Dec 11 2010
This stuff seems so easy. So why is it sometimes so hard?
We understand food and sleep. We know how it affects us. We know about input and output, and the impact of grains and fructose on the body. If you’ve been on this site a while, you know it well. If you’re just starting, trust me, the science gets easier. (I just finished reading Stephen Guyenet– every post– and man, I learned a ton.)
Still, many of us have trouble hitting the sweet spot– a place of balance where everything just kind of flows. We eat the right food, we sleep enough every day, we exercise regularly. All that stuff, we understand it very clearly– but making it actually happen is something else entirely.
I’ve been trying to get a better grasp on this recently. I’ve been reading books that help, like Work the System, which explains how to have a better, more profitable business by understanding its underlying mechanisms. The trick is never about willpower– it’s about setting up things that happen automatically, making the decisions easy and helping mistakes gradually go away.
Willpower is also a system; there are ways to improve it and tests for it, too. One of them, Martin Berkhan calls The Marshmallow Test, and it will show you how likely you are to succeed at stuff like quitting smoking and doing 30 day diet attempts (like Robb’s challenge in the Paleo Solution). But it also proves that maybe it isn’t about willpower at all, but instead about moving around temptation. Instead of saying you failed, or you can’t do it, maybe you should just learn to look away or try cue exposure therapy instead. Understand what’s going on behind your decision process to help mould it.
As the Heath brothers would say in their bestseller Switch, you need to direct the rider, motivate the elephant, and shape the path.
In other words, optimize the mechanism. Don’t worry about forcing your way through it. Use technique instead.
We all do this when we say we want to “purge our fridge.” We know we’re going to cheat if we have Froot Loops in the cupboard, so we flush them. We look outside of ourselves to get an idea of what we’re like, and make decisions from there. It’s hard to do that in the moment (while eating Froot Loops), so we have to do it beforehand. All of life is like this.
So before you say you can’t do it, or you’re “close enough,” or you can’t really keep a regular exercise schedule, look at where your system is guiding you. Your preferences (pasta, Froot Loops, whatever) are often just patterns, and they can be broken if you put something else there. Like Plinko– the ball goes where they designed it to go.
Look, this corridor you’re walking down– you built it. But you can build another one. And if you do, that’s the direction you’ll go, instead. Try it.
This is a post by Julien Smith, who Robb met while doing MovNat in July with Erwan Le Corre. He is the New York Times bestselling author of Trust Agents, and usually blogs over here. Thanks for reading.
(Photo by seier+seier)
Good post, I think I quite often over-complicate things when in reality stuff should be much simpler.