Our mind is not always as rational as we expect it to be. With its’ own way of thinking it will often sabotage us!
In order to accomplish our goals we need to understand how our mind works. Then we can help it, help us.
In order to successfully accomplish a goal, let’s say lose 10 pounds, we need to understand our mind. If we don’t we will most likely either not lose the weight or gain it all back!
Social scientists explore important questions in the hope to find solutions that work.
So let’s take a look into what scientists say about questions like:
• Why do we mess up a perfectly reasonable diet?
• Why do we resist and not follow through with our own decisions?
• Why do we self-sabotage?
• Why do we lose all self-discipline at the end of the day?
Thanks to my son who was accepted for a four week internship at Stanford I get to spend large portions of my day on campus surrounded by redwoods and palm trees, and of course next to one of the best libraries in the world.
A favorite author these days is Dan Ariely. He is a professor of Social Economics at Duke University in NC and he writes about how irrational our own mind is!
Reading through Ariely’s book “The Honest Truth About Dishonesty” I stumbled upon a chapter with experiments on eating habits. Since eating is an unavoidable daily pleasure that can have serious consequences on our health, I read on with added interest.
Ariely describes an experiment done by Stanford professor Baba Shiv and Indiana University professor Sasha Fedorikhin. Their experiment went like this: they divided participants into two groups.
They asked the participants of one group to memorize a two digit number. Let’s say 35. They asked participants of the second group to memorize a 7 digit number. Let’s say 7581294.
Each participant’s task was simple. They had to memorize and then repeat their number to someone at another room at the end of a long hallway. With numbers in their mind, one by one the participants walked down the hallway.
As they were walking they were unexpectedly (but intentionally) passed by a cart. The cart was filled with the most delicious pieces of chocolate, cake, cookies, and also fresh fruit. The person pushing the card told the participants they could make a selection for chocolate or fruit and eat it after they recited their number at the very end of the experiment.
Did more participants choose fruit or chocolate? The participants cruising down the hallway with a simple 35 in their mind were more likely to select succulent pieces of fruit.
The participants striving to keep their seven digit numbers in their mind were far less able to resist temptation. Most ended up with several instantly gratifying pieces of cake, cookies and chocolate.
Ariely’s and other scientists’ studies show that the more overwhelmed we are, the more impulsive we get.
As you noticed, it doesn’t take much for someone’s mind to get OVERWHELMED.
Holding a 7 digit number in our mind is enough to get us MENTALLY TIRED!
When you run around all day, keeping a running tab in your mind give yourself a lot of credit! And if you are on a diet watch out! Because, as science shows, the more you have in your mind, the harder it will be to stay in control of your diet.
When we are mentally tired, our mind will easily slip into a primitive mode of behavior. It will become more impulsive and not only let go of the diet, it will even let go of our morals! Studies show that when we are overwhelmed we are more prone to picking a fight, lying to our-self, lying to others, spending too much money, losing control, panicing.
In one of his experiments Ariely’s subjects who were given an overload of thinking tasks to work on, cheated 197% more than those who performed simple tasks. That is why a student who is overwhelmed, will insist the dog ate their homework or their grandma gets mortally ill every time at the end of the semester.
Keep in mind that:
reduces your ability to stay in control and
increases your impulsivity and reactivity.
The harder you try to stay in control the worse it is!
A professor at Florida State University, Roy Baumeister coined the term “EGO DEPLETION” for depriving our self from something like carbs or daily pleasures, or anything we really desire.
Let’s say you are trying to lose a few extra pounds. So you decide to be on a reasonable diet. You are determined to make it work. You skip breakfast, grab a coffee, go to work, keep a “to do” list close, schedule doctors’ appointments for you or your family, go grocery shopping, finish a project you are working on and start a new one, worry about finances, argue about something unimportant with your significant other, get snacks for your daughter’s softball game and more. Not only you are on overload but you also resist unhealthy foods all day. You keep your hands off the croissants your boss brought to work, the homemade muffins someone offers you, the candy bowl in the afternoon, until… you are asked to supervise the snack table during the softball game. Depleted all day, suddenly you let go!
Your mind has had enough! It reacts!
Ego Depletion will make the mind shift into primitive behavior mode.
As you know primitive behavior trumps logic.
You know those donuts are not good for you but you can’t stop!
SO LET’S SUMMARIZE:
Our original problem was that when we decide to diet we sabotage our-self and lose confidence in our ability to succeed.
Social scientists help us to better understand why we mess up by identifying possible reasons:
• We mess up because we are on mental overload.
• We mess up because we deprive our-self and suffer from “ego-depletion”.
• When we are mentally depleted our mind shifts into a primitive mode.
A CRAZY SOLUTION THAT WORKS!
Ariely and other social scientists show us that when faced with temptation – like a piece of chocolate – a rational person SHOULD sometimes SUCCUMB!
The solution is to stop aiming for perfection. Sometimes, it is OK to mess up.
As Aliely observes, individuals who are naturally thin don’t live with extreme restrictions in their diet. Although they mostly eat nutritious foods and engage in daily exercise, diverging ONCE IN A WHILE works to their benefit.
So, GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION and MESS UP sometimes! (As long as nobody gets hurt and you don’t violate the law everything goes! Messing up is good for you!)
Here are some more everyday strategies to help you continue on your road to a healthy lifestyle:
As you see, science shows that success is not a straight line.
Don’t demand from yourself to be perfect.
If you do any of the following on a regular basis you will be amazed how easily you will be able to accomplish your goals. Don’t try to do them perfectly. Just do them, not once but consistently! Also, create your own list of what helps you.
Chose ONE or two activities at a time. Work on them on a regular basis until they become habits. Then add more.
- Create a list of what pleases you.
- Plan for your-self to have several little pleasures daily!
- Sit five minutes a day and learn to “observe” your thoughts.
- Prioritize tasks.
- Learn to say NO!
- Enjoy a special food you crave.
- Make a list of fun things.
- Do something from your “fun list” every day.
- Take time to learn how to “let go!”
- Take a yoga class!
- Take up dancing!
- Learn how to problem-solve.
- Learn about relaxation.
- Stay optimistic.
- Look into the future and plan.
Most of all, ENJOY LIFE!