Death to procrastination: Use the 4-day win to get your goals moving

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It has been 15 days since dawn of the New Year and you may be like me:  running around like a rabbit on a 5-shot latte, skittering between the computer keyboard, stacks of books and piles of paper. At this point in the calendar, one of two things usually happens:

  1. You power through your goals and objectives, meeting timelines like a well-oiled Swiss train, confident that this year, like last, you will keep your word and complete all your resolutions
  2. You look at the piles on your desk, pinch the roll of fat at your waist, stare at the blank page on your computer screen and say:  “LOSER!  Once again, you have proven that you have less initiative than a slug in a salt factory.  Now go shove some cookies in your mouth, PRONTO!”

By making your goals broad and far-reaching, you guarantee that they will be immediately sabotaged by your inner meanie.

What’s the alternative?

Instead of beating yourself up, try a 4-day win, which hails from Martha’s book of the same name. The focus of the book is losing weight, but the tool can be applied to any goal or project.

What is a 4-day win?

A 4-day win is a simple method for breaking large, overwhelming goals into comfortable, bite-sized pieces that are accomplished over a four-day period and anchored with rewards to encourage positive behavior.

Once you complete a 4-day win, you take your buzz of accomplishment and create another one.  And another, stringing them together until they become your finished book, or hot body or whatever else you are trying to manifest.

(It reminds me of one of my favorite cartoons which shows a frantic man in the shower with suds on his head screaming “Honey, get me out of here!  The label says ‘Lather, rinse, repeat!’”)

Why four days?

According to Martha:

“When I started exploiting this little bit of psychological numeracy in my coaching, I found that people who had trouble starting a week-long program of change jumped right in if I asked them to sustain a new behavior for just 4 days.  I also discovered that after the 4 days, the inertia that had been keeping them locked into a pattern of action-or inaction-had changed and was now actually pushing them forward.  Even though I specified that they were free to step making a change after the 4-day period, they often said they’d rather continue, because they’d already blasted through the initial resistance and were starting to see positive change.  This happened with so many clients that I started to call it “the 4-day win.”

How do you construct a 4-day win?

Step 1: Pick a goal

Look at your to-do list and pick a juicy goal such as:

  • Write a book proposal
  • Create a website
  • Lose 10 pounds
  • Cook more nutritious meals for your family

From this goal, choose a task that you would like to accomplish in one day.  Example:

  • Write a book proposal → write the first two pages
  • Create a website → design the layout of the home page
  • Lose 10 pounds→exercise for 30 minutes
  • Cook more nutritious meals for your family → cook a meal using all organic ingredients

Step 2: Play halvsies until your goal is ridiculously easy to attain

We start out with what we think are realistic goals, but most of the time they are not, otherwise, we wouldn’t struggle to complete them.  So take your goal from Step 1 and halve it until you know with confidence that you can actually get it done.  Example:

  • Write a book proposal→ write the first two pages→write one paragraph
  • Create a website → design the layout of the home page→choose three colors for your design
  • Lose 10 pounds→exercise for 30 minutes→do 10 squats
  • Cook more nutritious meals for your family → cook a meal using all organic ingredients→add an organic carrot stick to your plate of Kentucky Fried Chicken

Keep playing “halvsies” until the goal feels just South of totally realistic, and just North of so easy it is insulting.

Step 3: Identify a reward

For each daily accomplishment, choose a small reward that will make you happy. Something like:

  • Play 20 minutes of Spider Solitaire, uninterrupted by toddlers or a nagging wife (my husband’s favorite)
  • Read the new issue of People magazine in the bathtub (my favorite)
  • Eat one piece of really good chocolate

Step 4:  Identify a 4-day reward

Think of an additional, slightly larger reward if you manage to keep your ridiculously easy goal for 4 days.  Depending on your budget and taste, this could be something like:

  • A pedicure with an extra decal on your big toe
  • A nice dinner at your favorite restaurant
  • A hike on your favorite trail on Sunday, regardless of how many piles of laundry are sitting on the washing machine

Step 5:  Make sure the action and reward are linked

Martha says:

“If you meet your ridiculously easy daily goals, you absolutely must give yourself the reward. Same with your 4-day goal.  You must also resist any temptation to give yourself the reward if you don’t meet your goals.  If you do all this and you still don’t take any action, reduce the task, increase the reward, or do both, until you start moving.”

Finally …

Fill out a sheet of paper with your own four day win just like the picture of mine here (click to enlarge):
Pams_4day_win

Post it in at least three places:  Your bathroom mirror, your refrigerator door and your workspace.  Check off each day you manage to complete your ridiculously easy goals.

I am seriously going to do my 4-day win
.

If you are motivated by public accountability, write yours here in the comments.  Five days from now (January 20) I will post about how I did on mine and encourage you to do the same.

Final thoughts on the number 4

I couldn’t help but share some additional information on the significance of the number 4, courtesy of my distracted mind combined with Google:

The number 4 in the Tarot :

“Four is the number of manifestation and material reality. There are four elements, four sides of a square, four cardinal directions of a compass, four seasons, four winds, etc. It is a number of order, structure, power, and earthly dominion. Four is the number of the prototypical complete family: a father, a mother, a son, and a daughter.”

The number 4 in Numerology :

“In the Jewish religion, the number four is significant because of the Tetragrammaton, the four-letter name of God which is so holy it is never spoken. In Chinese numerology (as well as that of other Oriental languages), the word “four” is a homonym of the Chinese word for “death”. As thus, some hospitals do not have a 4th floor.

So perhaps “death to procrastination” is more than a dramatic headline after all!

-Pam


Pamela Slim is a Martha Beck certified coach and author of Escape from Cubicle Nation

Comments

  1. says

    Pam,

    Great article. I’ll take the challenge. My goal is to finish the outline for a presentation entitled “What’s Going on In There?” I look forward to comparing notes in four days!

    Mike

  2. Andy Pels says

    Cool.

    Mine is to finish redesigning the 1″ label to make it a 2″ label. You don’t have to know what that means. It is easy to attain, but will be a significant step forward for me.

    See you in 4.

    Andy

  3. says

    Wow.

    The four-day win sounds so tempting. Reading through your examples made me smile because it makes goal-setting plausible.

    This is definitely worth trying!

    In fact, the thought of it makes me excited to give it at try, so, now I am off to look at my goal plan and determine which of my goals I will test out first.

    Thanks for sharing such a temptingly palatable goal approach!

  4. says

    Yeah! Thanks for playing Mike, PunditMom (you didn’t state your 4-day win, but you know I love you anyway), Andy and Latarsha!

    Keep em coming folks! There is power in numbers.

    -Pam

  5. says

    I love this. I’ve been writing a post on my blog, WorkingWithChronicIllness about making life easier for yourself – particularly hard when you work and live with chronic illness – but the same routines and reasons apply. This is great stuff to include. My 4 day goal? To get my tax info ready for my meeting with my accountant! Rosalind Joffe

  6. says

    Great post, Pam, and very timely. Procrastinating has been plaguing me lately; uncompleted tasks from last year are lingering, keeping me from fully jumping into the new year. My four-day goal is to finish drafting the article about traveling with a disability; my win is to rent “Freedom Writers”, which I’ve wanted to see for a while.

  7. kizla says

    I am actually also in the process of honing a book proposal of my own, so I will take on the same challenge as you, Pam. Thanks for your suggestions – this is just the kick in the butt I need. (Unfortunately, I just started this on the 16th, but that’s okay.) I will check in again tomorrow with my results.

  8. says

    What a great way to chunk down a goal into doable pieces. This strategy will help me because I always have big ideas but have trouble following through. I like the idea of linking smaller goals to a reward. I think that’s what’s been missing for me – all work and no play! I’m going to book a massage to motivate me this week. My big reward is going to be a trip to Tuscany…

  9. Katie Andraski says

    If it’s okay, I’d like to link this to my Blackboard account for my composition students. This would be very helpful for them. We’re going to write about whether people can change and/or how they can change in a few weeks and this would be a useful source.

    Thank you so much for your wisdom.

    I wish you all would write a snappy, well written book about finding and deepening your life for college age kids.

    All good things, Katie

  10. Laura says

    I love it, keep it simple. I have virtually given up on making “New Years Resolutions”, etc. because I never seem to follow through. But a four day, simple bite size plan….I can do that. And a reward every week, I can definitely do that! Pam, you are amazing, I love your insight.

  11. Judy Nakaso says

    Okay, I’m game, having committed to the big goal of transforming my health, I’ve got a big incentive to win!

    Thanks.

    Judy

  12. says

    I loved the book. Pam, you did a super job of bringing out many of the main points. I have a lot of weight to lose. However, I’m just focusing on one day at a time or four days at a time. My mind is on board with my body and I was able to eat a healthy diet for four days and then another round of four days. I went to the gym four days and rode the recumbant bike 15 minutes per day. Then during the next four days, I rode the bike 20 minutes per day. Keeping my body in the game and being kind to myself through this process has made this an opportunity for wellness rather than another go at a “dreaded diet”.

    Mary Ann

  13. Pam M. says

    Pam that was a great blog. I just downloaded the book to my ipod. It’s great. My main goal is not keep feeling ugly. I fell in love and lost 72 pounds and looked great. We are currently separated and I have gaind 42 pounds. I’m scared now because my body ache and I don’t want to die fat. I’m so scared.

  14. melinda says

    Well,that was a good insight on how to get started with a goal by short term and getting rewarded all at the same time sounds great . Cant wait to start my goal is to loose 20 pounds.

    Thanks

  15. Laura says

    My goal is health related. I would like to quit smoking, and cold turkey hasn’t worked for me. I have never looked at this goal in the terms it could be broken down. Now, I think it just might be possible. For example I could choose to smoke a certin number of smokes less than I smoke dailly today. And we’ll see how that works.
    Do you have any ideas on a reward that would be linked to such a bad activity?
    Thank you bunches

  16. says

    Intimately, the article is really the freshest on that worthw hile topic. I fit in with your conclusions and also can eagerly look forward to your coming updates. Simply saying thanks will certainly not just be enough, for the fantasti c lucidity in your writing. I will certainly correct away grab your rss feed to stay abreast of any updates. Genuine work and much success in your business efforts!

  17. Polly Gregson says

    Hello!
    I was delighted to find the audio set of “The Four Day Win” at my library.
    Unfortunately it does not have the template included. Is there a place on your website I could find the same information on the template.

    Thanks for your help on this. I am encouraged by “The Four Day Win”.

    Polly Gregson

  18. says

    You really make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this topic to be actually something which I think I would never understand. It seems too complicated and extremely broad for me. I am looking forward for your next article, I will try to get the hang of it! Regards, Iva Garkow

  19. says

    hiyas :)

    Martha,I couldnt sleep last night,yesterday I picked up your book,so I tucked in and feasted on your writings.started my 4 day one today and insha Allah,intend on continuing it for the rest of my God given life,thankyou so very much for being a sister to me :)

    best wishes xxx

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