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Keep Putting Off Getting Fit and Healthy? Here’s How to Stop Procrastinating

“I’ll start when things settle down.”

“I’ll get back to exercising and eating better when my schedule isn’t so crazy.”

“I’ll deal with it when life gets back to normal.”

How many times have you said one (or all) of these 👆🏼?

Has it been months, weeks, or (yikes) years since the last time that things have been “settled”, “not crazy”, or “normal”?

Between the demands of our careers, being a good partner, raising responsible kids, helping our aging parents, trying to fight injustice and save the planet, and all the other requirements of modern human life, there always seems to be some bigger fire to put out.

And even though you’ve known for some time that you need to start making your physical and mental wellness more of a priority in your life, it’s a can that just keeps getting kicked further down the road.

In my work, I see women that put it off over and over until they can’t anymore — when they are in pain 24/7, have no energy or enthusiasm for life, and have to take all kinds of meds to control their blood pressure, blood sugar, anxiety, and everything else (you name it).

I don’t want that for you or any other woman.

But these demands and expectations that keep pulling us away from ourselves don’t seem to be going anywhere, so …

How do we:

  • bring an end to putting our health on the back burner?
  • quit skipping the things we know we desperately need to start doing right now to care for ourselves?
  • stop procrastinating the care and concern our bodies and minds are screaming for?

Pull up a chair and let’s talk about this procrastination problem and how to avoid procrastinating our health and fitness.

What is procrastination?

Procrastination is a form of temporal self-regulation failure that reflects a disjunction between the present and future self. (Sirois 2014)

This means that when you’re procrastinating, you’re prioritizing your present comfort and pleasure over your future health and wellbeing.

For example, at the end of your day when you throw yourself onto the couch and mindlessly scroll social media on your phone while ordering comfort food instead of doing your workout and preparing a nutritious meal, you’re giving in to the urge to keep your current self comfortable and “safe” from any and all negative emotions at the expense of your future self and goals.

When we fail to see or consider the future consequences or outcomes of our choices and actions, we can jam ourselves up down the road.

It’s like “current me” writing checks that “future me” has to cash.

And that sucks, right?

Have you ever procrastinated something until the last possible moment and felt the rage building toward past you for not doing this sooner?

I have 🙋🏻‍♀️

Pretty sure I lived most of my college years that way, which is why so many of my memories of college are of near-all-nighters spent feverishly cramming for exams while wishing past me had not been so freakin’ selfish. It was not pleasant.

Why do we procrastinate?

If it’s so unpleasant to keep outsourcing important tasks we don’t want to do now to some future version of ourselves then why TF do we keep doing it?

Are we just lazy?

No.

First, it’s perfectly normal to procrastinate — every human does it. It’s not realistic at all to expect that you will ever stop procrastinating forever or be able to quit all future procrastination attempts.

The reason for this is that your brain’s main job is to keep current you alive, safe, and comfortable. It’s designed to point out all the things it believes you should avoid in order to stay alive, safe, and comfortable.

It’s made to care about you in the present moment above all else — including any future goals, dreams, or desires that you have for yourself.

And that’s where the procrastination “rub” occurs and where so many of us find that overcoming procrastination is so difficult — it feels like your brain is programmed for it.

If you’re not paying attention and regulating your feelings and thoughts well, your brain will naturally engage in short-term mood repair — opting to do things that feel safer and more comfortable now — often at the eventual expense of your long-term goals and the well-being of your future self (Sirois 2013).

So it’s completely normal to feel the urge to put off things on your to-do list. But that doesn’t mean you’re doomed to forever keep procrastinating and endlessly jamming up and stressing out your future self.

Because the research shows that, in situations where your procrastination is causing you significant distress and anxiety, you can and should learn to start regulating yourself better.

The #1 skill that helps you avoid procrastination

Self-regulation (often called self control) is your ability to control your actions, thoughts, emotions, and urges. It’s the process of starting, stopping, interrupting, or otherwise adjusting how you’re thinking, feeling, or behaving in order to intentionally prioritize some other goal or outcome.

When you effectively self-regulate, essentially you’re using your brain’s higher cognitive or executive function to act as a checks and balances system for the impulses, emotions, and urges being pumped out by your limbic system – which is a cluster of brain structures that’s largely driven by fear, anger, anxiety, and pleasure-seeking.

So, basically, self-regulation is inviting your intelligent “thinking” brain to the decision-making table instead of allowing yourself to be driven solely by emotions and the “feeling” parts of your brain.

Self-regulation is a skill that you can improve. And it’s an essential first step to stop procrastinating and achieving any long-term goals — including your health and fitness goals.

3 tips to boost your self control and overcome procrastination

  1. Call it what it really is. Your first line of defense against procrastinating is your ability to notice which emotions, urges, and thoughts you’re experiencing without judging yourself. Shame isn’t helpful here.Neither is calling what’s happening “procrastination”. We need to call it what it actually is — a choice, however conscious or unconscious at the time, to avoid something unpleasant now (instant gratification) in favor of sabotaging your future self and your goals (long-term gains).

    Self-regulation starts with recognizing that we’re flying on auto-pilot and calling ourselves out.

    For example, “oh shoot, I’m doom-scrolling the news instead of going out for my run.”

    Then, we need to interrupt and override the system in order to focus on what needs to be done to make progress toward the long-term rewards we’re after.

    Example: “I’m feeling tired and anxious, so even though scrolling feels safer to my brain right now, I know my mental health will improve more if I get out for this run and it’ll get me closer to my goal of running a 10k with my kids.”

    Redirection is key to self-regulation. But you can’t redirect what you don’t acknowledge. So call it what it is and you’ll have a solution to move forward and make progress.

  2. Reduce the unpleasantness and increase the fulfillment. If what you’re avoiding is an unpleasant but still important task, see if there’s a way you can make it less unpleasant for yourself. For example, if you hate getting out of your cozy bed early in the morning to get your run in, consider how you could make getting up more enjoyable in some way. Perhaps you buy special premium coffee and only have it on days you get up early to run. Or maybe create a fun playlist that you only listen to on early morning runs. When something feels unpleasant or hard at the moment, always ask yourself “how can I make this easier to do so I can set myself up to reach my long-term goals?”
  3. Build a better relationship with your future self for more accountability. Humans are wired for accountability to the people we love and respect — it’s way easier for us to be accountable to those in our close community and much harder to be accountable to ourselves. That’s normal and there’s nothing wrong with you if you struggle with self-accountability.But that doesn’t mean you can’t be more accountable to yourself — and, in particular, your FUTURE self. That begins with first establishing a relationship with that future version of yourself, so you’re more inclined to care about her and consider her feelings in your decisions today.

    Ask yourself to picture how your future self will feel about you skipping the gym today when she has to find a way to squeeze it in later in the week when she’s tired and stress levels are higher on top of everything else she is frantically figuring out how to handle. For example, will she be happy when she has to fit in a run AND lift on the same day because you skipped your workout today to scroll through social media on the couch?

    Make it a habit to consider how jammed up you’re making her with your choices today. And, on the other hand, consider how satisfied she and you will be when this task is done and no longer something she needs to spend energy thinking about. Remember, the goal is to come off of autopilot and be more intentional about the choices you’re making today and how they will affect you in the future.

    When you have a solid vision of who you want to become and who you’re in the process of becoming, you’ll be more likely to prioritize your future health and wellbeing over present comfort.

Develop self compassion and self regulation to prevent procrastination

Chronic procrastination can be a bad habit that becomes a significant roadblock to achieving your health and fitness goals and can ultimately be the reason you put off doing the things required to manage your mental and physical health for far too long.

In addressing procrastination, start by becoming more aware (with self-compassion – you are human like the rest of us after all) of your emotions, thoughts, and urges so they don’t keep driving your actions on autopilot toward short-term gratification and sabotage your long-term goals.

When you find yourself procrastinating a task on your to-do list, first acknowledge what you’re actually doing instead of that task and the negative feelings that are driving that decision. This allows you to consciously redirect your behavior in a way that aligns with your future goals and avoids negative consequences.

It also helps to consider ways that you can reduce the unpleasantness of the task that you’re avoiding by procrastinating and consider how continuing to put the task off will affect you in the future.

Improving your self-regulation skills, acknowledging that you can “not want to do something” and still get it done, and holding yourself accountable to your future self can help you overcome procrastination now and prioritize your health and wellbeing in the future.

What important tasks have you been procrastinating that have kept you from achieving your physical and mental health and fitness goals?

We’ve got coaching and community support to help you stop procrastinating, make more aligned decisions ahead, stay focused on what matters most, and start feeling more in control of your own life. Join us for our next cohort of StrongHer in 6!

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Hi, I'm Alison

I’m the Founder + CEO of Miles To Go Athletics.

My own journey has taken me from always-injured-and-in-pain-farthest-thing-from-an-athlete in my 30s to ultramarathoner + competitive weightlifter in my 40s and beyond. So I firmly believe that athleticism is accessible to EVERYONE and is actually the key to better quality of life.

My team + I are here to help you stop putting your life on hold due to pain, injuries, and “getting old” and instead get back to the things you really want to be doing – like being active with friends & family, chasing bucket list goals, and feeling badass at any age.

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