Don't Rely On The One Day Fallacy

one day fallacy

Goal-setting has become a bit of an obsession for many of us.  We use goals to motivate ourselves to accomplish things in life; in our careers, our creative aspirations, and our home lives. 

In general, having long-term goals seems like a good thing. However, I think it's also important to be aware of the ways that goals can undermine our motivation.

Setting a goal for the future might make us think that we can’t actively work towards what we want right now. We think we’d like to do something “one day” and then we kind of just get sucked into everything else that’s going on in our lives and the thing we aspired to do one day doesn't happen. 

I've recently started thinking about this kind of goal setting as a logical fallacy, because aspiring to do something "one day" inadvertently justifies our inaction today.

Just to be clear, I'm not talking about setting goals for the future and then working toward them. I'm talking about all the times we set goals or hope to one day have this or accomplish that, and then do very little to work toward those things.

For example, many of us have thought at some point, "I want a house like that one day." But unless we are actively trying to build up credit, put aside money each week, and work really hard for career promotions, we probably aren't actually doing much to accomplish that goal.

What's more, if we can begin to understand what desires we aren't willing to actively work toward, it becomes much easier to stop wishing for things that don't matter and we're better able to focus on the desires that really mean something to us. 

We give ourselves reasons to complain about the things we can't have today, all while justifying that some day down the road, we'll be able to make them happen.

There are dozens of logical fallacies that we encounter in our day-to-day lives. You've experienced some of them before. Maybe one of these:

  • The Hasty Generalization fallacy, where we assume a conclusion after gathering very little evidence: "Monday was terrible. My whole week is going to be awful now."
  • The Circular Argument fallacy, where we attempt to prove something by re-wording and reiterating it: "He's good at convincing people because they always believe him."
  • The False Dilemma fallacy, where we oversimplify a complex argument by turning it into only two options or choices: "Either become a vegan and save animals, or keep eating meat and kill them."
  • The Red Herring fallacy, where we avoid key issues and divert attention to another, usually larger, problem: "I overdrew my account but the bank has been using every excuse they can to steal my money."

...the list goes on.

Fallacies are errors in reasoning that we often use to win arguments against others or, sometimes, against ourselves.

Some people certainly use fallacies on purpose to manipulate others, but plenty of people use fallacies unknowingly, too. And plenty of us use logical fallacies against ourselves without even knowing it. 

Take, for example, the Hasty Generalization fallacy. I, unfortunately, do this to myself all the time: Stub my toe 30 seconds after waking up? Today's going to be a rough one. Hit all green lights on my way out of town? Today's a winner for sure.

You can get better at spotting fallacies in your own reasoning by cross-analyzing your thoughts as if you were someone disagreeing with them. Or, a simpler tactic is to just become more aware of the fallacies you tend to fall for. Case in point: I'm very aware that I'm a Hasty Generalizer, so I might try to think twice before pinning the mood of my day on something that happens within the first hour of it.  

This brings us to the One Day fallacy. What is it? Well, first and foremost, it's not a proper fallacy.

The One Day fallacy is a reasoning error I repeatedly see in myself, as well as in others. In terms you might already know, the One Day fallacy could be called "wishful thinking" or, simply, "procrastination."

I choose to call it the One Day fallacy because:

  1. I think this name more accurately represents this particular reasoning error and
  2. This helps me recognize the error immediately so I can re-frame my thinking.

The One Day fallacy looks like this:

  • "One day, when I have more money, I'll travel the world and work from my laptop."
  • "One day I'll have more time and then I can build my startup."
  • "One day I won't be so busy and then I'll teach myself how to code."

While all of these statements seem optimistic, there's a big problem with what they promote: inaction. 

inaction

When we resign our opportunities to "one day" because we're too busy, tired, or broke today, we essentially push them closer to being out of our lives. Maybe they will happen one day. But, then again, maybe they won't.

And that's the big problem with the One Day fallacy: it convinces you that you still have those opportunities, even as you push them away. 

But, here's the thing: we will always feel busy. We'll always have other things we could or should be doing.

Most of us won't experience some perfect gap  in our work and home lives when everything falls into a calm that allows us to finally pursue our creative endeavors without stressing about other things. It just. won't. happen.

Fortunately, it's pretty easy to recognize the One Day fallacy once you know what it is.  It usually involves thinking or talking about some major desire or goal you have, in conjunction with something like one of these phrases:

  • one day when...
  • after I get...
  • once I have...
  • when I can finally....
  • when I don't have to...
  • once I don't need...
  • after I finish...

By being mindful of when and how you fall into the One Day fallacy, you can start understanding yourself and your ambitions better, and hopefully even start working toward your goals in actionable ways. 

For example, in thinking about the One Day fallacy and how often "One day..." thoughts cross my mind, I discovered that I often feel like things need to be perfect before I can move on to something new. And that's pretty limiting. 

Most things in life aren't perfect. Plenty of things can never be perfect.

By paying attention to my own thoughts more and acknowledging when the One Day fallacy would show up, I was able to understand myself a little bit better. And, in understanding myself and the somewhat unrealistic nature of my own thoughts, I found a reason to start taking actions toward my goals sooner, rather than later.

Rather than putting off your goals until some future, undetermined date, below are five ways you can avoid procrastinating and take action when you recognize the One Day fallacy getting in your way.

1. Do what you can

It almost sounds too general to be effective advice, but simply working on what you can today is a great way to push forward with your goals. Can you optimize some social profiles related to what you want to accomplish (like Vimeo or Dribbble for filmmakers or designers)? Or maybe you could reach out and network with other people who have already achieved what you want to. 

There’s almost always something that you can do in the moment, no matter how small, that can get you one step closer to your dream project. 

2. Start planning

If you find that you really can’t take action today, you can always start planning (which is kind of an action, after all). Use a calendar, a project planning template, a to-do list app, or anything else that helps you visualize the future. Start building a step-by-step process to reach what you want, or just start free writing about all the things you think will help you get there. 

Thinking about your plan will help you crystallize how you’ll reach your goal. Plus, knowing your plan in advance can help you recognize viable opportunities when they present themselves in the future; opportunities that you maybe would have overlooked otherwise.

3. Have a brainstorming session each morning

John Gannon wrote a really great post for The Daily Muse a couple months ago. He discusses his 15-minute morning routine, which helps him discover creative ideas. I even tried it myself for a while, and I did come up with some great ideas for my full-time career and for my side project (this website). I'd recommend sticking to it for a couple of weeks, at least. It could benefit literally anyone, regardless of what you want to accomplish.

4. Find someone to hold you accountable

You don’t have to enter into a contract with a business partner to start creating your business (or whatever it is that you want to do). Find someone who is also interested in a goal like yours, or who is working toward a big project of their own, and hold each other accountable. Set mini goals that you both have to meet.

One of the most well-known examples of using accountability to meet your goals might be NaNoWriMo. It's an international writing initiative that takes place every November, where writers from around the world try to start and finish an entire novel in one month. In this case, you have an entire community to hold you accountable, but a solid, encouraging relationship with a peer or coworker could be effective, too. 

5. Put some money into it

Most of us would probably like to avoid this one for as long as possible, but the simple truth is that putting some money toward your goal can be an effective way to motivate yourself to stick with it.

For example, I signed up for a half marathon last year and, if it weren’t for that $70 I had to pay to register, there are tons of nights when I would have probably ignored my training runs. Similarly, when I wanted to start writing more, I bought a domain and used that spent cash as motivation to keep writing and updating this site. 

start your adventure

There are dozens of other, simple ways you can motivate yourself to reach your goals. Just don’t get stuck in the idea that “One day,” this or that will happen for you. You have to make things happen, and you can start right now. 

For more inspiration and information on goal setting, check out these awesome posts about taking action today, to reach your goals tomorrow:

The 30-Minute Strategy For Creating A Successful Path To Your Goals
How to Make Yourself Work When You Just Don’t Want To
What's Really Standing In The Way Of Reaching Your Dreams
How to Pursue Your Creative Calling While Working Full-Time
Make Time Everyday To Do What You Need To Do To Reach Your Goals
Here’s What Really Happens When You Extend a Deadline

Whether you find the One Day fallacy encroaching on your thoughts when you drive by nice houses or when you think about the next creative project you want to start, be aware of it. Ask yourself what you're willing to do to get what you want. If you aren't willing to do anything, enjoy moving on with your life a little bit sooner.

 

If you found this post interesting or helpful, I'd love it if you shared it with one other person who you think would like it, too.

Images by João SilasEutah Mizushima, and Annie Spratt.