Shift your mindset from “want-to-do” to “can-do” with these motivational strategies.
“Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow.”
That Mark Twain quote is pithy, a perfect representation of the topic of procrastination. It’s also proof positive that I dawdled way too long in writing this article. After all, just do a quick Google search for procrastination quotes and it’ll pop up right near the very top of the list. It’s a cheap shortcut, an old writer’s trick that no good editor would fall for.
And it’s a perfect metaphor, showing why you need to quit delaying your fitness pursuits, before you end up in a very similar situation — scrambling last-minute to make up for all that time you wasted.
Truth be told, writing a few hundred words is a heck of a lot easier than sculpting an athletic, rock-hard physique. The former takes hours, while the latter takes months, often years of dedicated effort. In other words, waiting costs you, and unlike my writing conundrum, no quick search on the internet can instantly restore your lost opportunity.
What we can offer you, however, is help. So, without another second of delay, here are five key tips you can use to stop stalling and start accomplishing today.
Check your diet
Can your procrastination stem from low blood sugar? At least one study suggests it’s possible. According to research out of Florida State University published in 2007, “self-control failures are more likely when (blood) glucose (levels are) low or cannot be mobilized effectively to the brain, i.e. when insulin is low or insensitive.” The self-control behaviors include the ability to maintain attention, regulate emotions and cope with stress. Or, with just a slight extrapolation, your ability to avoid temptation in your diet and stay the course when it comes time to train.
If your hunger is strong, blunt it with a quality snack, anything from egg whites to veggies to a piece of fruit. Also strive to have a small meal every two to three hours throughout the day, avoiding long stretches of starvation, which tends to prompt fat storage while wreaking havoc on your hormones.
Spell out your goals and a specific plan to get there
Of course, this advice is obvious — those who have a destination in mind are more apt to arrive in a timely manner with a specific roadmap in hand. Knowing what to eat, when to eat it, and what exactly you’ll be doing in the gym every day is critical to success. (Keeping a log of your diet and training, and reviewing it often to note what’s working and what doesn’t, will also pay off, by the way.)
But there’s more to the idea of putting your program on autopilot. You see, research has shown that, when we’re faced with lots of choices and decisions, our self-control takes a hit. So, if we’re constantly deciding on what we need to do next as far as eating and exercise — instead of having a detailed plan in place — it “depletes the same resource used for self-control and active responding,” according to a 2008 study out of the University of Minnesota published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
Specifically, the study cited diminished physical stamina, reduced persistence in the face of failure, and more procrastination among those asked to make choices (in the study participant’s case, among college courses and consumer goods). Sure, we can’t avoid decision-making altogether, but we can certainly make it easier by plotting out our actions in advance.
Avoid negative distractions
Most missteps in fitness regimens are situational in nature — in other words, those who made a bad decision had put themselves in jeopardy. After all, you’re the one who brought the cookies in the house (or didn’t toss them when cleaning out the cupboards). You put off the trip to the club instead of carving out an adequate amount of time for training during the day. And you chose the friends who are heckling you to go out for a few drinks instead of heading home to your waiting chicken breast and broccoli dinner.
Don’t give temptation an invitation. Take evasive actions ahead of time. When it comes to your meals and your hour of dedicated gym time, schedule them on your calendar as if it was a work meeting or dentist appointment. You wouldn’t consider simply skipping out on your dental cleaning or a face-to-face with your boss at the last minute — so why would you not give the same priority to something so important to you as your fitness aims?
By the end of the day, our energy flags. The stress compounds as our duties and obligations pile ever higher. At a certain point, you may just feel like shrugging off the gym and promising yourself to attack the weights “twice as hard” tomorrow.
If that’s a typical scenario, you may want to take a page out of a motivational expert’s playbook, and tackle your most important tasks at sunrise. In other words, hit the gym first thing in the morning, before the stress of the day has a chance to derail you.
By the way, this advice holds true for anything important you need to get done — by knocking off the hardest, most vital tasks first, you begin with a sense of accomplishment instead of letting your “to-do” list grow unwieldy and overwhelming. In other words, “Do the difficult things while they are easy and do the great things while they are small,” in the words of Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu.
Small steps add up
The Great Pyramid of Giza is composed of 2.3 million blocks of limestone and granite, each one set by hand, one by one (that is, unless you’re into the “space alien” theory). The lesson resonates across the centuries — you can’t build anything of value and substance in one fell swoop, but one brick at a time.
When it comes to your physique, that means changing one part of your diet at a time if it’s too intimidating to do a full turnaround immediately. Small steps could mean first cutting back on sugar, then making sure each day you begin with a high-protein low-fat breakfast. Next, you could start splitting your food into six or seven meals throughout the day. Introduce healthy foods to your diet one at a time. Make a pact to have a lean protein and veggie at breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Same goes for your training. If you’re not ready for full workouts, start each morning with sets of push-ups and crunches. Institute a slow-paced 10-minute jog, and up it by a minute each time out. Over the months, before you know it, you’ll be well on your way to building an inspiring edifice of your own.
Gailliot MT, Baumeister RF. “The physiology of willpower: linking blood glucose to self-control.” Pers Soc Psychol Rev. 2007 Nov;11(4):303-27.
Vohs KD, Baumeister RF, Schmeichel BJ, Twenge JM, Nelson NM, Tice DM.
“Making choices impairs subsequent self-control: a limited-resource account of decision making, self-regulation, and active initiative. “J Pers Soc Psychol. 2008 May;94(5):883-98.