Putting off Exercising? Tips for fighting procrastination

I woke up this morning and 101 reasons NOT to get up for a run popped into my head. I had a bit of Delhi Belly leftover from my trip to India last week, I had a throbbing pain on the right side of my back that has been keeping me up at nights, and I had a four-pack of vanilla pudding calling my name from my freezer (my version of Kabul ice cream).  What good is one little run going to do? I thought. Nah, I’ll just wait until I can do a proper run next week when I’m out on R&R. You may not be in an armed compound with a twinging back and dodgy belly, but we ALL have our own excuses for not working out. Maybe you are super busy at work, your kids/parents/in-laws are breathing down your neck, or you are feeling tired. Maybe it is raining outside or there is ice on the ground. Perhaps you can’t commit to a run because you need to “wash your hair”.  Whatever the reason, it is always easier to say you’ll just do it tomorrow rather than get out there and do it today.

Procrastination at its best

Procrastination at its best

We’ve all done it (and not just with exercise!).  Promises to do something later are easy to make, but they don’t get us anywhere because later will come and go while we are still sitting in the same place.  What we need is a way to ensure that our promises for the future are converted into action in the present. I’ve written about my own problems battling the motivation monster before here and unfortunately the monster has come back for another appearance.  I’ve been putting the “pro” in “procrastinate” for the past few weeks now.  As the days went by and the excuses piled on top of one another, it just seemed harder and harder to get back into my routine. I would try every once in a while to get out for a bit of exercise, but I would quickly become discouraged as I felt my fitness levels slip away. Earlier this week, I was having coffee with a former boss at the fancy-schmancy Serena Hotel (a little pocket of heavily-guarded and sterile luxury in the middle of Kabul), and I decided to take advantage of the gym while I was there. I was shocked to find myself literally blacking out after 20 minutes on the step machine. What?!? I used to crank out Everest-sized mountains on the step machine, and now I was having trouble staying upright before I had even finished my warmup. I was so embarassed that instead of asking the gym attendant for help as my vision started to close in that I sat down on the floor and pretended to stretch until I returned to normal.  Oh dear.I knew I needed a kick in the pants and fast. Thankfully, I finally snapped out of my funk today. Enough is enough!  I threw on my running gear, grabbed my ipod and set out for some kompound kilometers.  After my little Serena episode, I was expecting the worse.  This run was going to be ugly, painful and definitely not as fun as lying in bed with my frozen vanilla pudding… But as it turns out, it was AWESOME.  Having made the decision to just get out and do it, it seemed to wake up my legs, lungs and heart. I felt lighter, happier and more content pounding the same tired stretches of pavement than I had in ages.  I bopped along to Kanye West (“Stronger”), Black Eyed Peas (“Shut Up”) and most appropriately, Passenger (“the Girl Running”). I looped around the helicopter, which was parked on the helipad near the top of my ‘running course’ and waved at my guards. I noticed that most of the ice had melted and maybe, just maybe, I had made it through winter.  The air was thick, as usual, with smog and dust, but somehow it smelled a bit more like spring.  I felt like I was right back where I was when I first arrived in the compound last April, discovering the nooks and crannies of the confined space for the first time.

compound profile

My run this morning made me really stop and think, why didn’t I just get out and do this earlier?   There are plenty of articles out there about how to make real changes in your fitness levels over the long-term:  hire a trainer, start an exercise program, join a running club, or sign up for a race. But sometimes I think we forget how important it is to find motivation in the short-term – like TODAY!  In case you find yourself in a similar motivation funk, I thought I would jot down some of my tips for getting yourself off the couch… NOW!

1. Set small goals

Sometimes the more we put off running or exercising, the more we raise our own expectations of what we want to accomplish when we do eventually get back out there.  For instance, if I skip my workout today, I tell myself that I’ll just do a harder one tomorrow… And then when tomorrow arrives, suddenly a regular workout doesn’t seem good enough anymore.  If I don’t have energy for that hard workout I promised myself I would do, I put it off again… You see where I’m going with this.

I’m used to doing a minimum of one hour runs, but after my lengthy period of laziness, an hour seemed insurmountable, which is why I kept putting it off.  So today, instead, I told myself I would only go out for a 30 minute run.  Not so scary!  The reality is that once I got out there, I smashed out an hour with ease, but if I had started out with an hour as my goal, I would probably still be in bed.

Set yourself a small goal to start. It could be 30 minutes, 60 minutes, or even just a goal of getting outdoors and around the block.  It is great to set high goals and try to push yourself to the limit, but if you’re in a slump, this is only going to work against you. If you set a goal you KNOW you can reach, it’ll be way easier to convince your motivation monster to get yourself out there.  And once you’ve reached your goal, you may just surprise yourself and keep going.  I’m so energized from this morning that I think I’m going to head out for a second run this afternoon.

Running in the Afghan sun

Running in the Afghan sun

2. Make the workouts as easy as possible to start 

The easier the workout is, the harder it will be to talk yourself out of it. When I’m really struggling with motivation, I will set everything up the night before so that as soon as I wake up, I can be in my running clothes and out the door before my motivation monster can really start arguing with me. I make sure my running clothes are laid out, my shoes are there in plain view, and I have a glass of water by my bed.   I don’t even have to think in the morning – I just go into auto-pilot mode and before I know it, I’m already exercising. And then I have an energy boost the rest of the day!

Perhaps morning running is not your thing, but regardless of the time of day, try to set things up so that it is easy to exercise and hard to avoid it. When I lived in Vancouver and wanted to make sure that I got in a workout in the evening, I used to bring my running clothes to work with me and leave my bus tokens behind. That meant that the easiest and quickest way for me to get home at the end was to run – I didn’t leave myself any choice. Worked every time.

3. Give yourself a reward to look forward to

Whether it is frozen vanilla pudding, a cold beer, or an episode of your favourite television show, give yourself a treat that you will only get after finishing your workout. It helps to know you have something to look forward to at the end!  Of course, ultimately, we all want to be internally motivated, but when it is lacking, external motivation might just do the trick!

You know you’ll feel good about yourself once the workout is over, but it is hard to remember that before the workout starts. If you have some tips of your own that have worked against your motivation monster, I would love to hear them!

This week before I head out for my last R&R, I’m looking forward to some gentle 30 min runs (tip #1), some auto-pilot mornings in the gym (tip #2) and some bubbly champagne (tip #3)…. Hopefully I’ll have some great stories in a few weeks of my fabulous jungle trekking and trail running in Sri Lanka!  Thanks for reading xx

11 Comments »

  1. Ok, I’m totally motivated at the moment, and I have so many endorphins coursing through my body from all the exercise that I’m like one of those tiny dogs that’s got way too much energy and just bounces up and down all the time. Get out there!!….only a few months until UTMB….you can’t let yourself get overtaken my the giant gnome again!

  2. Good timing, my motivation is low at the moment too even though I have 2 races looming (why is that?). When you’re tired from work and its cold and dark out, the thought of a run seems all too much. So thanks for sharing 🙂

    • Hi Rebecca! Another trick I used to use in New York during the winter is just get up enough energy to go to the gym for a hot shower and a steam. Once I got there, I felt a bit ridiculous only steaming, so I ended up doing a workout. Bribing yourself with a treat at the gym can be a good way to accidentally do a workout 🙂 Hang in there! Which races do you have coming up?

      • Cheers, good idea! I’ve got a hilly 50k trail run in Sweden and RTP Iceland race. I’ve skipped a couple of long runs so feel behind on my training plan. It would be nice to have someone to run with from time to time too, break things up a bit

  3. Interesting…I’ve been in such a slump. Between this blog and postings on DM, it appears that slumpness is going around the world. This makes me feel more normal knowing I’m not the only who goes through these down points. Thanks for the blog. Cheers to keeping it fun and not feeling stressed out or pressured about running.

  4. I have a kind of ritual. When i stopped to working out for a few days and i need motivation, i go for a walk in a mountain near my home. I feel like i full of good vibes to start over!

  5. To all who are lacking motivation … here’s a timely reminder in this Nike clip from Matt Scott – a man who it seems never lacks motivation.

    My son showed this to me the other day when I had a bad dose of slumpness. It’s worth watching!

  6. Lack of motivation and procrastination have always been a part of my life, coming up whenever I had a very challenging task ahead of me – or when I had nothing big enough to look forward to.
    As soon as I realized the circumstances that cause me to procrastinate, I decided to try and fight the causing reasons before they emerge into a huge sabotaging monster.
    Obviously, I love lurking around your blog and reading your past post. This was an obligatory read and I’ll have it bookmarked, just in case of emergency. 🙂

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