When Bamae conducted a survey to get to the root of why we slack off, they found that 38% of participants said laziness was a key factor in why they avoided exercise. This seems a little harsh because it really simplifies what we mean by lazy. There is far more at work than us simply deciding not to engage with a problem. Most of the time we aren't being lazy but instead make the informed decision that there are more appealing paths available to us; we are rational creatures at heart after all.
We procrastinate for a bunch of reasons- the task may seem too difficult or we worry that we won't be good enough. Instead, we resort to tackling smaller, easier jobs to still feel like we have achieved something. Our fitness is one of the biggest areas that suffers from a severe case of tactical avoidance and can be hard to work through alone. This guide will give you some little tips to help push through those mental roadblocks and hopefully get the ball rolling on your next workout.
Try something new
If you are struggling to take the first step, try something new! A fresh start can help us get the ball rolling, and new achievements can help motivate us and find new options for the future. Once you have achieved a different goal, retry the initial routine and see how you feel. We often try to justify procrastination by convincing ourselves that smaller tasks are still productive- what's important here is that you are only temporarily straying from the original goal. You are adding a few additional steps to the process, but your ultimate goal has not changed.
Break it down into little steps
We often procrastinate because the task at hand feels like too much. We make the active choice to do other smaller tasks because they seem more approachable. One way to tackle this is to break up a task into smaller, easier steps. Rather than doing 20 push-ups, the first step is to walk up to the mat. The next step is to get into the push-up position. Once you take that first initial step, it adjusts your mindset so the next step is much easier.
Make it social
Research has found that buddying up can be a fantastic way to keep up motivation. Turning our exercise routine into a social activity means we are subject to outside judgment if we don't keep our word, and more consequences for our actions if we don't. Peer pressure really does work, so why not use it as motivation? Additionally, if you add a little competition to your workouts it can help you push one another that extra mile.
Dress for the occasion
Putting time and money into a habit can really help us reinforce it in our heads. If we purchase a brand new outfit to go to the gym, we are more likely to take a shot at bettering ourselves to match our investment. If you buy healthy snacks to take with you, or a new bottle or mat then you might feel the urge to match the investment with productivity to get some use out of your new equipment.
Progress is good! The next time you manage to accomplish your goals, try rewarding yourself. Even if you didn’t struggle that day, creating a positive association can make it a far less unpleasant undertaking the next time. If the task doesn’t seem so bad, then the reward we earn at the end may seem like less of a hassle to reach. If we begin to see workouts as a rewarding experience it becomes far easier to make this a consistent habit. Once a habit is established then the rest is second nature.
Tell others what you want to achieve
Similar to the buddy system, explaining to others what you want to achieve holds you accountable to them. They can also help motivate us if are struggling to motivate ourselves. This action solidifies the decision in our minds- we have made the choice because we have told others that we are committed to the task. Not following through then puts forward the risk of seeming dishonest or unreliable. You can ask your social circle to keep an eye on you or check-in to make sure you are keeping up with your routines.
Having a vague idea about what exactly you want to do can be overwhelming- there are so many factors to consider before you act. Having a clear plan about how you want to reach your target can put you in control of your exercise. By saying to yourself- “I want to increase my stamina” you’ve taken the first step in achieving this. This narrows down what you actually need to do considerably and makes the task far more approachable.
If you struggle to maintain your focus, you could make a note on your calendar or try apps like procraster or other online tools to give you an automatic check-in to help stay focused on the task.
Choose to do the easy or hard things first
This step is heavily dependent on you- some people will prefer to go for the easier steps first and work up to the biggest step, whereas others would prefer to tackle the hardest problems first to get them out of the way. There are merits to both options, so it’s more about choosing which one seems more appealing to you. We often subconsciously plan a route in our heads to get from stages A to B, and this is no different, we simply have a more active role in the process. The most important step is making that decision in the first place.
Use your pitfalls as motivation
Sitting in front of the television to watch the next episode of Love Island seems more appealing than going to the gym, right? We would much rather sit and eat a delicious dessert than go for a run. That’s alright! We can use this to our advantage- you don’t have to choose one or the other, finding the middle ground can be the exact motivation you need. Go to the gym for a set period, and as a reward, do the things you actually want to do and feel better for having achieved everything you set out to do that day.
Use your energy wisely
Do you find that you have more energy at certain points in the day? That’s completely normal! Our circadian rhythm dictates when exactly we feel the most motivated and can vary depending on the person. Paying attention to your own body can be the best way to beat procrastination. If you feel energised in the morning but find yourself losing steam over the course of the day then planning your workouts for the morning will be better suited. Conversely, if you find you get a boost later in the day then this is your moment to really commit to your routine.
Make it easy!
When the little pitfalls start adding up it can be a convenient reason to not do anything at all. We start making excuses- I don’t have suitable equipment or It’s more hassle than it’s worth. A way to work around this is making the route to your exercise routine as accessible as possible. Place the equipment close together and well within view. Environmental prompts can make these jobs hard to ignore.
Another key step is to figure out why you are procrastinating in the first place- do you feel insecure? Does it seem like a lot of effort? Are you worried about having to make that first big choice? Figuring out the hurdles is the first step to getting around them. If you can get into the habit of pinpointing what slows you down, then you can identify these little pitfalls far quicker in the future.
Be kind to yourself- Optimism!
Focusing on the positives and ignoring the negatives can help boost motivation and stop procrastination in its tracks. This process taps into the reward center of our brains- focus on our accomplishments because that’s where the improvement lies. Research has found that those who are able to forgive themselves for procrastinating have an easier time bouncing back the next time they need to work. Forgive yourself if you trip up now and again, and focus on bouncing back the next time even better than before.
Burnthis (2013) 8 Simple Ways to Stay Committed to Your Fitness Routine, Huffpost, online, available: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/fitness-tips_b_3882609
Elizabeth Scott (2020) How to Stop Procrastination: 9 Tips to Try, Verywell Mind, online, available: https://www.verywellmind.com/how-to-stop-procrastination-3144474
Jeff Kuhland, Simple Steps To Stop Procrastinating About Your Fitness And Nutrition, Breaking Muscle, online, available: https://breakingmuscle.com/fitness/simple-steps-to-stop-procrastinating-about-your-fitness-and-nutrition
Mind Tools, How to Stop Procrastinating: Overcoming the Habit of Delaying Important Tasks, online, available: https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newHTE_96.htm