WHY DO WE PROCRASTINATE?
And what can we do about it?
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Skipped your workout today? Or spent too much time dawdling on the internet instead of writing that essay or work report? Procrastination affects all of us and for some on a daily basis. It takes up space in our thoughts that would otherwise be used for productive means and yet it feels like an unstoppable force. Why do we delay the things we want to do and know are best for us? Procrastination is the act of deliberately putting off decisions or actions and is often a learned behaviour that disrupts self-regulation. While many think procrastination is a result of poor willpower, there is actually a lot more science to it.
Negative emotions fuel procrastination. For example, working out is strenuous and you may not enjoy the discomfort it brings or perhaps you have psychological barriers like anxiety, perfectionism, or fear of failure/success that you have to overcome every time you step into the gym so your brain actively attempts to avoid feeling this way. This aversion has also shown up in medical images too. For example, mathphobes actively avoid doing math because even just thinking about doing math causes the pain receptors in the brain to light up.
We rely on our self-regulation and motivation, which is usually fuelled by some form of reward to get us through many tasks in our daily lives but these negative feelings can overwhelm this sense of reward. Especially with fitness as the reward is often times far into the future. Mental and physical exhaustion, which many of us feel after a long day at work or with kids, makes this process even harder. These types of negative emotions interfere with our decision making, self-regulation, and motivation.
Procrastination, obviously, has been linked to poor grades and job/fitness performance but it is also surprisingly linked to our health. Your physical health is affected if you’re putting off exercise but procrastination also increases stress levels which then impairs immune function and your mental health. So what can you do about it? Procrastinators can change their ways.
Figure out when, why and how you procrastinate - You can’t fix what you can’t identify.
Have clearly defined goals - Be sure of the specifics of what you want and how you want to get there and define how important your goals are to you. They should be both meaningful and achievable.
Create a plan of action and figure out techniques to combat your procrastination - Such as keeping yourself accountable with additional rewards, changing your thought pattern on the task, using visualisation of your future self (this is especially helpful for fitness related goals) and by acknowledging and analysing your negative feelings.
Make it easier to get started and harder to avoid - Such as turning off the wifi, putting your phone in do not disturb mode, or wearing your workout gear to bed for a morning workout etc.
Have someone to help keep you accountable - Find a friend you can rely on to help keep you accountable. For fitness, get a workout buddy. Or better yet, get a personal trainer. There is a reason why so many people reach out for a personal trainer and it’s because this access to assisted accountability really works. Not only that, a personal trainer can help you maintain your own motivation and improve your self-regulation by creating lifelong fitness habits.