Procrastination – why we do it, and how to address and overcome it
By Dr Matthew Chircop, 9/1/2016
How many times have you thought to yourself “I really should get around to doing…”, but any and every reason (=excuse) intervenes, the action gets delayed, until eventually you just give up and never get around to doing what you “planned” to do? This is the proverbial ostrich with its head in the sand waiting for the trouble to pass, and problems to sort themselves out. This approach is unlikely to work when it comes to long-term weight loss. So, if it doesn’t work, why do it?
There is a model for how lifestyle change progresses: lifestyle relapse; pre-contemplation; lifestyle modification; and potentially back to lifestyle relapse again (from any stage). People might move through the various phases of this cycle (in relation to one aspect e.g. exercise or diet) many times in their life.
The reasons to “change” your lifestyle and the reasons against changing your lifestyle are weighed up during the “pre-contemplation” phase of the “readiness to change” cycle. The longer we stay in this phase of the cycle, the less likely we are to make up our mind and make any effort to change our lifestyle. Procrastination is a subconscious coping mechanism which the mind uses against itself – it’s the antithesis of motivation. Some aspect of change is, on a deep emotional level, unappealing, unpleasant or scary. So, rather than acknowledge this and address it (and all that entails), you delay acting on the motivation to change, subconsciously hoping that the motivation will dissipate along with the need for change.
The “antidote” for procrastination is to move from the pre-contemplation phase into the lifestyle modification phase as soon as possible – the longer you delay, the greater the risk of moving back into the relapse phase as your motivation wanes. The way to do this is to quickly set a small, achievable but significant “token” goal, which indicates your commitment to modify your lifestyle (and is purely lifestyle based, rather than outcome based). For example, in regards to long-term weight-loss, a reasonable and achievable goal might be to eat less of a certain food that you like but is that undermining your ability to lose weight (e.g. eat a smaller than usual portion of chocolate once every couple of weeks, rather than your usual portion size several times a day). The other trick is to keep setting small goals as you progress, so that you generate momentum. It is important that these changes are sustainable, and address some of the drivers for your previously-indulged (unhelpful) habits.
In summary, to successfully change your lifestyle:
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