Last updated: 17-Jan-19
By Sarah Cooke
I put off writing this article in favour of shorter, easier tasks on my to-do list. Then December hit and I realised I needed to send cards and buy Christmas presents, so I sat down to write instead. Sound familiar?
Perhaps your resolve not to let your training slip over the festive season faltered – you shifted your Saturday run to Sunday because you had a hangover. Then you told yourself you’d go for a run as soon as you’d had a browse of the sales on Amazon, then you had to answer the emails that popped up whilst you were browsing…before you know it it’s Monday and you’ll be working late all week so your training will have to wait until next weekend.
Then, suddenly, we’re already into 2019 and your to-do list is growing. You get the idea. When time is short, we all have to prioritise. There will be days when putting running low on your list is the right call. I am not here to tell you you should go for a run instead of going to the kids’ nativity play, visiting Great Aunt Mary in hospital or taking the dog to the vet because he found the Quality Street box.
However, if you find yourself constantly putting off going for a run in favour of things that could wait until tomorrow, then read on. Procrastination can make you feel lazy, but it is very different from laziness. Procrastinators actively avoid a task by choosing to do a different one. Some of the most hard-working people I know are expert procrastinators.
Laziness, on the other hand, suggests a lack of activity and a lack of care. However, the two can have similar consequences such as guilt, reduced productivity and failing to meet targets. These can eventually gnaw away at your motivation and self-esteem and lead you into a vicious cycle.
MindTools suggests using the following strategies to overcome procrastination:
1. Recognise the Problem.
Symptoms in runners include:
- prioritising other tasks until it’s too late to go for a run.
- meticulously planning the perfect training schedule, researching races and buying running kit, because you can’t possibly set foot out of the door until you’re ‘ready’.
- waiting for the right weather – it’s always too hot/cold/humid/wet/windy/muddy/icy…
- allowing other people to talk you into doing something else first.
- hitting the snooze button and deciding you’ll run after work (will you really??).
2. Find the cause of the problem
There are many reasons why people put off going for a run, but these are some common ones:
- Running isn’t enjoyable, or you’re struggling with motivation.
- You’re disorganised and run out of time to run.
- There could be underlying reasons why it’s always running that that gets put off rather than other tasks. Are you worried about not being ‘good enough’? Are you afraid of failing to achieve your goals? Maybe those dull but simple items on your to-do list seem safer because you are confident in your ability to accomplish them.
- Conversely, perhaps you are afraid of the opposite – if you nail that training plan and smash your goals, will people’s expectations change? Will you need to go further/faster/steeper next time? Will you expect it of yourself?
- If you struggle with making decisions and lack confidence in your own judgement, then you might be afraid of ‘getting it wrong’. Perhaps you keep changing your goals and your training plan and don’t know how to get started.
Photo credit: Sarah Cooke
3. Try out solutions to the problem
Most of us have been procrastinating to some extent for most of our lives. It won’t change overnight, but all habits can be broken with time, the right strategies and a willingness to stick with it. New behaviours require practice before they become second-nature, so try as many of these as you can and be patient with yourself:
- Stop criticising yourself for procrastinating. Think back to when you were at school. Which teachers made you want to work hard? The ones who were constantly putting you down, or the ones who told you that you had potential?
- If motivation is a problem for you, then take a look at my article on how to overcome motivational issues and achieve your running goals. You may need to make your training less ambitious initially and work towards your goals more gradually.
- If being disorganised is getting in the way of running, then consider prioritising your day/week and creating a routine with fixed times for running. If running isn’t your lowest priority, then it shouldn’t be the thing that always gets carried over to tomorrow’s list. Try using a timetable and allocating a time period for each activity to help you focus. There are also various time-management apps available – browse your app store to see what might work for you.
- Reward yourself for going for a run. Choose something you find motivating for each time you tick off a training session.
- Enlist a support team. This might be running buddies who turn up and drag you out no matter what. It might be a coach who asks you to report back after each run. It might simply be telling your partner when you intend to go for a run so that you feel ‘committed’ to the task.
- Minimise the chances of being distracted. Don’t check your email just before you head for a run – you’re bound to end up replying to something. The same applies to social media, your work diary, the kids’ homework, etc…
- If you have negative expectations of how much you’ll enjoy your run, don’t give yourself the whole day to dread it. Run in the morning and hopefully you will surprise yourself and enjoy it. If you don’t, then it’s time to look at your motivation and whether you need a more enjoyable training plan or more realistic goals. A plan that doesn’t fit with your other commitments and lifestyle isn’t going to work long-term.
- If decision-making is an issue for you, then you may find it helpful to work with a coach or to follow a training plan such as Justin Bateman’s 50km plan. However, if you’re someone that overthinks and can’t start until you have the ‘perfect’ plan, then you may need to remember that that perfect moment of ‘readiness’ doesn’t exist – just run and then figure out afterwards if there are things you need to change or work on.
If you were putting off going for a run until you’d finished reading this article, then it’s time to head out the door!