Intention is a wonderful thing, especially when it comes to exercise. How many times have you promised yourself you will go to a class or out for a run and when the times comes, you find a whole host of very plausible reasons why today is absolutely not the day to do it? I know I have. In fact I used to do it regularly. Exercise instructor or not, procrastination was my middle name when it came to getting my bottom out of bed. Something needed to change.
As I started on my quest to discover exactly what is going on and why, the first thing I noticed is how compelling and utterly believable my internal dialogue is. ‘I have worked hard this week and deserve a lie in’ line may be the truth but in reality when I did lie in, I felt no more rested, in fact I felt worse. And, on further investigation, I realised I had a whole selection of lines that popped into my head on a regular basis as I subconsciously attempted to justify my lethargy. All of them conspiring to move me further away from my intention and deeper in to the paralysis that is procrastination. Sound familiar?
My biggest regret could be summed up in one word, and that’s procrastination
I have written before about the inner voice, or saboteur, whose role it is to maintain the status quo and keep us safe. If we are to put an end to procrastination, we need to learn how to deal with it because, quite frankly, going way beyond fitness, it is limiting our potential and compromising our ability to get the best out of life. Time to take it in hand.
The first step is to be aware of it and watch out for its subtle, but super-effective, influencing techniques. Recognise that the inner voice is not you, it is something entirely separate, with goals that are diametrically opposed to your own. Have a notepad to hand and write down the words that you hear and see them for what they really are: avoidance tactics. Remember what happened the last time you followed its advice and how much worse you felt afterwards. Compare it to those times when you have stood firm and done what you set out to do. How much more empowering is it?
In the early days of avoiding procrastination and trying to do things differently the saboteur can be at its most troublesome. Much has been written about the best way to form new habits but one of the things that struck me the most is the importance of making things as easy as you possibly can. It has been proven that, for all of us, willpower is limited in supply and we cannot depend on it for success.
The 20 second rule.
Shawn Anchor in his fascinating book ‘The Happiness Advantage’ conducts his own experiment where he wants to get back into playing the guitar. The first month he only manages to practise a few times despite his best intentions (and his extensive knowledge as a psychologist!). He realises that with the guitar hidden away in the cupboard, the effort required is too great. The next month he simply moves it out into the middle of the room in full view. His results rocket. He also confesses to going to sleep in his running clothes with his trainers strategically positioned at the side of the bed! The message is clear – make things as easy as you can for yourself and remove any possible barriers however small. Speed is of the essence, Shawn estimates that any longer than 20 seconds and you are pretty much on to a loser as the saboteur will have time to rally the troops. Some would argue that it needs to be even quicker. Mel Robbins advocates counting down out load 5 -4-3-2-1 and off.
If you have identified something you really want to do, it won’t happen without taking action. Decide what you are going to do and do it. Don’t give yourself time to even consider it.
In short, putting an end to procrastination is about acknowledging your saboteur, getting to know its tricks and learning how to overcome them – in the quickest possible time. Do this consistently and new habits will be formed before you know.
Let me know what works for you!