No, not that debate.
I'm talking about the one between You and You. There's the forward-looking, rational, health-conscious You, that knows late-night snacking and staying up watching TV or surfing online is not a good idea.
And then there's the impulsive, bored, hangry, tired, instant-gratification-seeking You that just wants to feel better right now, even if the cost is feeling shitty tomorrow and compromising your health long-term.
The Big Problem
In some ways, this is the Big Problem in health behaviors, and in most bad habits: the fun is now, and the pain is later.
Dan Ariely of Duke University, author of Predictably Irrational, asks us to imagine a restaurant where you pay for each bite in real time. Instead of enjoying your meal and then getting the check, you pull out a quarter or a dollar after each fork trip to your pie hole. That would suck, right?
But why? You know you're paying for the meal. Rationally, it might be cheaper paying per bite, since you stop paying when you get full.
Pay-per-bite sucks because you're bundling the joy of consumption with the agony of payment. We like to get our jollies up front, and deal with the consequences later.
Much later, preferably.
Or even never.
And that's how bad habit loops are formed. We feel bad, we eat ice cream, we feel better instantly. We associate the happy brain juice hit of dopamine with the ice cream because they're linked in real time. When we feel bloated and gross two hours later, there's no association in our brain.
It's like yelling at the dog who pooped on the rug five hours ago. They're like, “What are you even talking about?”
So the You/You fight isn't a fair one. The rational You doesn't stand a chance against the impulsive You. Not for long, and not sustainably.
As soon as stress hits, or boredom, or fatigue that you don't address by going to sleep, or social pressure, the instant gratification You takes over the control panel, guiding you to do whatever it takes to change that state.
How to Win the Debate
You can't win the debate.
End of story.
The only way to win, to quote one of the great movies of the 1980s, War Games, is not to play. Here's the full quote, because I feel exactly this nerdy right now:
WOPR: “What a strange game. The only winning move is not to play.”
You see, once you engage in debate, you've already lost. Impulsive You is indefatigable, and will not stop talking. Rational You has just landed a total zinger, game over, no way you're touching that cookie, and as soon as you cut to commercial break, Impulsive You is like, “Yeah, but if you just eat that cookie then there won't be any more cookies in the house and we can start our diet.”
And so it goes, on and on, until just to relieve the frigging tension you eat the damn cookie. (Please say those last four words in a Bernie accent.)
The Only Winning Move is Not to Play
Here's why debating is a losing strategy: once you're in a debate, you're in the realm of thoughts. And thoughts are the opposite of habits.
Let's look at your morning routine. Pretty standard from the moment you get up, right?
You don't pontificate on peeing.
You don't wonder about washing your face.
You don't discuss getting dressed.
You don't contemplate making coffee.
You don't take toast under advisement.
You just DO it.
Habit is the Absence of Conscious Thought
So the game here is to replace debate with foregone conclusions.
You know how you feel so relieved when you give in to temptation. When you finally eat that damn cookie (thanks, Bernie!) that you've been staring at?
You get exactly the same feeling of relief when you throw the cookie in the garbage. Or put it back in the cupboard. Or do anything that cuts off the possibility of eating it.
It's not the damn cookie. It's the end of the debate.
The trick to winning these fight-thrus is to decide irrevocably what your standards and rules are – in advance.
That way there's no negotiation. No internal struggle. No debate.
Make one decision, and then stop making decisions.
If Impulsive You wants to keep debating, you can change the channel (sometimes.)
You can simply let it be annoying background noise, like Rush Limbaugh playing on the radio while you're waiting to pick up your car at the dealership repair shop. Nothing to do with you.
Yes, this is a practice, and no, you won't succeed every time.
But when Rational You stops falling for Impulsive You's call to debate, you win a hell of a lot more than you lose.
As BadassVegan posted on Instagram this morning, “My silence could mean you are not worth the argument.”
Are we done? Because America is tired of hearing about your damn cookie! (Love you, Bernie!)
I've got two spots open in my health coaching practice. If you want an ally to help you establish good habits and reach your health, weight, and performance goals, check it out: https://plantyourself.com/laser
Also, the Sick to Fit Retreat last weekend was amazing! The next one on the calendar is in New Orleans, first weekend in March. Read some about it: http://sick2fit.com/nola