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How to Defeat Procrastination via Walking
Ready for some exercise?
Procrastination - the tendency to systematically put off actions until tomorrow - is a widespread phenomenon, increasingly under scrutiny by researchers.
For example, Joseph Ferrari, a professor of psychology at DePaul University in Chicago, has found that about 20% of adults are chronic procrastinators.
He explained, “That’s higher than depression, higher than phobia, higher than panic attacks and alcoholism.”
Not to be confused with laziness, procrastination is described by Fuschia Sirois, Professor of Psychology at the University of Sheffield, as “the voluntary, unnecessary delay of an important task, despite knowing you’ll be worse off for doing so.”
According to her research, the source of procrastination is emotional self-regulation and, in particular, our inability to manage negative moods around a specific task.
We don’t usually procrastinate on fun things, but rather on tasks we find difficult, unpleasant, boring, or stressful.
It’s often easier to avoid such tasks than to accomplish them. Low self-esteem also generally amplifies this problem.
In short, procrastination is primarily a rejection (conscious or otherwise) of the state of focus.
If procrastination keeps you from achieving your goals, don’t worry because our bodies have a mechanism for regaining focus.
All you have to do is walk!
The benefits of walking
When we walk, our heart beats faster, circulating more blood and oxygen to our brain.
A study by two Stanford University researchers also showed a link between walking and creative thinking.
In a series of four experiments, the researchers asked one hundred and seventy-six students to complete various cognitive tests by sitting, walking on a treadmill, or walking freely around the university campus.
In one test, volunteers were asked to suggest atypical uses for everyday objects, such as a button or a tire.
On average, students who walked generated four to six more ideas than those who sat.
What’s more, after walking, participants showed residual creative reinforcement when they sat down.
Of the three methods tested, outdoor walking produced the best results.
So the link between walking and increased brain capacity seems very real, but how do you put it into practice?
How can you rewire your brain to combat procrastination?
Procrastination occurs when we are faced with the unknown.
A project that at first sight seems impossible - like writing a long report under a short deadline - triggers a defense mechanism.
Our brain, which is primarily a survival system, always prefers to conserve our cognitive energy.
That’s why we have a natural inclination for simple tasks like checking our e-mail or browsing social networks.
This behavior is self-sustaining, since these sources of distraction also generate dopamine, the neurotransmitter that stimulates our sense of reward.
It’s a vicious circle directly programmed at the base of our brains!
When I’m faced with a difficult task and the temptation of distractions sets in, I use the steps below to short-circuit the vicious circle:
1. Use walking as an anti-procrastination reflex
At the first sign of procrastination, get out in the fresh air immediately, even if it’s raining!
If you’re dealing with chronic procrastination, you must rewire your brain so that the procrastination cycle dissociates from distractions.
So it’s essential in the first few weeks of this new habit to respond quickly and establish a new foundation for your concentration.
You need to make walking an automatic response to distractions.
When I started this method, it was common for me to walk several times a day so that the feeling of procrastination could be dissociated from the distraction.
As time goes on, breaks will be less necessary, and your concentration time should increase considerably.
2. Set a course that doesn’t drain your attention
Where you choose to walk also has an impact on your creative output.
In a study by Marc Berman at the University of South Carolina, students who walked in a forest showed better memory performance than those who walked in the middle of a city.
Our attention is a finite resource, continually depleted throughout the day.
Yet our modern cities are often filled with noise and visual cues demanding our attention.
The place you choose for your walk is therefore important.
To maximize its effects, choose a route that favors green spaces.
3. Avoid music
The reflex is often to listen to music when walking, but it turns out that its effects are counter-productive.
It has been shown that music, particularly when played at a fast tempo, encourages us to move faster.
But the intended effect we want is to let our minds wander and regulate our walking pace.
Songs with lyrics also monopolize our attention to the detriment of the thinking we need to do.
So skip the headphones and let the sounds of nature carry you along!
4. Prepare for the task
Let’s not forget that this walk has a purpose: to free us from procrastination.
The desired effect is that once the walk is over, we should be ready to work.
To achieve this, we need to prepare ourselves.
I try to break down my walks into three mental stages.
I start by wandering aimlessly for a few minutes to clear my mind.
This step is essential because, as we’ve seen, procrastination is, first and foremost, a mood problem.
So it’s important to feel relaxed.
When I feel relaxed, I focus my attention on the task I want to accomplish.
I try to break down the problem.
If it’s a big project, I focus on the first possible step.
The aim is to answer the question: what’s the simplest task I can do to get started?
In the case of writing a report, for example, this might involve drawing up an outline.
Finally, as I approach the end of my course, I visualize myself returning to my desk and working on the task.
It’s vital that when the walk is over, you immediately get down to work.
No breaks, no distractions (avoid your phone at all costs!).
The only thing that counts is getting started.
This visualization allows you to anticipate that moment and remove any doubt that might still remain.
5. Establish a routine
Walking has become part of my work routine.
Thanks to this method, I’ve gradually increased my concentration period.
To maintain this concentration, I also define regular daily breaks for walking.
Unlike walks that are deliberately designed to unlock a problem, these have no specific purpose.
It’s often during these pre-programmed walks that new ideas emerge.
The effects of walking accumulate over time, and once it becomes part of your routine, you won’t be able to do without it.
Unlock your creativity
When you think about it, the link between walking and creativity seems obvious.
When we walk, our brains must study our environment, build a mental map of our surroundings, choose a path to follow, and translate this plan into a series of steps.
In the same way, a creative exercise forces our brain to collect the elements of our memory, map those that will be put to use, connect them and then move our fingers across the keyboard.
Walking is simply a continuation of creative exercise.
As Nietzsche said:
'Only ideas won by walking have any value.'
Now it’s your turn to get some fresh air and say goodbye to procrastination.
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