At cocktail hour on a frigid March day, as thousands of New Yorkers are crowding diners, Jonny fires up his Netflix and scrolls down his favorite shows. As a masculine character, Jonny has the loudest cheer in the history of American Football, yet on Sundays, he likes to watch Gossip Girl. After all, that beer belly can make any TV show look manly. A pint of Salted Caramel Core Ben and Jerry’s is ready for spoon-bending action, and tortilla chips are on display for future harassment.
“Tomorrow is Monday, that’s when the diet starts. I’ll do more cardio. It’s still freezing outside.” He says to himself sipping on diet coke, wishing that bubbling zero calorie slur would melt the partly digested tortillas.
Jonny, like thousands of other people, are not lazy, demotivated or otherwise unwell. He is not obese, yet he is continually losing and gaining weight, and with each cycle, it seems to be getting worse. There are only so many days in a year when he can stomach boiled chicken with broccoli.
The research shows that amount of fat gained over individual’s lifetime is proportional to the number of times they have attempted a weight-loss diet.1
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Jonny will weigh himself on a Monday morning and go ape-shit. He vividly remembers his physics teacher telling him the laws of thermodynamics which undoubtedly included the fact that energy (or mass, for that matter) cannot be created or destroyed in an isolated system. “Care to explain I gained more pounds in weight than I ate last night, Mr. Physics Teacher?”.
A restrictive diet will follow the next couple of days. Then every pound lost by not eating will be compensated with uncontrollable red velvet cheesecakes, hazelnut chocolate, and paprika nachos feasts.
The problem Jonny’s facing is far from thermodynamics or more profound knowledge. If more information were the answer, we would all be billionaires with six packs, and no magazines with half-naked men have helped so far.
Restricting Free Access to Improve Results
With developing economies, humans did a spectacular job of removing limitations. Still, our primordial brains are hard-wired for instant gratification, especially in the form of sugar, fat and, magically, TV.
If Jonny escapes the face-to-armpit subway journeys for a second and travels to one of the developing South-East Asia countries, he may find himself not being able to satisfy his first-world cravings.
When it’s snack-o’clock on a Wednesday night, and Jonny attacks the cupboards, – he finds them empty, since he doesn’t store food in his Airbnb. Chicken leftovers in the fridge fundamentally do not present a craving trigger while going to the nearest shop is not a viable option since none are open. With no ice cream options left, Jonny goes to bed. Problem solved, sprinkles added to his self-esteem and time to his life.
If willpower cannot be relied upon entirely, what can?
The answer is appropriately designed systems.
3 Steps Towards Improved Goal Setting
The missing element was a controllable environment that forces humans to make decisions with the prefrontal cortex. We make drastically different decisions about eating a cake when a cake is within sight and reach versus otherwise. Here’s how you can implement systems into your goal setting:
1. Create specific end goal & set a timeline
Preparation is key. Ensure your goal is realistic and attainable within the timescale you set yourself. It is critical to establish a period in which you will achieve the fixed objective. Otherwise, it will be too vague, and you will get sidetracked too often. Also, ensure that your goal is worth pursuing: knowing latin sounds glorious, until you’re two months into the learning process and decide that you are never going to use it. Life’s too short to waste time on bad goals.
2. Decide what daily input is needed to achieve that goal
Before you begin the journey, you need to establish what is required of you each day to achieve the set target. For a weight-loss goal, you may need to eat under 2,500kCal and to write a book you may need to write 1,000 words a day. It is a great idea to speak to someone who has achieved what you set out to do. Don’t forget to be realistic with yourself: just because Stephen King can write 2,000 words a day doesn’t mean that you can.
3. Write down systems that will be used to aid your achievement
It sucks to come to grips with the fact that you may not always will your way to success. But once you’re past wishful thinking, you can start designing and implementing controls in your daily routine that help you with achieving the set goal. Think of all possible scenarios where you can go wrong and decide if the situation is likely enough to implement a rule. For example, if you cannot stop snacking, the prescription should be to not have any junk-snacks in the house. If you are addicted to social media, the rule should be to disable the wireless connectivity when you’re working. Again, speaking with those who have achieved the goal to understand where there is the highest risk to get sidetracked will aid the process.
7 Systems To Instantly Positively Affect Your Life
Below you will find a list of some generic systems that can be implemented to improve your chances of productivity, success and overall well-being:
• No junk-food stored in the house.
• Turning off wireless connectivity until you finish morning routine: meditate, working out, journaling, stretching, et cetera.
• Disable all social media notifications. Checking social media should be a conscious act. Just because Sally from downstairs liked your picture, it does not mean you should scroll Facebook for the next 10 minutes.
• Schedule time in your calendar for reading, writing and having fun. If it’s not scheduled, the time will get filled with whatever is at hand. Planning both work and pleasure is vital. Otherwise, you’re at risk of circumstances not falling the way intended.
• Tell people you will do it. While it sounds counterintuitive, a lot of people avoid letting others down more than they avoid financial losses. The only way you can drag yourself to that 7 a.m. yoga session is by telling the trainer you will be there.
• Make the financial commitment. Investing money will make you feel obliged to do the deed. Think about attending a language course, training session, et cetera.
• Reward yourself for performing. Not unlike animals getting sugar cubes in the circus, allow yourself a lovely meal/coffee/tea after you do a set task. Having white chocolate covered pretzels are excellent to stimulate your work, but not okay to encourage binge TV watching.
Ultimately, having well designed systems will help you stay on track towards achieving your goals. Neither restrictions, nor treating your relic brain like a pet is pleasant, but coming to grips with reality is vital. So if you want to be in control, invest in designing appropriate safeguards rather than go with the flow.
1. One particularly interesting twin study can be found here which shows that propensity to gain weight is proportional to the number of times dieted.