Literally, Weighing My Choices
A client recently gave me a book, The One Thing, by Gary Keller, believing it could enhance and simplify my coaching systems. The book was chockfull of applicable information to my field (lifestyle coaching), but one small chapter dedicated to Willpower landed home the most. In it he compared willpower to a Fast-Twitch muscle; it’s incredibly powerful, but has no endurance. Meaning, we can say ‘No’ to that brownie once, but if the tray comes back around, we may not be able to say No again. To most, ‘Out of sight, out of mind’, can reverse to mean ‘In our sights, in our mouths’.
In 1970, psychologist Walter Mischel conducted an experiment to see what would happen when young subjects’ (ages 4-6) strength of will was put to the test.
Researchers explained to the children that if they could resist the temptation to eat the marshmallow for 15 minutes, they would then receive double the reward (two marshmallows).
One at a time, each child was left in the room, alone with one marshmallow. Over the eventual 600 hundred children studied, over two-thirds of the subjects lost their resolve and ate the marshmallow before the 15 minutes were up. So regretful were they that many were brought to tears after they had realized their weakness. Funny how some things don’t change, huh?
Yet the children who did succeed were reported to temporarily distract themselves (not looking at the marshmallow, kicking the table, pulling their pigtails) so as not to focus on the tempting treat. These delayed gratifiers knew better than to just look their weakness in the eye; they found a way around it.
Similar to the study above, a client of mine, Christine, complains about the tempting conditions she faces at work everyday. She explained that her employer provides their employees with a bounty of (free) snacks to be enjoyed anytime by those who work there. Simply walk into the break room, and feast.
Although it is the CEO’s intention to provide ‘healthy’ snacks to employees, I don’t see Peanut M&M’s, Ranch Corn Nuts, and other junk foods as falling under that category. And because Christine works between the break room and restroom, she can’t HELP but walk past the temptation station whenever she gets out of her seat.
With one look at her nutrition accountability metric, it is no surprise that adherence to her nutrition plan drops drastically when she doesn’t bring her own food to work.
Similar to the children in the study who created a distraction to avert eating the marshmallow, when she prepares healthy food for work, she isn’t tempted to snack on empty calories. However, when she opts for more sleep, or the dogs made a mess in the living room before work and she doesn’t have time to prepare her own food, she succumbs to the temptation virtually every time. This is a classic example of the Willpower myth Gary Keller was speaking about.

Alas, a simple solution to Beat the Cheat in 4 steps:

1) Acknowledge your weakness:
Ask yourself:
“What do I indulge in most frequently that is getting in my way of dropping body fat?”

The first step to change a bad habit is to first acknowledge its’ existence. Be authentic with yourself and pick the the one holding you back most. You know which one it is…
Say it, then write it down. You’ll need it later.

2) Recognize the environment and potential saboteurs when temptation occurs:
Ask yourself,
“In what scenario do I find myself at my weakest state?”
At work with all of the free snacks and a rumbling tummy, like Christine? Perhaps after a stressful week, or when me and my partner argue?
If applicable, discover who is most apt to persuade you to behave against your good intentions?
Write this scene, and anyone playing a role in it, out on paper. It could read:
“My biggest area of weakness is after work, when I don’t feel like cooking, and just want something easy and satisfying, but there’s nothing in the house. I want a healthy option but I’m famished and ready to eat anything in sight.”
If you live with a partner, you could potentially add:
“And more often than not, my (girlfriend/boyfriend) comes home with a delicious, cheesy pepperoni pizza. I can’t resist.”

Knowing these factors allow us to create solutions and have the conversations needed to make lasting change with the third step.

3) Prepare:
If willpower is a short-distance sprint, then preparedness is your marathon.

Make a conscious choice of how you’re going to fill the voided desire with a healthy, sensible solution. If you love fruit smoothies* from the shop down the street, consider blending up one of your own with lower sugar ingredients. Making your own snacks will not only save calories and sugar by creating your own versions, you’ll also save money as well!
We may be no match for our desire for an oversized pretzel with mustard from the cafeteria, but we’ve got a chance to win the day if we pack carrots and hummus to snack on instead.
Need a sweet snack midday at work? Pack a handful of almonds and piece of fruit. The almonds provide fiber to slow the fruit sugar absorption, protein to keep you full, and the fruit curbs the sweet craving while providing quality nutrients.

It is much easier to maintain new habits if people who influence your behaviors know of your new intentions. Have a conversation around the one thing you need support with. Ask them to join you if they potentially have similar goals. If they still don’t want to change, ask for support by not pressuring you to indulge.

4) Remind Yourself:
Remember step #1- acknowledging the one thing you need to change most? Take that piece of paper, and tape it within eye sight of where you are most likely to offend (in your environment). Commit to yourself that before you succumb to temptation, you’ll execute the ‘prepare’ action. Writing our commitments down is an easy way to remind ourselves of what our willpower would actually want for us, if it could help us more.

Don’t leave anything to chance! Failing to prepare is preparing to fail. Write that down.

*unbeknownst to some, many smoothies are made with 100+ grams of sugar in one serving..yes, I’m looking at YOU Jamba Juice!