zen habits : breathe

The Power of Delay

‘The greatest remedy for anger is delay.’ ~Thomas Paine

By Leo Babauta

I once had a boss who had a favorite strategy for dealing with donations-seekers, demanding colleagues, and basically anyone who wanted anything from him he was reluctant to give.

Delay.

For example, lots of people would come to our office seeking handouts, and he didn’t believe handouts were helpful. So he would tell me, “Just delay.” And I would have to do it for him, asking people to come back tomorrow, or try next week, and so on. While my preference was just to tell them a straightforward “No”, I have to admit that the delay worked. Most people would just go away and not come back.

I’ve found this strategy works really well with habits you’re try to break. Delay.

An example: I tend to go back for seconds when I’m really hungry and especially if the food is really tasty. I found years ago that this didn’t do well for my waistline, so I wanted to find a way to break the seconds habit. The delay strategy worked brilliantly: I would just sit at the table and read for a few more minutes, instead of going back for the seconds I really wanted, and eventually the hunger would subside and I’d be perfectly sated. Delay.

Another example: I often have the urge to go check email or one of my favorite online sites. Now that I notice this urge, I can tell myself, “Sure, you can go check them … in a minute.” So I’d get back to writing my book, and delay. The urge went away. It came back later, but you can guess what I tried then. Delay.

And another: Sometimes I see something cool online that I really want to buy. My old habit is to quickly go to the site and place the order, and get it the next day. Instant gratification! Now I tell myself, “You can have it … tomorrow.” And then tomorrow comes and I might not want it so bad anymore. If I do, I just tell myself, “Sure thing, Leo, but just wait one more day.” Delay.

Yet another example: I would have the urge to go snack on something sweet or salty, and I used to rush to find the snack and shove it in my face, with no small amount of guilt sitting in my heart. Then I learned the power of delay, and instead I just keep myself busy for awhile. I do a workout, or go help one of my kids with something, or answer some emails that have been waiting for a reply. The snack urge goes away, because I delayed.

You can delay playing a video game or watching YouTube, by telling yourself that you can do it in an hour from now.

You can delay smoking by keeping yourself busy.

You can delay criticizing someone by delaying speaking, and instead focusing on your breath, and on listening.

What you don’t want to delay is the stuff that really matters: creating, helping people, making a difference, building something, being supportive, appreciating the little things in life.

For the things that matter, act as if your hair is on fire, and brook no delay.


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