Aside from the religious significance of Lent, I always feel like many see it as do-over season. It seems that not a year goes by when friends don’t tell me about what they are giving up (or what they are going to start doing) for Lent, and I think to myself “unless I’m dreaming this was your New Year’s resolution wasn’t it.”
There’s nothing wrong with you if you have a hard time sticking to diets, losing weight, exercise regimens, etc. because you’re in such good company. It’s a struggle for everyone. Every year you read about the average length of time before New Year’s Resolutions have fallen by the wayside (by the way applause to you if you were still going strong after 10 days!). Most New Year’s Resolutions are doomed before they start. Probably why you never hear “if you make a New Year’s Resolution to try our program, it will work for you or your money back!”
I don’t necessarily believe that there’s a perfect diet for every indivual. Nor do I believe there’s a perfect exercise program. I do believe that there is a perfect solution for everyone though; picking a diet and/or exercise routine and sticking with it. I’d bet whichever one (anyone one!) you settle on is going to benefit you in all the ways you hope. If you close your eyes and imagine yourself a year from now having maintained a regular exercise regimen that consists of (you pick) running, yoga, swimming, strength training, walking, etc, you see a more fit, energetic, well dressed, productive you. Right?! Of course you do. And, it will be your reality if you stick to something; whatever it is. The destination won’t be any different; just that path.
Similarly, if you pick any of the newer fad diets or one that’s been able to survive the test of time like, say, Atkins, what are you going to look like in a year? Will your confidence explode? How active and productive will you be? Don’t you see the same new and improved you regardless of the nutritional program you chose? Really, if you stick to anything that restricts calories, provides satiety, proper levels of macro nutrients, etc. aren’t you going wind up as your imagination’s new and improved you? Certainly.
Now, if only we could just stick to the program! What is the biggest road block between you and your destination? Probably willpower, right? At first, you are propelled mostly by emotion and a little willpower. Emotionally, you feel great about the decision you made, the vision of your future self having reached your goals, etc. Very quickly, however, the emotion wanes and your left with just yourself and your willpower.
Willpower is great when present, but, unfortunately it’s kind of a fair-weather friend. It’s really not present to offer support and encouragement under difficult circumstances; when you need it the most! Willpower isn’t there for you when you want to exercise before work, you’ve set the alarm an hour early, it’s still dark, and, by the way, it’s really cold. Where are you Willpower?!
Maybe I’m wrong and willpower is there for you; just hiding under your warm covers telling your still groggy head that you can workout at lunch. Snooze bar!
And, personally, it’s never been there for me when the somebody leaves an open, half eaten bag of Cheetos on the counter. Okay, full disclosure, an unopened bag in pantry is doomed as well.
Why don’t we just eliminate willpower from the equation instead of relying on it so heavily. Thanks for nothing Willpower! So long!
Now, the problem, or opportunity, is that nature abhors a vacuum, right? Something will fill the void left by willpower once evicted. And, the good news is you can really take control and start to implement personal forcing functions in place of willpower.
Even if you’ve never heard of forcing functions functions in the context of human behavior, they are strategies I’m sure you used from time to time without really thinking about it. Like the way I once forbid anyone, family or guest, from bringing Cheetos into my home several years ago (oh, did I mention Cheetos already…..I really do love Cheetos). If they were in the house, I’d devour them – cheetle fingers be damned! The funny thing is, however, they wouldn’t even cross my mind if they weren’t in the house. And, by eliminating them from my home I didn’t have to roll the dice hoping for willpower to keep me strong.
And, that is absolutely one example of a forcing function you can utilize; don’t buy anything you don’t want to eat. There are as many forcing functions to modify behavior as we have imagination. So, what about others?
Accountability partners. Do you have friends or family with similar goals? Enlist as many as you can to take the journey with you. Schedule times to check in on one another. Take walks together. Share recipes. This could have a way of compounding for you too. When you offer support and encouragement you begin to feel responsible not just for your own results but also for your partners.
Make your goals public. Announce them on social media. Tell your colleagues. Tell everyone what are you going to accomplish, by when, and how you’re planning to achieve your goals. Of course, you don’t need to discuss weight and how much you need or want to lose. But, rather, announce which half marathon you are entering and when. Put a picture of your registration online. Post which bike race you are entering. Which mountain you’re going to climb. Once you make your goals public and you know people you care about are watching, you’ll place a lot of pressure on yourself to perform. Remind yourself too that by making your goals public and allowing your connections along for the ride, you just may become an inspiration for others struggling to improve themselves.
Speaking of colleagues, do you have any that really seem to have their shiitake together? Hang out with them. Grab some coffee. Find out what they do to look so good. Explain how hard you’re working at it. Find out what they eat? Any rules like “nothing after 7 pm?” How often do they work out? Expand your universe of accountability partners. People love to both help and talk about themselves.
Buy yourself a great, new outfit for an event 6, 9, or 12 months from now. But, make sure you buy it in the size that your “future self” will wear.
While we’re on the subject of investing money. Invest even more in yourself! Talk about a forcing function! Invest an amount that will be very painful to throw away. Don’t just join a gym. Pay in advance for a year. Hire a good, expensive trainer and prepay the trainer for at least the next 4–6 months; prepay a year if you can afford it. I know that everone has unique financial circumstances, but try to invest to the point that it hurts.
Getting up early to get in my workout IS my achilles heel! I don’t have nearly the struggle sticking to a diet regimen as I do dragging myself out of bed (anytime much less early!). Really, it takes a thunderclap in my bedroom to jolt me from sleep.
Even during a time of year when the weather is pleasant at 5 am, I need a tsunami of forcing functions to run or workout that early:
- I use my iPhone alarm and put my phone on the other side of the room so I have to get out of bed to turn it off.
- I always “label” the alarm with something about a big event, call, meeting, etc. that I have to do that day. I see the label as I turn off the alarm and it gets my mind going.
- The gym clothes are next to my phone along with ear buds that charged overnight.
- Lastly, the coffee pot is ready from the night before, and all I have to do is hit start (and I really like my coffee!).
Those are just some examples to get you started. The point is, remember, to take control yourself and not leave willpower in charge. There are as many forcing functions as we have imagination, and I’m really interested in learning about others that have worked for you. Please share in the comments! And, by the way, go for it! You can do it! I believe in you!