I am the Queen of Procrastination. My internal mantra chants daily ‘if you can do it another day, then do it another day!’ As a result, I have gotten very good at the Last Minute Scramble for a lot of things, such as paying bills, running errands and returning phone calls. It’s also made me very hard-nosed when I am on the receiving end of another person’s Last Minute Scramble. We have all been in the situation where someone is begging for a favor because they waited as long as they could before doing whatever needs to be done. The classic response is “how does your failure to plan make this my emergency?”
In all honesty, I really hate that Last Minute Scramble and one of the reasons I am so hard-nosed is because I know I put myself in that situation by putting off the task day after day. It’s a monster of my own making and I don’t let myself slide when it comes to taking the lumps for procrastinating, so I’m usually not going to let anyone else slide either! The more I hate it and the harder it is, you would think that I would do it less often, especially when it comes to situations that can become complicated. (Once was enough with the Last Minute Scramble on taxes, believe me!) Unfortunately, it usually takes a few times before it finally sinks in.
When it comes to weight loss and working out, procrastinating has become Standard Operating Procedure for a lot of us. You know the drill: I’ll start Monday/ next month/ after the holidays/ after whatever event or celebration. The problem is that unlike bills, taxes or making it to the store before it closes, there is no deadline for weight loss! However skilled we might be at the Last Minute Scramble, it needs a ‘last minute’ in order to get us into gear, and when there is no last minute deadline, our weight loss and work out goals are just hanging out there in limbo. Forever.
No one who procrastinates likes to think of themselves as lazy. Laziness and procrastination are two separate entities. We can be lazy and not a procrastinator, and some of us put off certain tasks because we are too busy doing other tasks. Some of us will put off these other tasks because they will require a lot of time and/ or concentration, so we wait until we can commit to them without distraction. In other cases, especially my own, we put off unpleasant tasks because doing them is certainly not fun, i.e. taxes or bills.
For a lot of us, weight loss and working out fits all those categories: it’s a lot of work, takes up a lot of time and isn’t any fun at all! To be honest, when you look at it with that kind of mindset, I can see how it ends up on the Never-To-Do List! It’s right up there with “Colonoscopy” and “Root Canal!” When we moan and groan about “being on a diet” and “going to the gym” and having to “give up all the food I love,” we are only adding to the reasons to put it off until the second Tuesday of Never! It’s awful for us because we make it as awful as possible!
I go to the gym usually three times a week for water aerobics. In the summertime, the classes are usually so full we run out of room in the pool, but once the cold weather gets here, the attendance drops off dramatically. It’s cold; it’s rainy and no one wants to get out of the pool or the shower and walk out into a cold, wet parking lot. Ugh! I thought about it earlier this week as I was hurrying into the gym and I knew it was going to be really chilly when I left class in about an hour or so. There was a time when I would consider bailing out on the workout but now that it has become a firmly entrenched habit, the thought never crossed my mind. Now I actually look forward to going to the gym. It’s not that I’m a hard-core gym-rat: even though the point of going is getting a good workout, the focus is on seeing my friends. In fact, the third ‘class’ isn’t actually a class offered by the gym at all; it’s a bunch of us who show up at a pre-arranged time to work out together. The activity itself hasn’t changed, but my mindset has.
I know there are books and other programs designed to help people with procrastination. Building new, healthy or productive habits is a big business and for some of these, the focus is on stopping the procrastination. In a way, it’s a little ironic: people want to do something about putting off tasks they don’t want to do! What many of us don’t realize is that it’s not your activity that has to change: it’s your focus and your mindset! When the focus shifted from ‘something I should do’ to ‘something I want to do,’ the workout stopped being a task to put off. Why would I put off something I am looking forward to enjoying? There are times when I’m irritated because I have to ‘cram in the workout’ on a day when I have a lot to do already, but it’s not the workout that is annoying– it’s everything else that’s crowding my schedule!
The same thing is true when it comes to eating healthier. When having something nutritious and healthy for dinner is something to look forward to instead of another chore to get done, it’s no longer something that needs to be put off. I mentioned in a recent post that most of the time, people don’t realize how bad they feel on a normal basis because this is how they always feel. They think they are fine because they have never felt any other way. Example: where I live, I am surrounded by noise. I live near a hospital with a helipad, a couple blocks from a fire station, a block away from railroad tracks and between two churches which also have schools. Between the ambulances, the helicopters, the trains, the fire trucks, the church and school bells, there is always noise in the background at my house. A few years ago, I went on vacation with my sister and her family and our hotel was literally across the street from a fire station. The morning after our first night, everyone but me was complaining about “that fire truck blaring all night!” I didn’t hear a thing. I am sure my ears heard the siren but since I hear sirens all the time, my brain didn’t wake me up. It’s just normal background noise!
The same thing happens to us when we stop eating junk food or highly processed foods. Once we’ve stopped eating them for a while, we suddenly realize we feel different. We don’t feel tired or sluggish anymore; our digestive tract feels lighter or better; we have more energy and our sleep is more restorative. Once we realize what it’s really like to feel good, we suddenly realize how bad we really felt before, especially if we relapse and go back to eating the unhealthier foods we used to eat. After even a few days of eating more high carb/ high sugar foods than normal, I can feel a difference in my joints and my mood. Even my sleep is different and it’s because of the change in my diet.
This realization that how I feel is directly tied to how I am eating has changed my focus. Yes, I really want to lose weight but the real focus is “I don’t want to feel cruddy again.” Feeling cruddy isn’t something I look forward to, but feeling good? Sleeping well? Having more energy? Yes, I look forward to that! That is how I want to feel all the time, so eating healthier is not something to ‘put off for another day!’ There is also the bonus that I lose weight when I eat healthier and that eating the way I used to eat means I can start gaining weight. I don’t need to gain weight to remember how awful I felt when I weighed 438 lbs. Everything hurt and it hurt all the time! So while others might think “I can start my diet in the New Year so it doesn’t ruin my holidays,” for me it’s the other way around: “I don’t want to ruin my holidays so I am sticking with my weight loss plan!”
When it comes to procrastinating, the only real Cure is changing how you think about it. When you make it something you want to do, there is no reason to put it off. We are used to tricking our kids into doing their homework or getting good grades by rewarding them and that is what we are doing with ourselves when it comes to things we would rather put off. Once we focus on the reward, it’s not a chore but something to enjoy. Going to the pool gives me an opportunity to hang out with my friends. That’s my ‘reward’ even though I also have more energy, flexibility and sleep better. I do notice those benefits from the exercise, but honestly, I just like hanging out with my friends! In contrast, there is no reward for eating fast food or junk food for me: after eating it, I feel heavy, bloated, and cruddy. It plays havoc on my digestive tract (not fun!) and actually causes pain in my joints. Believe me, none of those things are ‘rewarding!’ Eating healthier and cleaner means I feel better overall and I also lose weight. Why would I put off eating healthier and being more active for another day when I can do it now and feel great today? All it takes is changing your focus!