Welcome to Procrastinator’s Anonymous!
Deciding vs. Doing
Believe it or not, living a healthy lifestyle does not mean just deciding to eat more fruits and vegetables and exercise more. There’s a catch. It’s that gap between deciding to do something and actually doing it.
Raise your hand: How many of you have a series of “New Year’s Resolutions” that involve just changing the goal date from last year’s resolutions to this year’s?
I’m going to estimate that nearly 80% of you have your hands up now–either physically or mentally. Of course, I can’t see you but if you’ll click the link below to actually ‘raise your hand’, we’ll find out if I’m close or not.
If I am close, then we could make this a ‘Procrastinator’s Anonymous’ group. I guess there aren’t any because no one’s gotten around to putting one together yet. 😉
Ongoing motivation is a Challenge, with a capital C.
We want to do it. We have the knowledge and at least some of the skills. We’ve maybe even invested money, certain that if we spend that much on a weight loss program or piece of fitness equipment, we’ll really do it!
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. If it were, we would know many more healthy and fit people than we do. Behavior change isn’t as easy as buying a product and hoping it does the trick, or like Nike says, “Just Do It”.
Behavior change involves changing your mind. That doesn’t mean deciding to do or not do something. It means changing the way you think about and interpret things. That takes a little time and effort but it can be done.
The way to begin is to take the focus away from the bad habit. It’s common to tell ourselves “I have to stop/quit/get rid of this habit.” Instead you turn that thought into, “I enjoy being/having/doing this (good thing) because it’s helping me achieve (goal).”
For a procrastinator, this could be: “I enjoy the satisfied feeling of getting things done.”
The experts in behavior change say that we should phrase our goal statements–the things we want to do, have or achieve–in the present tense. Saying “I am/have/do” rather than “I will” sets our brain to acting as if we are already doing that.
When your brain believes you are/have/are doing something, your body naturally follows. This is also one of the principles behind the Law of Attraction or “what you think about becomes real”, which we’ll be examining in future lessons.
Thinking in ‘present tense’ helps shift the brain’s gears away from what we don’t want toward what we do want. When you find yourself beginning to do your bad habit (reaching for another cookie or putting off a task), stop and remember your “I enjoy being/having/doing (this)” statement. You’ll find it difficult to carry out the old habit while thinking of the good one.
Sit down and write out a list of positive things you can do instead of the bad habit. Phrase them in the positive, present tense: “I am enjoying walking outside in the fresh air instead of inhaling cancer-causing smoke”, or “I love eating fresh fruit more than I do sweets “. Follow that thought with a mental review of the benefits, visualizing how good you’ll feel making the healthy choice over the bad one.
You can learn to change your thoughts through techniques such as visualization, meditation, cognitive therapy and mindfulness practice, all of which we’ll learn about in future lessons.
Getting Started on “Just Doing It”
Just remember to make the effort to follow up the thought with action. Another trick that behavior change experts suggest is called “Do It For 2-Minutes” (or 3 or 5 or 10, it varies between experts).
The way it works is that you choose a number of minutes from 2 to 10, set a timer, then you do the task on your list for the set number of minutes. When the timer goes off, you can choose to stop the task and go to the next one.
You can also decide to do another few minutes on any task later on or the next day. Often, however, once you’ve started, you may become absorbed in the task and want to keep going. You can reset the timer for another round and repeat it until you want to stop. Or you may choose to set the next round for a half hour, an hour, or even two.
Remember, putting things off does not make them it go away. Focusing instead on the feeling of already being/having/doing the thing you want and then working on it for at least two minutes each day will move you toward achieving your goal--this year instead of three years from now.