Exercise and procrastination: Don’t put off training until tomorrow

Exercise and procrastination: Don’t put off training until tomorrow

After reading this post you’ll understand perfectly what procrastinating is, why it happens, and how we can minimise it.

Changing habits is always hard. Forming new habits or stopping bad ones are necessary but difficult jobs.

The most common obstacle we face when we want to change is procrastination, something that happens to all of us, to a greater or lesser extent.

What does it mean to procrastinate?

Procrastination is the repeated, voluntary and irrational delay of an intended action that, at least in theory, benefits us or is important for us.

This delay in intended action is often replaced by more pleasant and less difficult actions.



Procrastinating therefore is swapping what we should do for what we want to do.

Taking a shortcut, that often doesn’t take us where we want to go. But be aware that this isn’t always the case.

Our society has led us to believe that we must be productive 100% of the time and that our personal value is only a reflection of what we have achieved, how strong we are or how much money we have in the bank.

This, of course, can only be defined as a collective madness.

We must know how to distinguish, and it is not an easy task, between “healthy” procrastination that gives us a deserved rest, and “lazy” procrastination that continually postpone our obligations.

Why do we end up procrastinating?

There are a lot of theories about why we procrastinate.

The most widespread speaks of the phenomenon of coping mechanisms.


In this sense, procrastination is a way of tackling difficult emotions, brought on by certain activities (in the case of today’s post: physical exercise).

These emotions are very varied: boredom, anxiety, frustration or insecurity, to name but a few. Also physical pain.

In other words, procrastinating is a way to avoid feeling imminent discomfort made up of ingenious mental justifications that, in the end, we come to believe.

In this sense, procrastination is an issue of emotional control, not productivity, as we’re led to believe.


We prefer not to face a negative emotion in the short term to the potential benefit of getting closer to our goals.

Organic factors

Of course, some some personality traits are predictors of procrastination and make us more prone to it.

The most obvious are self-control and impulsiveness abilities.

Continuing with the “organic” factors, there are inter-individual differences in the metabolism of brain regions involved in making decisions that would make us more prone to procrastination: the parahippocampal cortex and the prefrontal cortex.

Contextual factors

And finally, there are contextual factors that affect everyone equally.

The theory of time motivation explains why (all of us, without exception) are more motivated to do something the closer we are to the expiry date of that activity.

That’s why there are so many students the night before the exam in the libraries of universities around the world.

  • It’s not a matter of “I didn’t have time to study”.
  • It’s not a matter of “I’ve got to make the most of every last second”.


It’s about “the motivation to study hasn’t been there before, but now that the exam is imminent it is, so at least I can take advantage of the last few hours before the exam to do my best”.

That is procrastination

That is procrastination.

Forms of procrastination

Procrastination has two ingredients that are present most of the time in the act of procrastinating.

Mental justification

The self-generated justification that “exonerates” us from feeling bad about taking the course of action that is expected of us (or that we expect of ourselves).

This mental justification is usually unique and fits perfectly with our current situation.

  • “You deserve a rest, you’ve been working for 5 days straight”.
  • “This exam isn’t important, take the opportunity to rest a little”.
  • “I’ll get in shape in January, when I’ll be more motivated”.


The second ingredient is pleasure.

It normally takes the form of a new series on Netflix, or hours of “scrolling” through social media with no end time (the new zapping). But it can also take the form of an incessant snacking on hyperpalatable foods, or in the worst cases, alcohol or other drugs.

The pattern is always the same: change discomfort for pleasure. And we are all experts in this. We are designed for it.

Procrastination and Exercise

In the case of physical activity and exercise, it’s easy to see why we procrastinate.

We live in a society that is becoming more and more comfortable and less tolerant of physical discomfort.

In this sense, physical exercise is becoming increasingly “intimidating” for a large majority.

Procrastination in exercise

Swapping the comfort of your home and family for sweat, aches and pains and feeling like your heart’s going to come out of your mouth – it seems crazy.

And if there’s a pandemic in the way providing us with perfect justification (“I can’t go out there, it’s dangerous”), so much the better.

But there is a way.

We have some tools up our sleeve to offer you to minimise your opportunities for procrastination. And I say minimise because, if you are human, you will procrastinate to some extent and at some point.

Tips and tricks so you don’t end up procrastinating with exercise

Choose your “facilitators” carefully

Facilitators are actions taken in anticipation of your procrastinating tendency.

In short, thinking ahead. This way, if you leave your sportswear perfectly folded and ready at the foot of your bed next to your socks and shoes, it will be easier for you to go running first thing in the morning if that’s what you set out to do.

Avoiding procrastination

These facilitators can be extended to other areas such as nutrition.

  • If you want to eat more fruit and veg, leave them in sight.
  • If you want to eat less biscuits and sweets, hide them.
  • Having the polvorones and mantecados on display at Christmas is a recipe for procrastination.

Focus the mind and picture your future pleasure

Visualising how you’ll feel after completing the task you’re avoiding is crucial.

Sit down for 5 minutes and try to imagine the end of the workout, when you come home with the “pump” still inside you, and feel that mixture of adrenaline and tranquility for having done things right.


Or imagine how good it will feel to watch your Netflix episode after you’ve finished that project.

The simple act of imagining the final result can tip the balance in your favour and get you to work.

Remember: you’ve done it before

Anticipate how you’ll feel.

Remember that procrastination always comes back, and that other times you’ve managed to overcome it. Why can’t not today too?

Act despite how you feel

Sometimes we must simply rely on discipline, which means doing the right thing “in spite of”.

Despite feeling sad, or tired, or angry, or lazy. Discipline does not come alone. It’s the result of repeating the right action hundreds of times. Until the imprint is left in the deepest part of you.

Then your feelings will be secondary, and the task to be completed, the main thing.

Don’t forget the basics

Sleep deprivation, over-training or burn-out syndrome will multiply and intensify your attempts at procrastination.

If you don’t want to procrastinate, look after yourself first of all.

Focus on the micro

If you have to lose 20 kg, don’t focus on the scales or that number.

Focus on putting on your trainers and going to the gym. When you’ve done that, focus on the first one or two sets of the first exercise.


Focus on the immediate.

Hold on to the present, and don’t let your mind go to the distant or the intangible. If the ultimate goal motivates you, go ahead and use it. But if you are demotivated by its remoteness, it’s better to focus on the micro goal.

Avoid temptations

This is common sense, but if you tend to spend hours watching videos from your Youtube suggestions, leave your mobile phone out of the room or enable a specific web page blocker (also useful for other very “tempting” pages).

5, 4, 3, 2, 1

It’s a simple but effective habit that I discovered through the author Mel Robbins and her book “The 5 second rule”.

I don’t know if there is scientific support to validate this habit, but empirically I have been able to prove its effectiveness.

Counting down from 5 to 0

And you won’t lose anything for trying it out.

It consists of, every time you are faced with the temptation to procrastinate, counting down from 5 to 0 – that generates a certain “self-induced urgency” and diverts your mind from those very genuine excuses to the action you want to undertake.

  • Imagine you’ve still got a heavy squat set to do and you’re exhausted.
  • You want to go home and rest.
  • Your mind start with:“you’ve already done 4 sets, the fifth won’t make a difference”; “you’ll be late for the family dinner”.
  • At this moment, it’s time to count: 5,4,3,2,1.
  • Before getting to 0, you’ll be under the bar.
    It’s a way of “training your mind” to make it an automatic habit, and it’s hugely effective.


    1. Shunmin Zhang, Peiwei Liu, Tingyong Feng. To do it now or later: The cognitive mechanisms and neural substrates underlying procrastination.
    2. Xiaoyu Li, Orfeu M Buxton, Yongjoo Kim, Sebastien Haneuse, Ichiro Kawachi. Do procrastinators get worse sleep? Cross-sectional study of US adolescents and young adults.
    3. Website of Mel Robbins.

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    About Carlos Sánchez
    Carlos Sánchez
    Carlos Sánchez has a degree in Human Nutrition and Dietetics, and therefore all his actions are rigorously backed by science.
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