Back when we were cavemen life was easier. We had basic needs and we filled them. If we were hungry, we would find food and eat. If we had to go to the bathroom, we would find someplace private and go. If we were feeling frisky, we would find our partner and get busy. Not much has changed since caveman times. Except now we have myriad more choices and our impulses can steer us wrong if we are not careful. There is a part of our caveman brain that is reactive and impulsive. Our caveman brain merely reacts to the most urgent stimulus that is presented. So when we are really hungry we often just want what is quickest and most convenient to quell the hunger. Unfortunately, with so much easy cheap food available, this is also the part of our brain that readily and consistently ruins our attempts to diet. I teach classes in the evenings and then take a long train ride home. After teaching I am hungry and all I can think about on the subway ride home is food. Of course, the first thing I see when I exit the subway station is the pizza shop, the Dunkin Donuts and the fried chicken stand. Two slices and a soda later it’s time for bed. The diet is again put off until tomorrow. What can I do? I rationalize my decision by saying, “I am tired and hungry. I do not have time to cook. Pizza is so convenient and cheap. “
The problem is that I give in to my reactive and impulsive brain. Then, to make matters worse, I rationalized my impulsive decision. The solution is to access my rational brain first. The rational brain is the more evolved part of our brain that can override the reactive brain. How do we do this? Simple. Write it down first. When we write we use the more evolved part of our brains and allow ourselves to make choices based on rational thought instead of just on knee-jerk reactions.
When you are hungry you should open up your journal or take out a note card and write down your diet goal or your reason for wanting to eat right. You might write, “Lose 20lbs by summer” or “Sub 3 Fran.” Then the next thing you write should be obvious and effortless. You might write, “Snack: Two hardboiled eggs, an apple and 6 almonds.” You can then clearly see your goal and your choice and if they do not add up then it will be obvious. If you write, “Goal: six pack abs. Dinner: 2 slices pizza and ginger ale,” then there is an obvious problem. The trick is to get the rational brain involved before you make an impulsive decision. Otherwise you will simply rationalize the impulsive decision.
Another way to improve your ability to make the right choice is to commit to it before hand. Keep a food journal and write down your meal in pen in the appropriate spot before you eat it. Your food journal should be a menu not an afterthought. The simple act of writing it down before you act will help keep you from improvising. Obviously being properly prepared makes this easier. Stock your kitchen with simple and quick choices for healthy meals and snacks.
If you are a slave to your impulses like I am, this trick will work wonders for you. Writing down what I am going to eat before I eat it helps me stay focused and allows me some time to really think about what I am putting in my body and how it relates to the goals that I set for myself.
This trick is great not just for dieting but also if you are having a hard time motivating to go to workout. If you wake up and it is a rainy, miserable day and you are feeling like skipping a workout, you can write on a piece of paper your workout goals and then follow it with a brief description of what you will do when you get to the gym. For example, “Goal: 1000lb Total. Squats 265x5x3.” By doing this you will pump yourself up and you will have put that positive image of you doing those heavy squats in your head. Then when you get to the gym you will workout harder because you have already visualized it.
Another great use for this trick is to curb spending habits. Impulse shopping is something that puts so many people into debt and financial ruin. If you are saving for a house, then you probably do not want to be throwing away money on another pair of sneakers. Write down your financial goals before you spend any money and write down something you will do to further that goal instead of shopping for something you do not need. Put a leash on your reactive and impulsive brain. Tap into your rational brain and start making better choices every day simply by writing them down.