How to Overcome Procrastination

It’s almost impossible to run 100 miles while puking and shitting your pants every 20 yards.

What the hell does that have to do with procrastination you ask? Today I am going to share with you a game that I like to play. A tool that I use to help prevent my proclivity to procrastination.

This tool is one that I was reminded of In February of 2020, right before the world shut down with a global pandemic. February destination races have become a birthday tradition for me and  Michelle. We were so excited to travel to New Zealand and visit our friends Tom and Sarah. Tom was also a runner and we would be participating in the Tarawera hundred mile ultra marathon together. It had been months of planning and a year of training. The race anticipation was strong. The course was largely runnable, with generous cutoff times. I had trained hard for this race, working with my coach and not missing many (if any) workouts. The course photos and videos I found looked stunning. The venue of Rotorua, New Zealand was rich with Maori culture, geothermal activity and gorgeous trails. 

After a challenging trip (that’s a whole other story) from Edmonton to Wellington you can imagine my dismay when Tom, whom we were staying with, ended up coming down with a nasty bug. It was just 4 days before the race in their small 2 bedroom house. I could hear him up most of the night camped out in the bathroom next to our bedroom. Oh the sounds of the sick do not set a good backdrop for a restful sleep. 

The good news was that this turned out to be a short lived bug. After 36 hours it went as quickly as it came. For me however, this was made for a terrifying countdown to race day. My mantra became “Don’t get sick, don’t get sick, don’t get sick”. I don’t think I have ever been so diligent with personal hygiene and sanitation as I was those next few days. We were careful not to share household items and did our best to sanitize everything. 

Tick tock… Three days pre race. Michelle confides in me about noon that she is starting to feel unwell. Sure enough she gets hit full on with similar symptoms as Tom. Oh crap, I’ve flown 12,000 km and busted my ass for a year training. Please stay healthy, please stay healthy, please stay healthy. 

I held out until the day before the race. I wasn’t quite laid up in the bathroom as the other two had been just yet. I tried to convince myself that it was more psychosomatic than anything real and that I could make myself better in the next 18 hours with positive thoughts. I was determined to make the 4am start line the next day. 

I woke up feeling very unwell but decided I would at least toe the line and could always pull out at the first checkpoint if needed. All of the runners filing into Te Puia, the geothermal attraction that would serve as the start line, and the excitement of the pending start started to buoy my spirits. The traditional Maori Haka that was performed just before the gun went gave me goosebumps and I really started to feel like I could make this happen.

The race director calls for runners to turn on their headlamps and the once dark morning becomes brightly lit with hundreds of LED lights. The countdown goes, the Maori horn is blown and we’re off! I felt surprisingly good once I got moving and again started to think that this may be a real possibility despite the illness I was very clearly struck with.

The first checkpoint was only about 10km into the race and I was still feeling better than expected. My intent isn’t to make this a full race report so to make a long story short I made it as far as the fourth aid station, about 40 miles into the run, still moving but feeling awful. My stomach was so bloated it felt like it was going to burst. It was at this point that Michelle got my coach Dave on FaceTime to see if he could give me a little pep talk and keep me moving. 

When Dave hopped on the line and saw the obvious discomfort on my face he asked me “Are you in pain or just discomfort?” I thought for a moment and replied that it was discomfort, extreme discomfort but still discomfort. His reply? “You can do discomfort. Keep moving.”

So I did. Off I went. The next checkpoint was at about the halfway mark, just shy of 50 miles into the race. Somewhere between those aid stations my discomfort had made a sharp turn deep into the realm of pain. Vomiting and diarrhea forced me off the trail every 20 steps or so. I simply couldn’t keep any food down. At the next checkpoint I downed a glass of ginger ale in the hopes of settling my stomach. It didn’t work. I was unable to keep any calories in and ultimately had to quit the race.

Anytime I set out to accomplish a large goal, whether a hundred mile ultra or building a business, I know that I need to complete a series of smaller steps to get there. The hundred mile finish line or the success in business is pretty exciting and easy to get motivated about. However, much of the time it is more difficult to get excited about those small steps I need to take to get there.

This is where discipline comes into play. 

It is very easy to talk about the importance of discipline but not quite so easy to put it into practice on a regular basis. 

This little game I referenced earlier has become a very large part of many of the things that I undertake. While my game may seem extraordinarily simple, and it is, the game is really about learning to use my tendency to procrastinate, to become a trigger for action. This technique also recognizes that there is also an appropriate time for inaction. Sometimes moving forward in the wrong direction or at the wrong time can be detrimental to the achievement of our larger goals. 

As with any process there are times where I really do not at all feel like putting in the work to get me to that literal or metaphorical finish line. In the winter time when the weather is cold and wet there are many times when I would much rather stay in bed than get up and out for a training run. The same holds true for summer running. When it is so humid and hot outside I am very tempted to stay inside in my cool basement studio or an air conditioned office. 

When you start to put as many miles on as I do training for an ultramarathon, injuries become a very real possibility and something that you have to be aware of. A small nagging injury, if left unchecked or overtrained, can quickly become a race-stopping issue if one is not careful. The flip side is that there is going to be a fair bit of discomfort when training for such a massive undertaking. The challenge becomes learning to recognize the difference between discomfort and the very real road to injury. 

My experience in New Zealand was a good reminder of how to use this game to decide whether action or inaction is the appropriate response. 

The game is something I like to call “Reason or Excuse”. You can read that in your head in a loud, booming, game show host kind of voice. 

Was my decision to quit the race that I had trained an entire year for, flown several thousand miles to participate in a valid ‘reason’ or had I manufactured an ‘excuse’ to allow me to justify quitting?

In this example I think the answer is pretty clear. Not being able to keep any calories in, which is a prerequisite for running a hundred miles, was certainly as valid a reason as any to stop. 

I remember the first time I shared this little game with Michelle. It was before one of her training runs and she was not feeling up to her run. She was trying to decide whether it might be prudent for her to take an additional rest day. I shared with her the ‘reason or excuse’ game which ultimately helped her make up her mind. She decided that her tiredness was more likely an excuse to not run rather than a valid reason to hold off till another day. 

While this little game originated for me in the realm of fitness it has become an invaluable tool that I use for all of my ‘go’ or ‘no-go’ decisions. Why aren’t you launching that new program Mike? Well because it is late June and I think that trying to promote a new program through July and August when most people are more interested in vacation rather than personal development is a poor idea. OK let’s test that against ‘reason or excuse’. 

There is certainly a lot of fear about putting out a new program that would make it very easy for me to find an excuse to procrastinate. So is summer time simply an excuse or is it a valid reason? Is it pain or is it discomfort? In the end I came to the conclusion that this was a valid reason to postpone the launch of the program. Not only do my clients enjoy taking time off in the summer time but I also should make time for myself this summer and enjoy the fruits of my 20+ years of labour and perhaps even take the summer off completely!

You may be wondering how you can distinguish between Reason or Excuse. The beautiful thing is that 99% of the time you will know intuitively. Like many things in life it is less about having the answer and more about asking the question. If you start to ask this question when you are making decisions to not take action, in 90% of the cases, you will very quickly recognize whether you have a valid reason or whether you are simply making an excuse.

So the last time you put off doing something how would it have faired if you had played Rason or Excuse? Would you be able to confirm your rationale for inaction was a valid reason or was it really just an excuse driven by something a little deeper?

Let me know where “reason or excuse” shows up in your life.

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