You do it every year, you decide to make a change. It sounds exciting. You can sense the self-transformation that is about to take place.
You can feel the person you will become. That’s the joy of planning life improvements.
They are intoxicating and cost nothing to your present self.
Present self loves to eat crisps under the condition that future self will spend weeks sustaining themselves on spinach and water.
Present self is happy to binge on video games and Netflix because they have decided that future self will be an MMA badass who does press-ups during their lunch break and dedicates weekends to the animal shelter.
He is that overindulgent GP who has smoked and drank for the past twenty years.
They know all the right things to do, prescribes them, however, doesn’t apply a single one to themselves.
Best For Future Self
On the surface, this appears to be sociopathic behaviour, but remember that the present self does want what is best for future self.
Present self isn’t very good at relating to future self.
The plans and prescriptions might actually work if the present self could take a few moments to put themselves in future self’s shoes,
Future self would look back and thank the present self for being so practical and cunning.
Present self has so much potential if they will only take a little time to understand themselves and learn how to plan better.
Everything you do makes sense to you. After all, you see yourself as a consistent, rational actor.
Each one of your choices is logical within your grand vision.
Thinking Fast And Slow
In Daniel Kahneman’s prize-winning book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, the breakthrough thought was that two completely different systems drive your thinking.
System 1 is fast, instinctive, and emotion-driven. It speaks no words, funnelling your behaviours based on feelings alone.
It is the feeling brain that is responsible for all of your chocolate binges, snoozed alarms, and impulsive trips to the takeaway.
This is our spoilt inner child, craving instantaneous pleasure, terrified of pain, and unconcerned for the future.
In contrast, system 2 is logical, systematic, and slower.
It loves to make plans and analyze, but it is likely to spin webs that ignore the influence of emotion and are too complicated.
This is the side that wants to berate our spoilt inner child for not grasping the rules of Chocolate Land.
It is where we come to the complex comprehension that allows for adult decisions.
We are under the delusion that the logical system 2 is in charge except for a few outbursts from that emotional and childish system 1.
However, the reality is just the opposite.
Our emotionally-driven system 1 tells our logical system 2 what to focus on and brings the fuel to do that analysis.
More often than not, when the logical brain thinks it is in charge, it is really only just finding ways to rationalize the desires of the emotional system.
Even “good” behaviour follows this formula.
Avoid The Discomfort
We don’t work out every day because we have not rid ourselves of the emotional desire to sit entertained and avoid the discomfort that comes with exercising.
We work out because we have attached new emotions of confidence, strength, and power to our workouts along with disgust from the thought of declining.
Even when we are overcoming emotional impulses, our feelings are in charge.
This reality contradicts our perception of ourselves as acting rationally.
However, when we understand what drives us, it gives us the power to use our logical system more effectively.
We can begin to notice when we get pulled down a wrong path by our emotional system and craft better plans to move towards more useful ends.
Like a good parent, we can respect that emotion, giving it the freedom to express itself, while redirecting it in the right direction.
Our Logical Brain
We can enlist our logical brain in designing a plan that can actually stick when we understand what drives our behaviours.
This is essential yet frequently overlooked.
Our usual process is to get a wave of emotion, that pulls us to get healthy and delude ourselves that we can ride that wave forever.
“Wow, I am so excited. I’ll go to the gym tomorrow, and before you know it, I will be healthy and slim.”
That random decision to start exercising every day won’t last unless you get lucky and making secure connections and find a sense of community from the start.
Remember, emotions are fickle.
The reality is that we will eventually encounter a block of days where we don’t want to go to the gym.
You need a plan that accounts for the realities of your life and clarifies choices.
Knowing you need to plan ahead isn’t enough. You need to leverage your understanding of your own psychology to create a plan that will work.
To help, here are the four essential ingredients for successful change.
Ingredient #1: Pick A Worthy Goal
This is the most important and complicated step. It will do you no good to achieve a goal that causes more harm than help.
Well done for starving yourself for 21 days to lose 12 pounds. You have managed to lose a lot of water weight and lean muscle while ruining your metabolism.
When you inevitably start eating more than your pet hamster again, you’ll gain it all back and then more.
Many people’s goals are overly influenced by the bad advice and complex pseudoscience that abounds in the fitness industry.
As a consequence, resolutions gravitate towards crash diets, arbitrary weight loss goals, and the popular fads that are likely to fail over the long run.
In reality, what works is less sexy.
Worthy goals are:
Based in common sense.
There are no shortcuts or magic tricks.
Aim to eat a balanced diet of predominantly unprocessed foods that could have existed 200 years ago and strive towards being more active.
That is what works today and always has.
The only successful and sustainable approach to eating and fitness is a lifelong approach.
Consistency is the number one variable, and the only actions that stick will be the ones that become your habits.
Any change should be one that you can maintain for 5, 10, or 30 years.
Your confidence and willpower will grow over time so embrace the long-term journey.
Make each adjustment gradual so you are always sure it is something you can sustain.
Make it a habit to never allow yourself to not follow through on a plan. The plans you make are a promise between system 1 and system 2.
To succeed, both these systems must work together.
Regardless of how good your planning is, you will need the willpower to take action.
Ingredient #2: Identify Potential Pitfalls
It is pointless to plan to gym every day after work if you know that you have a massive project on that is going to keep you working late.
You could try a home workout plan or a workout that you incorporate into your workday.
That 5:30am Pilates class sounds like a great idea, but if you are not a morning person who loves their snooze button, then you are going to have to devise a plan that forces you out of your bed. You might want to read Ingredient 3.
Do you always succumb to that chocolate syrup drizzled “coffee” when you pass Starbucks? Is there another route you can take?
How about the rest of your life?
Where are the temptations?
What are the obstacles to following through on your goals?
Ingredient #3: Create the Environment
Environment is key.
You may think there is no way you could ever wake up, workout, and eat only three balanced meals each day, but if you found yourself in SAS training, I bet you would.
Our environment creates our behaviour.
The most powerful lever for creating change is to create an environment that creates obstacles to deviating from your desired behaviour.
For example, place your alarm under your pre-staged gym clothes.
Eliminate crisps, fizzy drinks, and sugary processed foods from your home.
Start keeping apples and almonds at your work desk. Stage tomorrow’s work clothes in your gym locker the day before.
With creativity, your options are endless.
Ingredient #4: Get Clarity
Unclear thinking in the planning stage will be easy to wiggle out of when your emotional brain takes charge.
Get clarity on every element of how you will meet your goal daily.
Be crystal clear on exactly what you are going to do.
Every decision you push yourself to make saps your willpower.
To be successful, you need to reduce the number of decisions you have to make.
That means meals are planned and prepared in advance, and workouts are as simple as showing up.
Don’t jump in and follow a fad.
Commit to an approach that respects the realities of human nature, and you will see changes over time.
In it, you will grow a better understanding of habit, environmental design, how to intentionally build your willpower muscle, and how to make healthy changes that actually stick.
You will be successful if you approach your goals as a lifestyle that you are committed to nourishing through education.
This requires a mindset change. It is no longer about getting fast and easy results.
Think of who you could be in twelve months if you were consistent, deliberate, and patient.
It might not be sexy, but it is the approach that will bear the most fruit.