During the first few days of March, I was eating a pristine selection of healthy foods for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Eggs, vegetables, meats, nuts, lentils, and healthy oils. I was feeling energized and alive! Then a lazy Saturday afternoon hit and I was getting some cravings for something bad. And of course there's a by-the-slice pizza place two blocks down the street...so in a moment of weakness, I walked over and grabbed two slices to bring back home. What would it hurt, it's just two slices.
Mmm. What sweet sweet delicious pizza. Thank you Hot Mama's.
How It All Starts
After eating the first slice, my mouth was alive with flavor euphoria. Then, it hit me. There was a Rainier sitting in the refrigerator a mere three feet from where my body was at that very moment. Coincidence? No. Fate.
Minutes later, the two slices of pizza were bathing in Rainier in my stomach. Well shoot. Not only did I slip up on my healthy streak, I double-slipped. To make matters worse, I continued to eat poorly for the following couple days.
This pattern is super common; for diets or any other kind of habit formation. What happens is we get into a good routine, then something happens. You get a cold or your friends invite you out to drinks and dinner or you get mouth surgery or you sprain your ankle or you just plain crave a slice of pizza. When any of these things happen, we give ourselves permission to indulge or be lazy, but just this once! Of course this 'one' time is never just that. When I got those slices of pizza, I figured a beer wouldn't be any worse. Then after that, because I had slipped up once, I continued to do so, because the contrast from going from healthy to unhealthy was now not as severe. I already was unhealthy yesterday, so today doesn't feel like such a sin to each that cupcake. And then that plate of pasta. Then three more beers.
Giving Yourself Permission
So how does each decision change your life forever? Every time you make a decision, it doesn't stop right there. You're giving your future self permission (or encouragement) to continue making similar decisions:
- Eat a healthy meal tonight and keep up the healthy streak tomorrow
- Miss just one workout, then you don't feel the sting when you miss the second
- Alternately, start working out to get into the habit
- Watch a pilot episode of a show to then spend 20 hours watching the whole season
- Finish that season then start another
- Put away that dish after eating to keep your house clean
- Alternately, throw that dish in the sink and watch the dirty dishes pile up
- Eat out for lunch today and 'forget' to pack a lunch tomorrow morning
- Set up automatic investment deposits to retire a decade sooner
That last point is paramount. When possible, setting up automatic systems for services and actions that you know you must do makes it much harder to fall off the wagon. Pay off your credit card on autopay so you don't miss a bill. Same goes with utility bills. If you can't make it automatic, put it in your calendar so you don't have to remember every upcoming responsibility.
Now Go Make Good Decisions!
How do you put all of this into practice? It's not easy, but you have to become attentive to each of your decisions. When you are faced with a choice, take a second and think beyond the immediate. Think about how making this decision might affect future decisions. Forever.