If you’ve never had a morning workout routine, it’s much easier to write out an exercise plan for tomorrow than actually lace up your sneakers and drive to the gym before the sun is up. Whether you want to create a new workout routine, eat healthier, or lose weight, the “I’ll start tomorrow” trap is often the first and most frequent roadblock on the way to reaching your goals.
While procrastination can sometimes seem like a willpower problem, research shows avoiding negative feelings and discomfort could be at the root of your not-today woes. “Changes in habits can mean doing (or not doing) something different than what you’ve become comfortable with, and that uncharted territory can make people apprehensive to start,” explains Liz Wyosnick, RD, owner of Equilibriyum in Seattle, Washington.
Adjusting how you think and feel about whatever undesirable task you’re avoiding can help you stop procrastinating and finally take action. In this spirit, here are a few simple ways to quit saying “maybe tomorrow” and make positive change today:
WRITE OUT YOUR “WHY”
The first step is to get out a pen and paper to answer a couple important questions. What are you procrastinating and why is it an important step toward your big-picture dream? “The sheer act of writing it out will make you more likely to complete your goal,” says Mandy Johnson, physical therapist and founder of Renegade Wellness. To discover your “why,” think beyond the bikini body or six-pack abs. “Motivation rooted in something superficial or negative is more likely to elicit your inner rebel because it’s most often attached to restriction and consequence,” notes Wyosnick.
For example, if you focus on losing 10 pounds for your friend’s wedding (and cutting all sugars to do so), you’ll likely have the cupcake today and save an overly-restrictive diet for tomorrow. Instead, start with positivity and deep-rooted, personal values, so you’ll be more likely to step up and make changes right away even when they’re uncomfortable (Think: becoming more active so you can watch your kids walk down the aisle one day). Then, tack up a photo or create a voice-recording to remind yourself of the positive outcomes your healthy decisions will ultimately lead to, suggests Wyosnick.
START WITH ONE SMALL STEP
Big dreams mean big changes, and that’s another reason why tomorrow becomes such an attractive starting-point. “Most of the time this procrastination attitude happens if the intended changes are too extreme. If you are going from zero to sixty in your healthy habits, that can create stress,” says Wyosnick. The fix: “Commit to one tiny step at a time. Ideally, that initial tiny step is something near impossible to ‘fail’ at.”
For instance, if you’re trying to lose weight, hydration is key to replenish your energy and avoid confusing thirst for hunger throughout the day. Place a full water bottle beside your coffeemaker. If it’s easily accessible and highly visible, you’re more likely to reach for it and eventually create a positive habit, says Wyosnick. Pick just one thing to do today, whether that’s choosing a healthier-than-usual takeout order or going for a walk after work. This immediate action will give you a confidence-boost to continue making small, incremental changes for a healthier lifestyle.
LET GO OF THE PERFECTION-OR-NOTHING MINDSET
“A level of consistency with healthy habits is crucial for lasting change, but at first, the pressure to achieve perfect consistency often leads to inaction or giving up prematurely,” says Wyosnick. To avoid this, remember that what you do most of the time is most impactful, not what you do some of the time. “View each day as an opportunity to make more supportive decisions than less-supportive decisions. If the majority of your day was supportive to your goals, then that’s an overall success,” says Wyosnick.
When you do have lapses, understand they’re part of the process — not a cue to relapse entirely. If you know a fear of failure fuels your procrastination, “write down one failure and use it as a thinking point on how a change can lead to success tomorrow,” suggests Johnson.
BUILD YOUR SUPPORT SYSTEM
“Include your friends and family on your health journey in fun, collaborative ways,” says Wyosnick. Instead of keeping your fitness goals to yourself, call up a friend and ask her if she’s up for weekly runs or a workout class in lieu of happy hour. To really hold each other accountable, take one of your friend’s running shoes after your workout so you have to show up next time, suggests Johnson. Create new family traditions like backyard sports and homemade meals instead of sedentary TV nights and delivery pizza.
If you’ve tried before and know you can’t get started by yourself, reach out to a personal trainer or registered dietitian for extra help and accountability.