The “art” of procrastination plagues most people from diet, lifestyle habits, to exercise. Our society values and prioritizes short-term mood repair with quick fixes like diet pills and diet tea. It does this because it makes money. People want short-term fixes for long-term results. The problem lies in that you can’t use the same short-term habits for the long-term pursuit of desired actions and achievements. More than likely the thing you want to achieve takes time, dedication, and patience.
The problem with procrastination is that when we make that choice to put things off, we can tend to make things worse in the long run. Not just because the task will be put off yet again; leading to a knock on effect of built-up time constraints and pressure, but also because of the unhealthy habit it builds in our behavioral patterns.
When we put something off to tomorrow, we are essentially prioritizing our current mood of not wanting to do something over getting it done. Consequently, we are then rewarded for not doing the task through feelings of relief or pleasure at the mere act of avoiding it. Nothing is wrong with that, but we do need to see that we get something out of not committing to the habits and patterns that we want to cultivate.
A common example for many is that feeling when you decide to skip the gym or yoga to sleep in or watch TV on the couch. At the time it feels pretty good, right? This triggers our reward centers and when we’re rewarded for something, we will most likely do it again. This reward pattern is why procrastination can so easily become a habit because it provides us with a sense of momentary relief and ultimately momentary pleasure.
According to psychiatrist and neuroscientist Dr. Judson Brewer, Director of Research and Innovation at Brown University’s Mindfulness Center. “Our brains are always looking for relative rewards. If we have a habit loop around procrastination but we haven’t found a better reward, our brain is just going to keep doing it over and over until we give it something better to do,”
So if it felt good to skip the gym or yoga once, chances are your brain is going to become very good at convincing you to do it again and again and again.
One of the reasons athletes find exercise easy to maintain (and not procrastinate on) is because they are good at it. If however, they weren’t good at it (i.e. like most humans without extensive training) they would most likely avoid it. Herein lies the problem, waiting to become good at something you’re constantly putting off or not doing consistently is just as insane as doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result. It’s hard to create new habits especially if trying to do it the same way you’ve done it in the past.
In our workshop, The Neuroscience of Ayurveda, Erik Burns, our Neuroscience guest lecturer, discussed how habits are formed. He came up with the general neuroscience definition of a habit, “A habit is a learned behavior-initiated by a trigger and reinforced by a reward- that has become nearly automatic.”
From this definition, habits have four parts:
- They are a learned behavior
- There is a trigger, like an alarm or time of day
- There is a reward
- It becomes automatic over time
These are important because procrastination is a learned habit. It has a trigger and a reward. The reward isn’t always obvious in all cases. Understanding why you repeat your habits is the key to breaking them and forming new ones.
To form a new habit and to break procrastination, you need to focus on these four parts. Habits are learned behaviors. We can’t expect to gain or lose them in 10 days, so then why do we expect to lose weight or heal our chronic issues in a short amount of time? The best advice we can give is consistency, patience, and dedication over a long period of time. This may mean to schedule your workout or yoga in daily or schedule time to buy fresh groceries and make healthy meals. Don’t let whatever you want to achieve become an intention with no plan. Make a plan and schedule when, where, and with whom you do your intended activity with! It takes time and dedication to see change, so keep showing up.
Our biggest tip is to have a trigger that is clear. That can be an alarm, going straight after work to the gym or a walk, meeting up with a friend, or whatever way you find best helps to signal the habit. Another suggestion is to put it in your calendar with a reminder. If you schedule it in and then have the trigger to remind you, you’re more likely do it and you can beat procrastination!
Our last tip is to investigate what reward you get out of each habit. Some will be obvious some will not be. The tricky part is that the “reward” you think you want may develop over a long period of time and not in the short term. People want to lose weight or build muscle, which takes months to years. If that is the main reward you are looking for, you can easily become discouraged and stop eating well and exercises after a few weeks of dedication. Other rewards are feeling good in your body, better mental health, less active stress, or having more piece of mind etc.
Overall, dedicate your time, schedule what you want to do, and be patient.