems to move a lot slower for children than for adults. This is partially due to our ‘experience’ with it over a period. For adults, there is more in the backlog in our subconscious. On a ratio basis, the older you get, the faster time seems to move and vice versa for children.
The anchoring effect
There are about 30-ish days in a month, give or take a day or two, depending on the month.
In the book Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, the anchoring effect was discussed extensively in relation to mathematical reasoning and perception.
The idea behind the anchoring effect is we as humans are cognitively biased towards an initial piece of information. This information heavily influences us towards a particular type of decision.
Then it got me thinking, what if we apply the anchoring effect to time in order to influence our choice towards action rather than procrastination?
So I started experimenting with the idea of starting on the 15th of the month rather than the 1st.
A different approach to mindset
When you start on the 1st, the countdown towards the end is obvious and clear — you have 30 days.
But when you start on the 15th, every time you check your calendar, it makes feel like you have only 15 days left, plus 15 days in the next month.
While it essentially adds up to the same number of days, the impact of halving your time makes the actual length feel shorter and closer. This in turns influences your decision against stalling or leaving it to the next day or day after.
When you’re 3 days into a 30-day goal and the calendar is telling you it’s the 17th, we trick ourselves into doing the things we’re supposed to do. As a result, we get momentum and traction on our goals.
But if you start on the 1st, being on the 3rd day of the month doesn’t have as much impact.
Switch yourself to the number of weeks
30 days is a convenient number. It’s like starting things on the 1st.
But if you want to extend the power of the anchoring effect, switch your mind to the number of weeks and days left in the week.
These numbers are much smaller and easier for us to deal with on a mental level.
When you’re consistently working towards something, the results will often reveal itself. But in order to do this, you need to shorten your feedback loop.
30 days isn’t that long. It just feels long because at the beginning of the month, the number is still big.
When you switch yourself to a weekly tracking, the sticking power for your goals increases.
Let’s imagine its Wednesday and you haven’t done anything for your goal. You’re already halfway through your week. Weekends don’t count. They’re your buffer days.
It’s a very different vibe to thinking — it’s only day 3.
The pressure is different. The sense of urgency is closer if you think of your time in weeks. This is because you deeply understand and are more aware of time when its in the concept of a week.
Thinking in weeks also means that once you hit week 2, the feeling of only having 2 weeks left is different from saying to yourself that you have half a month.
If you’re struggling to get your goals off the ground or do something on a consistent basis, try moving your anchors by changing the way you communicate time to yourself.
Starting on the 15th spreads out the pressure over a four-ish week period rather feel the procrastinator’s burn at the end.
Assuming that all other variables remain the same (distractions, life events, work, routines, relationships etc), changing the starting date to 15th of the month can help recalibrate your perception of time. Starting on the 15th can be a method that helps you see the urgency of the task/habit/goal without creating a sense of too much pressure.
I hope this helps with your next goal or habit.
Thank you for reading.