On the list of self-sabotaging behaviours procrastination is probably the worst! When you are on a weight loss journey or you are maintaining your weight loss, procrastination with overeating is a tricky bad habit to break. Have you noticed that when you have a tight deadline a cookie will somehow find its way through your improved eating habits? Almost always just before you get around to tackling that to-do list. Then wait, just one more cookie. Oh, and a trip to the bathroom. And then the last cookie, promise. Wait, you forgot the geyser on, these pants are so uncomfortable….you need to go change first. Right, now lunch, because you must be hungry you are snacking on all these cookies? The key to stopping procrastination is the ability to identify it first. The upside to this is that when you are aware of self-sabotaging behaviours you can make better choices when faced with the need to eat. And, more importantly, when you identify any procrastination, you know that a quick reality check is needed because somewhere, something is triggered. Understanding the psychology of procrastination will help you a lot more than eating that cookie in the long run.
Here is what you need to know about procrastination and eating.
Firstly, to a degree we all procrastinate. We seek out distractions to avoid doing a task. For women who are on a weight loss journey, or maintaining weight loss, understanding how the dysfunctional overeating cycle is created is key to breaking this procrastination habit and saving your weight loss efforts. Having a meal or a snack is a good “excuse” to delay a task. What you are really doing is telling yourself “I will just have this one snack then after a few minutes I will start.” But the ten minutes becomes twenty and several more snacks in between, eventually it can add up to hours even days. Having something to do instead of what you are supposed to do, helps to put it off for as long as possible. Why distract with food? In some of my previous blogs I have discussed emotional eating, we use food for many reasons other than nourishment. Food is comforting, it is a way to squash out uncomfortable feelings and anxiety. Emotional eating is often the busy woman’s way to deal with pressure, endless to-do lists and deadlines, not feeling appreciated, or being tired and feeling like you’ll never get enough done.
Secondly, no one is born a procrastinator, it is a learned avoidant coping style. Procrastination happens when rigid standards or the belief that you have to do it all perfectly makes it feel too overwhelming to start or to act. Procrastination shows up when high expectations and a never-ending to-do list leave you too exhausted to generate motivation to complete the task at hand. When we operate out of the belief that something must be perfect to be good enough, we will almost always have some sense of avoidance. Why? Because we fear failure, that we are not good enough. We have connected our sense of self-worth with our ability to be perfect. Perfectionism which is connected to a task is an all or nothing, black or white, you are either in or you are out scenario. There are no grey areas for being half good, no room for mistakes or half steps. Seeking perfection in completing tasks makes it hard to ever feel “done” or to give yourself credit for the partial steps towards success. You are therefore either a failure or perfect because the task will either be all or nothing, black or white. And let’s be really honest, perfectionism is never achievable. The upshot is the message you tell yourself that you are therefore a failure. Avoiding this subconscious uncomfortable message is soothed and delayed with overeating. Voila….I give you procrastination by overeating!
This need to be perfect and our challenge to avoid failure is deeply ingrained in our frame of reference with the outside world. At the root of procrastination, not all, but most reasons for procrastination lies the need to avoid failure. Society, social norms, and social media have the upper hand when it comes to labelling what is perfect and what is a failure. The world will either show you that you are “perfect” or that you are not. How do we get to this belief that we are either one or the other? We compare.
The truth is, we will never stop comparing ourselves to others. But why do we do this? We will always seek to fit in because we yearn for a connection with other human beings. It is our innate nature. To fit in we must be and have what others do, or else we will be rejected. Because we compare, we will always see what is missing or wrong with ourselves when we seek to validate our self-worth in an external world. It is only when you grow in self-awareness that you can choose to seek your validation internally and then stop the negative self-talk and measure it against the actual truth, not the one displayed on Facebook. True connection with others is not about fitting in, it is about your ability to be vulnerable.
Several other factors also contribute to your choice not to act, what you need to know is how to combat procrastination so that you do not reach for food again in the midst of feeling overwhelmed. Here are a few strategies that can help:
Identify and acknowledge you are procrastinating. The first step is to become aware you are actually doing it, procrastinating. Be aware of your behaviour patterns, STOP in the moment and revert to being present and mindful. Most procrastinating behaviours are done without you even knowing what you are doing.
Get in the habit of grabbing a piece of paper and a pen rather than food. Now get clear on why are you procrastinating. When you feel the urge, to eat, surf the net, or turn on the television ask yourself what is keeping you from moving into action:
You feel overwhelmed by the task
The task is unpleasant
You’re physically and emotionally drained
You’re decision making skills are depleted due to chronic stress
Address the underlying issue and take action...
If you feel overwhelmed by the task, it may be because you are disorganised. You will need to break down the task into manageable “baby steps.” Organised people prioritise their tasks, in doing so you will feel less overwhelmed by the amount of work you need to do. Then focus on one task at a time. You’re not sure you have the skills or resources to complete the task, in which case, you’ll still need to break the task into baby steps and you may have to educate yourself by doing some research and then perhaps delegate if need be. You have a fear of failure, perhaps you’re afraid that you’ll do a bad job and feel ashamed or dissatisfied. Keep in mind that we learn from our mistakes. It’s important in this step to catch and replace any self-defeating thoughts regarding your abilities that may be preventing you from acting and moving forward. If you feel the task is unpleasant, try it for ten minutes. We often overestimate the unpleasantness of a task. Remind yourself that you just have to try it for ten minutes. When we get into the rhythm of things, we find the task to be more manageable and less horrible than what we expected.
If you’re perfectionistic remind yourself that many of the tasks you need to get done in a day don’t require perfection, like brushing your teeth, or fetching the kids from school. Strive for good enough, a happy medium between average and great. Most of the time, completing a task imperfectly is better than delaying it indefinitely. Tell yourself “I know this isn’t perfect, but it’s good enough for today and I’m okay with that.” Learning to accept good enough in many areas will allow you to accept your own imperfections as well as those of others. And to accept the fact that there isn’t always time, in a busy life, to strive for perfection.
If you’re physically or emotionally drained, you’ll need to explore what the cause of your fatigue is. You might be going through an emotional patch and you are not feeling quite yourself, break your tasks up into smaller bits, and try to achieve less in a day, but still achieve some goals. Something is better than nothing. Feeling physically and emotionally drained, overwhelmed, and unable to cope are symptoms of burnout. When you have reached this point you need to get help, take some time off, and invest all your energy in restoring your mental capacity.
If your decision-making skills are depleted, chronic stress switches off the brain’s ability to take in information, analyse the info and act on it. A foggy brain will block your ability to decide what tasks should be done first, and where you should start. In this case, a supplement that supports memory and cognition will help restore your brain function. Then apply better coping strategies to manage your stress. Meditation and avoiding over-committing, setting better boundaries, know your limits, all these strategies will help you get back to balance.
The most important thing to remember is that your reason for procrastinating is creating a vicious cycle. The more time you waste, the more overwhelmed you will feel, and the more you will procrastinate, and this will reinforce your false belief that you are a failure. To add insult to injury if you have an emotional relationship with food, you will more than likely use eating as an avoidance strategy. And that will certainly not help you with your weight loss journey.