This is the time of year when droves of people reignite the desire to lead healthy and active lifestyles. Tomorrow. Or next week. Or after the holidays. Definitely not today though. The act of not achieving small, attainable daily goals is a habit every single person on the planet has unwittingly honed to the point of becoming a true master of the breakdown of volitional action, commonly known as procrastination. Let me help you create that real, permanent change you want for yourself.
I'M GONNA CHANGE MY LIFE! TOMORROW.
According to Dr. Tim Pychyl of the Procrastination Research Group at Carleton University, procrastination is defined as delaying an intended course of action despite the expectation of being worse off for that delay. People are more likely to procrastinate an unpleasant task or when the task reward is farther away in time. Focusing on their ‘present self’ instead of their ‘future self’ sabotages their long-term emotional and physical well-being. Generally speaking, people give in to feel good. This kind of self-regulation failure happens because people don’t like to feel bad! Frankly speaking, people are more likely to procrastinate by doing other less important tasks as a deadline approaches to minimize feeling bad, which ultimately only makes their future self feel worse. Now that we’ve shed some light on why many people struggle to start eating healthy and exercising, what can we do to change this habit of procrastination? One of Dr. Pychyl’s tips is to focus on commitment and action. Watch one of his lectures here.
FOCUSING ON PRESENT SELF MAKES FUTURE SELF HATE PAST SELF.
Charles Duhigg, author of New York Times bestseller The Power of Habit, famously wrote, “Change might not be fast and it isn't always easy. But with time and effort, almost any habit can be reshaped.” There are three key components to making permanent behavior change. There’s the cue, the reward, and the routine. Let’s say there is a behavior you want to change and you want to replace your habit with eating healthy and exercising. We need to find your cue, the thing that gives you the urge to do that habit that doesn’t align with your life goal of leading a healthy lifestyle. Whether it’s the time of day, where you are, who you are around, a task you just completed, or even how you’re feeling, one of these things is the cue. Look for the one cue that stays the same every time you feel the urge. After you’ve discovered your cue, figure out the reward you’re giving yourself or craving you’re satisfying. Is it so that you can relax by putting on sweatpants and binge-watch The Great British Baking Show? It’s okay if you do. That program is fantastic, no judgement here. But test your theory. Replace putting on sweatpants and watching television with cooking a healthy dinner. Did that work? If yes, keep it up! If no, replace it with exercise. It doesn’t matter if it’s exercising at home, going on a walk, or going to a gym. Just move your body! Now that you’ve identified the cue and the reward, it’s time to insert a new routine. Choose an activity that is triggered by the old cue and delivers the old reward, perform that activity and reap the reward! One of Charles Duhigg’s tips is to write down your plan for a new routine.
Acknowledging and recognizing a behavior you want to change is one thing. Mapping out how you will make your change is another. Finding the reason why you want this change is the most powerful part. Doing it for your family, friends, coworkers, or kids can work for the short term. But it doesn’t last. You have to want it for yourself. You can’t take care of everyone else if you don’t take care of yourself first. And you’re going to need help along the way. Struggling with change is a fact of life.
REACH OUT TO YOUR COMMUNITY.
The wonderful thing about this time of year is that there are so many people in your community coming together that want the same thing you do. A positive and supportive network of like-minded individuals is a very powerful tool to help you stick to your behavior change. Don’t wait until tomorrow. Plan for today and act upon it without delay. Your future self with thank you for it.