March 31, 2010
Have you seen Kathie Lee Gifford’s arms lately? She has lost what looks to me to be about 8 to 14 ell-bees in the past six months or so. She says she’s done it by making a “rule” for herself not to have bread, for example, (or maybe sweets) for a certain time period (like from Thanksgiving until New Year’s Day, for example). She doesn’t so much announce it as repeat her rule to herself; “I can’t have that until Easter!” , she can be heard mumbling. She doesn’t agonize about it. She just. Made. Up. Her mind. It’s her rule. On the cooking segments of her show, I’ve watched her shake her head when offered a bite of her forbidden food, muttering to herself, “mmm, hmm-nope. Can’t have that.” Then she takes a taste of something else.
I was intrigued but didn’t realize that there was an actual scientific method to her madness until I recently stumbled across this article from Psychology Today’s blog called, “The Good Life” I adore this blog. It’s about happiness- how to get it, increase it, keep it, spread it. Just my kind of reading material. It makes me happy.
This particular article wasn’t about foods or diets, but concerned morality and honesty. The study seemed to have found that people who kept the option to lie open had to struggle to be honest. This made me think of people who embark on a diet, but don’t have a food plan- It’s incredibly hard to stick with a diet that has shifting rules- Participants in this Honesty test who had a principled stance against cheating didn’t have to consider the benefits of lying each time they gave their answer. They just answered. Truthfully, No prob. But those who had to exert self-control to be honest weren’t necessarily liars, but folks who had a more flexible set of answers in this situation. Because cheating was an option, they had to override the instinct to take the easy reward. Think about that in dieting terms- because the Girl Scout cookies are in the cupboard and you can either have them or not, it makes your diet that much harder. But you can’t eat cookies that you never bought (not to bash the Girl Scouts, but come on People! Can you think of something healthier to sell? Have you read the obesity statitstics in children these days? Now that’s un-American! I say next time you feel guilty not buying them from your Brownie neighbor, just hand over the price of a few boxes and tell them to donate your boxes.- not that I can think of anyone who really needs those empty nutritional calories. Last year our gym collected a bunch of leftover Halloween candy –that we felt guilty just throwing away- and took it to a nearby homeless shelter. When those women saw my bags of candy, they gave me the evil eye and said “Are you tryin’ to make us fatter?”- a legitimate question I think)
In the Honesty study these scientists called it flexible morality and it seemed similar to what I now see as Flexible Dieting. Meaning that if dieters don’t have a firm set of rules to stick to, when they find themselves faced with a birthday cake, they tend to (gulp) just eat it.
As far as the Honesty study, they found that if you have a commitment to honesty, and don’t have to weigh the pros and cons of each opportunity to lie for your own benefit, it’s not nearly as difficult to tell the truth. In my Workout World, when you make a FIRM commitment to your diet and make some absolute rules, especially if they are time-measureable, meaning that they have an end date “I can have chocolate after Memorial Day” feels better than “I can never have chocolate again” then you mentally don’t have to agonize every time your co-workers bring in homemade cookies or order pizza for lunch. “Oh well” you say not only to yourself, but also to all your co-workers, “Nope. Cant have those until Easter.” Hoda often rolled her eyes when Kath demurred. But hey, we all have to face that with our girlfriends, our mothers and other food-pushers. If we women want to get to our comfortable weight, we need to care less about the eye-rollers and just. Say. No. But thank you.
Think of it as if your choice is already made. Have you ever had to have medical tests done in the morning and have to fast the night before? If so, do you ever stand desperately at the open refrigerator door at 11pm, moping and debating about whether to have that left-over ben & Jerry’s Mocha Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ice Cream? Well, that’s how you need to start dealing with yourself.
Like Dr. Phil says- you don’t have to like it. You just have to do it. I also noticed that once KLG got to one of her goal dates, she’d have her forbidden treat on that day, then make another rule for herself to follow until a new date out in the future. Seems like one time it was no bread and another, no sweets. I’m waiting for her to make the ‘No wine” rule. If she can do it, I might be inspired to try the same.
The researchers say that this is one of the reasons why so many religions and philosophers demand an absolute policy of telling the truth, whether it’s Christianity’s commandment “Thou shall not lie” or Yoga philosophy’s core principle of “asteya” (honesty). If you don’t deliberate on the value of lying in each situation, you’re less likely to lie at all.
In the case of weight management, the freedom to choose what to eat just makes it more likely that you will choose temptation and fail at your long-term goal.
What’s the ideal game plan, then, for making moral decisions or sticking to a behavior change? Take a principled stance that sets automatic restrictions on your behavior. Weighing the risks and benefits in each situation may seem like the more logical approach, and Dr. Oz may think that people need more flexibility with their eating but I think it’s often more effective for most people to commit broadly (No jelly beans!) and then not torture yourself with the “Should I? or shouldn’t I” every time you pass the candy dish.
March 27, 2010
March 26, 2010
Often people ask me why they can’t just (damn it) do what they say they want to do. I tell them that there are usually two reasons. One is fitness obstacles and the other is fitness blocks. An obstacle is something that makes it difficult for you, like a busy schedule, a bad knee, low energy or no budget for a gym membership. A block is something that makes it almost impossible, like a vague injury, a needy family or a chaotic work schedule. So the first step in accomplishing your fitness goals is to determine whether you have blocks or obstacles. Blocks are tough. They sometimes require a new work schedule or healing. But most people are just obstacled. What do you do when you are obstacled? Figure out a way to get around it. And don’t wait until the moment arrives to figure it out. Make a plan in advance. If you want to get up at 6am to do yoga, don’t count on your morning enthusiasm to get it done. Plan it the night before by making it the last the on your mind. That’s how it gets done. You can trick your mind into doing just about anything, even things you’ve never been able to do before.
One of the hardest obstacles exercisers face when trying to kick off a new habit is getting started. Taking that initial step, especially when you’re unmotivated and haven’t succeeded before, is tough. Taking action means doing something uncomfortable right now, so you end up not doing it. The pain avoidance part of your head finds a million reasons to avoid doing IT.
But you can trick the comfort part of your brain and here’s how:
You take a preparatory action step at an earlier time than when you’re actually going to do the task. For example, the night before you plan to start your yoga regime, lay out your clothes and put your yoga DVD in the DVD player, put your yoga mat on the floor so that NOT doing the morning yoga will almost be harder than doing it!
This is the key to avoiding mental resistance upon awakening. Also, knowing that you don’t actually have to do the yoga while you are preparing for it makes the set-up part even easier. The yoga/work part was still out there in tomorrowland so mental resistance is minimal.
Our brains are hard wired to want to complete tasks that we’ve put some time or money or energy into. Once we get started, we sense that we might as well finish it.
Use this principle to work for you. If you make a plan of action towards a task, your head automatically feels less resistance to continuing because it thinks you’ve already started. This is why I love making to-do lists. My mind, after items are written down, thinks I’ve devised a plan and therefore that I might as well finish. For example, there’s been a frizbee in our back porch gutter all winter. Only when I wrote “get ladder out of garage, retrieve frizbee” did I actually get around to doing it. And I did it within 24 hours because one of my favorite things in the world is crossing items off a list. I prefer an orange highlighter if you must know.
Is there a fitness task you’ve been avoiding? Something you keep talking about doing?
Determine a first step, write it down, lay out your game plan, then take it.