Beating Procrastination

It’s never too late to get to where you want to be.

Part of our job as fitness professionals is to continually find ways to motivate our clients to do their best. We encourage them to aim for their highest potential and not give up--to push through the obstacles that keep them from committing to their best performance. We also apply that same motivational focus to ourselves--to ensure that we keep our bodies in top physical condition.

But how often do we apply that laser focus to building the other parts of our business? Our bodies may be in great shape, but what about our dreams and goals and our vision of career success?

It is easy to succumb to the little voice inside us that says those things we want to accomplish are too big and too challenging, that they will take too much time or are beyond the scope of our knowledge. More often than not, that little voice is called "procrastination," and it can eat away at our ability to accomplish our dreams and goals.

So let's put it right out in the open: Everyone procrastinates. We all put off things both large and small for various reasons, until one day we notice that many of our plans and aspirations have fallen by the wayside. And this little demon, procrastination, can have far-reaching effects on our relationships, our health and the building of our fitness businesses and careers.

Procrastination: What It Means, and What It Does

According to Webster’s Dictionary, procrastination means to put off intentionally and habitually things that should be done. In the simplest terms, proscrastination means putting off the important, essential tasks we need to do today and filling our time with distractions.

Procrastination can have varying effects on our feelings and self-perception. Sometimes the experiences can be external (affecting our environment and relationship to others). We may have a lower income because we have not committed to client-building practices. Or we may depend on the same workout routines for our clients and ourselves because we have not kept up-to-date on the latest techniques. We might even face challenges with employee performance as a result of not implementing proper management tools. These external results of procrastination can bring a lower rate of return to both our business models and our personal lifestyle.

There are also internal (regarding the way we feel about ourselves) effects of procrastination, such as anxiety, low self-esteem and even depression. We may feel overwhelmed and discouraged by the simplest tasks, creating an internal sense of self-doubt, guilt or shame that blocks our ability to set goals or build personal and client relationships.

Why We Procrastinate

Let’s start by looking at some of the reasons we procrastinate. You may be surprised by how sneaky procrastination is and how it can create self-fulfilling prophecies that undermine our ability to grow and move forward.

It’s Too Hard. Most often, we procrastinate because we believe the project facing us is too difficult. So we put it aside. It is a natural tendency to want to put aside tasks that seem difficult in favor of those that seem comparatively simple and manageable. But doing the same simple, manageable tasks over and over keeps us from moving forward. It would be the same as leading a client through the same workout routine over and over, with no variance, because to do so is easy and understandable. But bodies don’t develop and get stronger without new stimulation and challenges. The same applies to the rest of our lives. Without new challenges, our minds, and consequently our lives, stagnate.

As a business owner, if you do the same thing all the time eventually your clients will move on to your competitors, who have developed new ways to attract clients. By accepting a mindset that to learn new ways of developing your product is too difficult, you are setting yourself up for failure.

Fear of Failure. Fear of failure often leads us to convince ourselves that it is better to stay static than to attempt a new process that could result in failure. In fact, fear of failure is based on the fear of shame, an emotion that often accompanies situations we perceive to be failures. If we allow ourselves to be ruled by the fear of shame, we will avoid working on important aspects of our lives. As Albert Einstein once said, “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”

Fear of Success. This may sound counterintuitive, but another way that procrastination influences us is through the fear of success. This fear is based on the idea that succeeding raises the bar and that suddenly people will expect more from us than we think we can or want to handle. Higher expectations result in increased pressure to meet and surpass those expectations. That pressure, or the fear of it, can lead us to avoid working on our professional and personal development. It can lead to stress and anxiety, so we play it safe to avoid standing out in the crowd. This choice, conscious or not, keeps us from putting our ideas and selves on the line.

Perfectionism. Fear of success is also related to an aspect of procrastination that is prevalent in the fitness industry: perfectionism. We strive to achieve a perfect working body for both our clients and ourselves. This can foster an internal belief that we should be doing everything perfectly. This skewed view can hinder our ability to make any effort toward our goals, as perfectionists envision completed, perfectly attained goals, which are rarely achieved. So it can seem better not to attempt a project or put off finishing it as a way of avoiding that feeling of failure for not reaching perfection.

Time Management. Procrastination is also influenced by our fear of being overwhelmed by the amount of time required to undertake something. Often we imagine unrealistic scenarios in which a project takes up vast amounts of our time and resources. Our imagined time commitment may differ radically from reality, but we allow it to hinder us from moving forward. This lack of understanding about true time management sets up an environment where every project looks unconquerably time-consuming, and doing nothing at all seems to be the better option.

Solutions and Tools

Now that we are aware of the ways procrastination can influence our ability to succeed, what can we do about it? Some surprisingly simple and effective tools can assist us in overcoming procrastination and moving toward success.

Since procrastination is really a game we play in our minds, a good place to start is with a tool called reframing. With reframing, we use our minds to turn around the negative thought processes that make a task feel overwhelming; instead, we create a new perception of the task as being manageable and achievable. The point is to change our view of a task from its being one insurmountable task to its being a series of achievable ones that arrive at the same result.

An example might be a desire to learn a new weight training program so you can share it with clients and become more competitive in the marketplace. Because this new program is complex and time-consuming, you automatically feel intimidated and want to put off learning it. Rather than telling yourself that you need to learn it all in 1 day or one session, give yourself permission to break it down into a series of learning steps. Take time to master one step before moving on to the next. Each day, commit to learning a small portion of the new information until it becomes manageable. This method makes the new information easier to integrate into your business as well.

Approaching large and important tasks in this way can help you perceive yourself positively as you experience incremental successes. Plus, it makes the failures or challenges more manageable. In other words, instead of going from zero directly to 10, you go first to one, then to two, to three and so on.

Another tool is a “15-minute plan.” The idea is for you to commit just 15 minutes a day to a project that you would prefer to put off. Set a timer to keep you aware of this short time frame. At the end of 15 minutes, give yourself permission to switch to something else. Interestingly, you will most likely find yourself involved in the project and wanting to continue for longer than the scheduled 15 minutes.

As you build toward this process of overcoming procrastination, enlisting the aid of supportive friends and co-workers can be invaluable. They will encourage you to keep the momentum moving. In most cases, people want to be supportive and helpful. Your fear of failure and shame doesn’t give enough credit to your supporters for the positive role they play in your life. The key here is to share your plan of action with allies who will inspire and nurture you so that you can achieve success. Just as we encourage clients to find a workout partner, you want an entire support team to keep you focused and energized.

As you learn to overcome procrastination, be willing to reward yourself for moving toward success: not just a “mountaintop” reward, but also small rewards along the way up the mountain. By recognizing your success at each step, you develop a positive self-image that can make the next step that much more attainable.

Finally, as you take back your power over procrastination, be aware that occasionally you will backslide. That’s okay. It happens to everyone and is not a signal that you should give up. Accept setbacks and start again. The lessons you learn from adversity are your greatest tools in achieving success. It has taken a lifetime of habits for procrastination to become a powerful force in each of our lives. By challenging misconceptions, turning them around and rewarding small steps, we set ourselves up to overcome old patterns and achieve our goals and dreams.

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John Sovec, MA

IDEA Author/Presenter
John Sovec is a psychotherapist, motivational coach and yoga teacher in Pasadena, California. He is ... more less
July 2010

© 2010 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

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