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Running vs. Procrastination

Ville Kokko

Posted on June 17, 2018 08:26

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The fact that a procrastinator such as myself might find it easier to run for four hours than write for one hour reveals something about the nature of procrastination.

I've been thinking and reading about procrastination lately, largely because I've been having problems with it. Last week, I mentioned how procrastination isn't exactly laziness even though it may look like it. Just now, an example occurred to me that demonstrates this: As someone who has trouble with procrastination, I find it a lot easier to run for four hours (ie. run a marathon) than I often find it to spend an hour writing.

When it comes to running a marathon, procrastination has the chance to affect the process before you even start the actual marathon. Just about anyone will need to spend time training before a marathon. I've had problems there; last time, I didn't get around to training "enough", and it was only because I was in a surprisingly good shape to begin with that I was able to meet my goals for the marathon. If you're supposed to train for "oh, about six months just to be sure," this lacks the urgency that motivates a procrastinator to finally do something just before a clear deadline.

But that's a long-term problem. The good thing with running, for a procrastinator or at least for myself, is that there's a way to deal with the short-term problem. Once you go out and start running, the way that your brain fools you into procrastinating stops working.

As the link I put above points out, procrastinators have problems with unwillingly going for instant gratification and avoiding the unpleasant moment of doing the important thing they're supposed to be doing. It's not about hedonism, more likely about fear and issues with the thing you're supposed to be doing, but that's where you end up: grasping for momentary pleasures instead. And avoiding the thing that would be satisfying later but is dis-pleasurable now.

Running can feel pleasant because of runner's high, but I for one hardly ever get that, and it takes a long time even when I do. So when running, I usually confront at least mild discomfort much of the time, even when it coexists with pleasure like enjoying the outdoors.

So in some way, it's just like working on something important but challenging without fixed work hours or a boss watching over your shoulder: you know you'll be satisfied if you finish, but right now, it's potentially uncomfortable. At each moment, it's up to you to decide whether you keep it up or give up.

Exactly the kind of situation where procrastination can set in. But running has its advantages in this respect.

There's just you and the road. There are no small distractions, no refrigerator to lure you for a snack or Facebook that you could go visit for "just two minutes." Sure, you could always turn back, but that's one big decision to make: Okay, I just won't do this. No little excuses to gradually sap away your time, just a single decision you'd have to admit to making.

So you keep on running.

Ville Kokko

Posted on June 17, 2018 08:26

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