Reflections and Resolutions
I always get a little reflective at the turn of the year. I tend to take a few days off to reset and get ready for another year. That’s probably one of my healthier habits, as I tend to rush through the rest of the year. The kind of man who schedules in meditation and then rushes through the calming activity as fast as he can so he can get on with other things.
That being said - the year of Covid has broken a lot of habits and behaviours and offered up many opportunities for research and experimentation with healthy lifestyles. I’ve experimented with my sleep cycle; cold water immersion; morning routines; breathing protocols; limiting blue light; weight lifting and intense stretching routines. Some of these went well for me. Others faded and were mostly forgotten about after a couple of weeks.
But what I’m really interested in right now, is why some of those lifestyle changes were easy to make. And why others were so difficult to pin down and kept slipping away from me. Often despite my best intentions.
In this, I’m heavily influenced by the work of Daniel Kahnemann. A Nobel laureate in Economics whose contributions to the field of decision making and human psychology are summarised in a great book called ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’. Considering the problem in terms of decision making was prompted by Paul Dolan’s work ‘Happiness by Design’. Both are great books if you want to delve into this problem further.
In a nutshell, we are controlled by our whims and ingrained habits more deeply than we often realise. Constantly battling these habits in an attempt to lead a healthier life is both very difficult as well as profoundly unpleasant. If instead, we make changes to our environment that predisposes us towards doing what will be good for us, we’ll find it easier to change.
Let me illustrate this idea with an example:
I have a client who I PT for. One of their medium term goals was to lose some weight and clean up their diet. After a bit of discussion about their eating habits, I discovered that they were eating an alarming amount of chocolate every day. So we decided to record their chocolate consumption. But recording it began making their chocolate intake go up not down! Why? Because they were constantly thinking about chocolate, they were eating more.
So we decided to switch the focus, instead of trying to fight the desire to eat chocolate, we instead rationed it. My client was now only allowed to buy a single small bar of chocolate each day and was allowed no other chocolate in the house. To be reduced to one bar every other day as things moved forward.
And just like that, their chocolate consumption dropped. In fact, it was easy. They didn’t have to feel guilty about eating the chocolate, they actually felt good because if they had chocolate then they were allowed to eat it. Chocolate felt good again and became a treat.
So why did this work? And more importantly, what information does this anecdote give us when we’re considering how to structure our new years resolutions and our own lifestyle changes?
Let’s start with the basics, we focus on what we think about. If we are constantly thinking negatively about something, then we still focus on it. So resolutions built around negatives are incredibly hard to achieve.
“This year I’m going to eat less junk food” is a goal that has you constantly thinking about junk food. It’s likely to fail because your focus is still on junk food. And what’s worse, you’ll feel bad every time you do splurge.
Whereas “This year I want to cook at home more often” is going to lead to the same outcome (less junk food) but your focus is now on the delicious home cooked meals you could potentially prepare. Maybe you buy a home cook book and invest in a fancy new pan that you are excited to try!
Secondly, we are creatures of habit. If we make it harder to do a negative habit, then sometimes that negative habit just fades away. Without chocolate easily available, my client stopped eating it. Want to break your late night screen addiction? Move your phone charger to the kitchen. You can’t check your phone if it’s in another room. The same applies if you start each day with a 30 minute social media doomscroll.
Finally, make positive resolutions that make you happy. My client eats chocolate because it makes them happy. Choose a resolution that leads to a happier life, not a sad life where chocolate is the enemy. Chocolate is a treat to be enjoyed. And even as we reduce that, we should enjoy the chocolate we do eat. Guilt free.
We finally did discover the trigger by the way. My client was trying to save money by finding the best deal for chocolate. So they were buying big bars of chocolate based on the fact that it was the cheapest volume of chocolate per kg. Of course, changing to purchasing small bars might cost more per kg, but is significantly cheaper overall. Be careful of supermarket deals. They are designed to trick your brain into consuming more.
Bearing these ideas in mind, here are some tried and tested ‘Biohacking’ solutions to many of life’s more challenging problems.
Want to drink less? Stop buying 24 packs of beer. If you want a beer, go out and buy one specifically from a beer shop. Take time and consider the beer you will drink tonight and then go home and enjoy it. Don’t keep extra booze in the house.
Spending too much on nights out? Set up another debit card account and put a set budget on it. Once the clubs open back up, only take that card out with you. Don’t give your drunk self access to any other cash.
Want to eat healthier? Buy a cook book and spend January making your way through the recipes. Low on cash? Take the time to google cheap, healthy food and experiment with a new meal every evening. Get excited for tasty food.
Addicted to Facebook? Delete it from your phone and silence messenger notifications. After about 48 hours of withdrawal anxiety, you won’t miss it in the slightest.
Struggling with porn? Turn your phone or internet explicit filter on. Make it difficult to access and your use will just…. stop.
Are you doomscrolling late into the night? PUT YOUR PHONE CHARGE IN ANOTHER ROOM. If there’s one thing you should take away from this blog it’s that your phone charger needs to be removed from your bedroom. Now. Go and do it. I’ll wait.
Want to exercise more often? Use it as an excuse to socialise and find someone to go running or cycling with. Set it up so you want to go out and exercise because you’ll be with friends. Not got any willing friends? Use social media how it’s meant to be used and start posting and looking for new friends and communities who will work out with you. Turn your workout into the best part of your day and you’ll keep doing it.
We change habits because we want to be happier. Therefore we should start with the intention to be happier and build our habits around active ways to do this. We don’t need to suffer our way to a better life. Enjoy positive change. It’s better for you, and it’s more likely to work.
What are your life hacks? Do they fit into this model? I’d love to hear your resolutions for 2021.