Nah, I'm too lazy to go to the gym today.
May 3, 2011 12:08 PM   Subscribe

I've pin-pointed a number of activities that would positively improve my life, but am having trouble implementing them because I seem to either have no self control or willpower or am impressively lazy and good at procrastination. Help me gain some?

I'm becoming increasingly convinced I am the single laziest person on the planet. I have a number of "good" habits I'd like to implement: eating healthier, exercising on a semi-daily basis, creating things (I'm big into design and photography), writing... but I just can't force myself to do them.

(For a little context: This question has become particularly pertinent because I'm trying to quit smoking because I hate it. I've set a date — my return to the States in two weeks after several months abroad — and am tapering down until then. I'm just becoming increasingly scared, given my inability to control anything else in my life, that I'll fall back into the habit even removed from the circumstances under which I started smoking. I put this in a small font because, while stop-smoking tips will be welcome, this really is a problem in every area of my life and I'd appreciate more general help.)

I'm not an unhealthy person (besides that little factoid above): I'm within an acceptable weight range and a vegetarian who eats (I think) a pretty wide range of healthy meals and who enjoys cooking. I just don't know how to not go buy a chocolate at the store, or how to not eat those chips sitting on the counter even though I just ate a substantial lunch. Nor can I force myself to get up and go to the gym, or go for a run; once I've established a daily exercise habit, I can usually keep that up for weeks (or, in one glorious example, months) — but once I fall off the wagon, I'm off the damn wagon for a long time.

This goes for creative pursuits as well: I love drawing / photography / design / writing, but once I fall into a creative "rut" of sorts, I'll just quit. I just don't have the desire to open Illustrator or even a notepad. I literally cannot make myself do it. I'll just spend my days in stasis watching television shows online or mindlessly surfing the internet. I hate it, but I just can't make myself do anything else.

I've tried using tools like Joe's Goals to track good habits, but it doesn't work: as soon as I see a long stretch of failures I get too sad and stop using it. I realize you can't change everything at once, but even if I focus on one goal at a time I still fail.

I realize I've rambled quite a bit here so I'll try to summarise my question: How do I fight incredible procrastination and laziness and force myself to adopt simple, healthy lifestyle habits and work on the creative activities I enjoy? Can lack of will power / overwhelming laziness actually be overcome? I'm not looking to lose weight or implement massive change, but rather adopt simple healthy-person habits. Any tips? Books/tips/techniques/anything will be welcomed.
posted by good day merlock to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 54 users marked this as a favorite
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posted by ambrosia at 12:10 PM on May 3, 2011 [5 favorites]

Have you ever been screened for ADHD? If not, grab Driven to Distraction and see if anything in there sounds familiar.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:29 PM on May 3, 2011

I agree that Health Month has tweaks that help do more than just track goals, so try that. But also don't try to do Everything at once. There's research that shows we only have so much willpower, so apply your willpower to one or two goals at a time until they become habits. One of the things I like about Health Month is that you can commit to do something like "be creative 3 days a week". You have flexibility, and you don't have to dive in to doing that goal every day.

I totally get what you're saying about feeling out of control of your own actions, but it's helped me recently to see that I was the only one with any control on them, so I was the only one that Could change. Committing to the change for a short period has made a big difference.

Also, what are you doing instead of the things you want to do? I made a health month goal to turn off the computer by 8:30 four nights a week - amazing how that's freed me up for my positive goals! Just like Not doing thing leads to a positive feedback loop that leads to more laziness, Accomplishing things can lead to more of the same!
posted by ldthomps at 12:34 PM on May 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

Chronic procrastination is often (usually?) a symptom of an underlying problem rather than a problem in itself. Have you thought about why you procrastinate? What is that links different instances of procrastination? For example I procrastinate tasks that are stressful. If a task is stressful I can guarantee I will procrastinate over it. So for me, the challenge is not to stop procrastination but to stop allowing myself to be stressed by these tasks.

If you cannot figure our yourself why you're procrastinating so much then perhaps you should seek out the services of a therapist who specialises in procrastination. Once you have a clearer idea about why you're procrastinating then you're going to have a better chance of beating it.
posted by davidjohnfox at 1:32 PM on May 3, 2011

I have had exactly the same problem all my life.

Reaching a point of utter desperation helped. ("Reaching bottom".)

START WITH EXERCISE. If you manage to do one good thing in a day, make it exercise. Preferabl hard exercise. It helps so much with the insanity.
posted by krilli at 2:25 PM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

For things like this, I'm a fan of tackling things one at a time.

If you're beating yourself up about smoking, "not eating right" and "not exercising enough" (neither of which are really objective goals, anyway), as well as not being creative enough in two different areas, you are going to get burnt out really fast and not accomplish anything in any of those areas.

Quit smoking now. When you are confident in your non-smoking-ness, then move on to another goal. And when you choose said goal, make it something concrete. To lose five pounds. To get high fructose corn syrup completely out of your diet. To run for half an hour every other day. To put together a photography show in a local cafe. Whatever. Then, one by one, start building those habits or working towards those accomplishments.
posted by Sara C. at 4:02 PM on May 3, 2011

Be very specific and just show up. For example, let's say you want to go to the gym 2-3 times a week. Put it on your calendar for the days you want to go, and just tell yourself, your only obligation is to show up. You have to do that, you have no other option unless you are absolutely deathly ill. Once you're there, your mental default will be "Well, I may as well work out," — virtually no one goes and then decides not to do so.

Basically, set up your life so the default is to do the stuff you don't want to do and you have to actively opt out of it in order to mess up.
posted by Maias at 5:06 PM on May 3, 2011

For some people (me included) smoking makes them lazy. When you quit and you start to feel that anti-buzz buzz of nerves, put it to good use. Turn "I could use a smoke right now" into "wow, I feel good and energetic! What's the next thing I have to do?"

And make realistic checklists.
posted by gjc at 5:45 PM on May 3, 2011

Lots of good ideas here. If trying them doesn't do the trick, I want to second therapy. The reasoning goes like this:

1. You've described how you are now.
2. You're dissatisfied with the way you are now.
3. You want to change the way you are.
4. A good therapist can help you change. That's what they're there for.
posted by exphysicist345 at 6:44 PM on May 3, 2011

Once I successfully quit smoking (and this took >5 attempts) I felt so empowered. I realized the strength of my willpower and after the smoking thing was tackled I was able to continue to focus that strength on other areas of my life.

Smoking is the thing that is surefire hurting you right now. Eating healthier, exercising more - these are good goals. But quitting smoking is something you really have to do now. Put all your energy into that and the rest will fall into place later, I promise.
posted by corn_bread at 6:55 PM on May 3, 2011

I have been told that this is ground breaking on this issue.
posted by Original 1928 Flavor at 11:28 PM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: First off, thanks everyone for the awesome suggestions. I'd love to see a therapist, but I'm kind of at a point in my life when that's virtually impossible (living in a foreign country for two more weeks, and then job-hunting) — but that's definitely something I plan to do as soon as possible. As for the smoking, while I certainly agree it is by no means helping and quitting is my number one priority, I've only been smoking for two months and this has been a significant problem throughout my life.

The carb trap sounds interesting — I do eat terrifying amounts of carbohydrates. I'm going to try to cut that down — Googling protein-rich vegetarian recipes right now.

I've joined Health Month so hopefully that will be a good start. And I'll check out the books listed. (Oh, and I'm going for a run today, no ifs, ands, or buts.)
posted by good day merlock at 2:44 AM on May 4, 2011

Habit Judo

posted by leotrotsky at 4:35 AM on May 4, 2011

Also a vegetarian, I find that if I dont get enough iron in my diet I become sluggish as I slide towards anemia. And it's so much easier to sit and watch other people having fun. So I make myself bring spinach salad and orange juice for lunch. And since I dont eat meat or drink milk I'm looking into Vitamin D now too.
posted by sweetmarie at 10:03 AM on May 4, 2011

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