With the new year approaching, and everyone getting ready to get a “new lease on life” with their crazily ambitious new year’s resolutions, I think this is a great time to talk about procrastination.
(I love memes by the way)
We all procrastinate to some degree. We put things off into the future that we don’t want to do right now because they’re too hard, intimidating, scary, confusing, or anything of the sort.
Or perhaps we procrastinate things because we just simply don’t want to do them.
We want to do other things instead that are more fun and entertaining like binge on the latest netflix show, surf the web for funny cat videos, or scour the fridge for something to eat.
Ask somebody who wants to lose weight or get in shape why they haven’t done so yet — they might give you a wide variety of reasons, but one thing they can likely all agree on.
Sure, losing weight, getting in shape, and making healthier choices on a daily basis can be hard.
Making any kind of change is typically harder than continuing to do things as you’re used to.
You might recall Sir Isaac Newton’s first law of motion:
“An object in motion will remain in motion unless acted upon by an unbalanced force”
In other words, a person who doesn’t exercise and has unhealthy eating habits (and therefore, is more than likely overweight) will continue to do so.
Unless, that person is “acted upon by an unbalanced force,” such as making a commitment to start eating better and exercising.
But in order to lose weight or achieve any other fitness goal, that unbalanced force is necessary.
And creating that force, or that commitment to a lifestyle change, can be hard — which in turn, makes weight loss hard.
But you know what else is hard?
Laying in bed at night or looking in the mirror and being unhappy with the current status of your health and wellbeing.
We have to choose our ‘hard.’
Let me reiterate.
Let’s say you just got done with a long day of work and any other obligations you might have. You feel pretty tired from work, but you’ve still got a one hour workout on your schedule for the evening, and a healthy dinner you plan to cook after as well.
However, as you leave the parking lot of your workplace, you really feel the exhaustion from the long day setting in and that workout doesn’t sound very appealing.
Instead, you start thinking it might be easier to order take-out from the local chinese restaurant for dinner instead and skip the one hour workout you had planned.
What do you do?
Sure, when you’re just thinking about it from the outside looking in, the logical decision would be to do your workout and make that awesome healthy recipe you found on facebook earlier while you were ‘working.’
That seems like a no brainer — because don’t have to face the decision right then and there.
But what happens when we’re actually faced with that decision? When the time to make that decision actually rolls around?
It gets a little bit harder doesn’t it?
We lose sight of our long term goals of losing weight, and eating healthy because now we actually feel the hunger and craving for that chinese food and we realize how tired and wiped out we are from a long day’s work, which makes that workout seem like hell on earth.
Tony Robbins said it best:
“Remember anything you want that’s valuable requires you to break through short-term pain in order to gain long-term pleasure.”
So what happens?
Often times, we let our desire for instant gratification and emotional satisfaction win and we head over to the local chinese place.
But what happens after?
The chinese food sits like a brick in your stomach, weighing you down with guilt since you skipped the workout, and replaced that healthy dinner you had planned for a night in front of the TV with a big plate of chinese food.
Now, looking back on it, making that same decision again seems hard.
You probably feel like crap from all the food you just ate, and even worse — you’re probably also unhappy with yourself for giving in to the chinese food and bailing on the healthy and productive evening you had planned.
After all, you could’ve pushed yourself through that workout and made that healthy meal — and you’d probably still be sitting in front of the TV at this very moment watching your show.
You’d just have less of a food-baby, and a bit more self-satisfaction.
So why didn’t you do it?
You gave in to instant gratification.
You let your emotions take over your decision making instead of doing what was optimal for your health and wellbeing.
However, had you acted without your emotion — without giving in to your hunger and the voice in the back of your head saying “you had a long day, you deserve a big plate of dumplings and fried rice” — you’d be in a much better spot right now.
You’d probably be enjoying that show you’re watching on netflix a little more, too.
Instead, you’re sitting in front of your TV show without paying attention to what’s going on because you’re too busy stirring around in your head full of guilt about the decision you made earlier.
It’s not healthy to make yourself feel guilty all the time — you simply shouldn’t do it. You ate the chinese food, that’s okay — we all slip up.
The problem is that we do this over and over again — continuously giving in to our emotions as a way to instantly gratify any feelings of discomfort we’re currently having.
Continuing to repeat this behavior is equally as unhealthy as making yourself feel guilty.
It all goes back to balance.
You just need to find that sweet spot in the middle where you stick to your workout schedule and diet 90% of the time.
Alternatively, when you do indulge on chinese and skip your workout the other 10% of the time, you need to have enough confidence and self control to know you can go back to your normal workout routine and diet the next day — and not dwell on the fact that you indulged in the first place.
There’s no sense hating yourself for making that decision — it’s not going to change the fact that you made it in the first place. So you might as well just look ahead to tomorrow and move on.
Onwards and upwards.
I could expand on this more, but that’s a discussion for another time.
So whenever we experience feelings of discomfort, we naturally deal with them by stimulating our senses in a more positive way — in other words, we seek instant gratification.
We experience a negative or uncomfortable feeling (boredom) and fix it by appealing to our senses through instant gratification (the taste of food).
I’m sure everyone has experienced this — you feel bored, and then suddenly you’re in the fridge or cupboard looking for something to eat even though you’re not hungry.
This particular example is so common that it’s come to be known as mindless eating.
This stimulation could be the taste of food, the visual and aural stimulation of the TV, or the way drugs make you feel — these things all appeal to our senses.
And guess what?
Things that appeal to our senses are typically addicting.
That’s what causes you to continue the behavior.
We’re addicted to instant gratification the same way that we’re addicted to the stimulation of our senses — these things are essentially one in the same.
The cigarette smoker says “I’ll quit after this pack” and then goes to buy another the same way that the our example person says “I’ll start eating healthy and sticking to my workout schedule next week” and then goes and gets chinese food.
These are both prime examples of putting off a goal (aka procrastination) to obtain instant gratification.
The smoker is trying to quit, but he gives in to his craving for a cigarette and tells himself he’ll quit after this pack.
The person who wants to start eating healthy and get in shape was planning on starting this week, but he’s really craving those dumplings and fried rice dinner from his favorite chinese place. So he skips his workout and gives in to his craving — telling himself he’ll embark on his healthy journey next week.
Seeking instant gratification to satisfy a negative feeling — such as a craving, in these cases — is often the underlying mechanism or procrastination.
The smoker wants to quit but he puts it off until after the pack he just bought.
The person who wants to lose weight and be healthier puts it off until next week so he can have a fresh start.
A fresh start… sound familiar? Like a fresh start with the new year, perhaps?
Waiting until January 1st until to start pursuing your goals is just a means of procrastination — an excuse to continue to give in to your short term emotions instead of making strides towards your long term goals.
I challenge you to start working towards your new year’s resolutions and goals now!
After all, there’s no time like the present.
But I get it — it’s easier said than done.
Let me ask you this though:
Just how important is that goal to you?
Is it not important enough for you to want to start achieving it now?
Let’s say your goal is to lose 20 pounds and start living a healthier lifestyle — a perfectly reasonable goal to have.
Is that so unimportant to you that you’d rather eat chinese food and skip your workout instead?
Think about that.
Every time you notice yourself starting to give in to your emotions at the expense of your goals — ask yourself: what’s more important? The taste of the chinese food or my goal of losing weight and being healthier?
I think you’ll find that the latter is much more desireable.
Besides — eating that brutal chinese food and not working out is a punishment, not a reward.
Are you going to continue to punish yourself like that?
It’s easy to lose perspective in the moment when you’re actually feeling the craving for those dumplings and rice, but that’s why it’s so important to be mindful of your feelings.
So next time you’re feeling that negative emotion, try to take a step back and acknowledge that you’re actually feeling it.
Remove your emotion from the equation.
If you weren’t experiencing that negative emotion, how would you act?
Once you can see the bigger picture and be cognizant of how you’re feeling in the moment, you’ll have a much better grasp on the situation and be in a better state of mind to be able to make decisions.
By removing your emotions from the decision making process, you can make a more objective decision that’s in line with your long term goals instead of your moment-to-moment feelings.
Again — it’s a lot easier said than done.
But being mindful of your feelings is a skill — a skill that can be developed just like any other skill such as playing the piano, using microsoft excel proficiently, or making a sale on a home as a real estate agent.
The more you practice, the better you’ll get.
Again, if the goals you have for the new year are that important to you, you should be dying to get started with them!
So why don’t you?!
By the time January 1st 2017 comes around you’ll already have a head start on whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish.
Let’s say your goal for 2017 is to lose, and keep off, 10 pounds.
There’s about two weeks left in 2016, so if you were to lose a completely reasonable 1 pound per week, you’d already be down about 2 pounds going into the new year.
That’s 20% of your goal for 2017 already accomplished before it even starts!
To be fair, I’m sure we’re all going to indulge a little bit during the holidays — it’s okay to indulge sometimes, the 10% we talked about earlier. You gotta live your life too, right?
Although — it’s completely possible to treat yourself and still take care of your health at the same time.
So if you do end up splurging on desserts during the holidays, maybe you’ll only be down 1 pound by the time 2017 arrives.
That’s still 10% of your goal — that’s still progress you wouldn’t have made otherwise.
On the other hand — there’s the mentality of: “Well in 2017 I’m gonna be really healthy and lose weight, so I better stuff my face now while I still can.”
This mentality is no good.
Again — if losing weight and living healthier is really that important to you, why would you want to set yourself back even further?
Doing so will more than likely result in you gaining weight before the new year. So instead of wanting to lose 10 pounds, let’s say you gain a couple during the holidays.
Now you’ve just created even more work for yourself to achieve your 2017 goal.
Remember: Eating like crap is a punishment to your body, not a reward. It’s a form of self disrespect.
January 1st is just another day.
It’s no different than February 1st, September 9th, November 12th, or July 29th.
They’re all just days.
Days that are going to go by whether you take advantage of them or not — whether you make the most of them and do something to improve upon yourself or not.
There’s nothing magical about January 1st that makes you more likely to achieve a goal if you begin pursuing it on that day — shocking, I know.
But it’s the truth.
There’s nothing wrong with having goals for 2017. But don’t wait until it get’s here to start achieving them.
Don’t lose sight of your goals in the face of negative feelings.
Don’t let yourself continuously give in to instant gratification.
Be mindful of your emotions and don’t let them affect your ability to make decisions conducive to your goals.
Let your intelligence and aspirations guide your decisions, not your emotions.
Originally published at www.andrewschutt.com on December 12, 2016.
Originally published at medium.com