Procrastination. We've all done it. We've all said we wouldn't, and then done it anyway. Many of us have even claimed we will, "Quit procrastinating, once and for all... Tomorrow."
We also see the effects of procrastination all around us. Our neighbor's overgrown lawn. The layer of dust accumulated on that fancy exercise bike we bought last year. Many of us have more than a few "passing C grades" in our past to show for it.
The fact is, much of our society thrives on the assumption that we will procrastinate! How many 10-minute oil service centers would we see if we actually went out in the garage and took care of our cars? How many packages shipped overnight express might have been sent standard 5-day if we simply had the contents ready on time? And the fast food industry wouldn't exist at all if we took the time to pack a lunch to work with us in the morning.
The "good news", I suppose, is that procrastination is biological. It's built in. We're born with it. Great excuse, huh?
The bad news is - it's biological. We're born with it. We'll never lose it. The forces that cause us to procrastinate will never go away. So what is to be done about it? And when should we plan to start doing that something-or-other excellent sounding plan? Tomorrow? Or next week? No wait, next month, yes, after that one thing, THEN we'll be free to deal with it.
The answer can be found in the most unlikely of places - Diet Coke.
"WHAT?!?!?!" you exclaim, "You're going to tell me that Diet Coke is the answer to my procrastination woes??? Oh I love you already!!!"
Not so much. Might want to hold off on the love letters. Let's be clear about something - Diet Coke is NOT good for you. Replacing sugar with some other substance that tastes sweet and calling the resulting product a "diet" product is just a clever way to get past peoples' guilt over buying and consuming things they know are bad for them.
Carbonated soda actually dehydrates you. Many of them contain brominated vegetable oil, which can actually poison you if consumed in significant amounts. Sugars throw tons of empty calories into your system and act as an addictive component, caffeine seals the deal by giving you a jolt of energy... It's a complete waste all the way around. So now replace the sugar with something else. Something even more dangerous, in many cases. I won't go into all of the fear-mongering stories people tell about artificial sweeteners, but most of us already realize deep down that they're bad for us.
At any rate, the prospect of having our cake and eating it too is just too tempting for many of us, and we buy diet sodas in abundance, telling ourselves, "yes, but it's better than the regular stuff, so I'm doing good!" Fine. Continue telling yourself that. But think about what Diet Coke does for us on a mental and emotional level.
We like sodas. They make us feel good. This reaches in and prods the part of our brain that governs our automatic actions. It says, "This feels good, therefore it must be good, therefore continue to do this!" This is the limbic system, or unconscious zone of our brain, including the "pleasure center". Our limbic system is one of the more primitive systems we have. It runs on full automatic. If you accidentally touch something hot, your limbic system is responsible for telling your hand to snatch away from it. Fast as lightning, you're no longer touching the hot item. Often it will take a moment or two before your conscious mind is fully aware of what just happened.
On a related note, did you know that the average human finger is about the same difficulty to bite through as the average carrot? Try out that theory next time you find yourself in a tight spot and can't get to your pepper spray. Interestingly enough however, you cannot actually bite off your own finger. Once again, your limbic system protecting you from harm.
Now then... We know we need exercise. We know we need to be active. We know we should take care of things in a timely manner. These facts are NOT foreign to us, they live within the prefrontal cortex - the planning and decision-making portion of our brains. And there's the rub - when we know we must DO something, yet also know that doing it will be PAINFUL, our limbic system and prefrontal cortex are suddenly on opposite sides of a war. On the one hand, the planning center exclaims, "If I don't do it now, life will suck later!" On the other hand, the pleasure center screams back, "If I do it now, life will suck now!"
So how does Diet Coke play into this? Well, you like sodas. You drink lots of sodas. But one day, you glance in the mirror and could swear the Michelin Man winked back at you. What to do, what to do... Oh! Stop drinking sugary sodas, and instead replace them with sugar-free sodas! Voila!
Now as we discussed above - diet sodas are actually no better for your health than the regular ones - but for the purposes of our example, they do taste very similar. They still contain the caffeine we crave. They're still cool and refreshing and tingly on the way down. They STILL FEEL GOOD. So our limbic system latches on and tells us to continue drinking them - regardless of whether they have sugar in them or not.
The same applies to other areas of our lives. Ever gone for a walk and come back an hour later feeling this strange combination of exhaustion and happiness? Ever notice how a brisk walk outside will clear your head and make the problems of the day seem less important?
If you haven't, then you've got bigger problems than I thought, and you need to go outside and run around the block. Now. No seriously. NOW. GO DO IT.
For the rest of you who are left, that "good feeling" you get when you exercise comes from the release of endorphins. It's not as potent as some other kinds of (in)activities you may be accustomed to, but it's still a rush of "feel good" and your limbic system will take notice. All you have to do is train your body to crave this new rush, and suddenly the urge to procrastinate is dealt a sounding blow.
Now when your prefrontal cortex shouts, "We have to exercise now or it will suck later," our limbic system is forced to reply, "Meh. That is going to suck right now. But I also strangely LIKE exercise... Fine, let's do it!"
All you have to do is force the substitution long enough to sway the balance.
You like watching TV. But you don't like exercise. MAKE SURE exercise wins anyways. Next week, you like watching TV, but you don't like exercise near as much. Make sure it wins again anyways. Next week, you still like TV, but man you're starting to really like exercise too. And thus the underdog overcomes, the pounds melt away, you slowly begin to stop having nightmares about the Michelin Man force-feeding you mountains of Twinkies, and you start to realize visible rewards for your efforts.
So what's stopping you? Your limbic system? What's holding you back? Your own biased perception of what's good and what's bad?
Take control and set things straight! Once you START down the better path, you'll find you LIKE that path, and in time, you'll CRAVE exercise. The scales will be tipped. Procrastination will no longer be a factor. And your life can finally change!