Recently, I overheard someone say, “I start a new diet every Monday and on the first of every month!” While this is kind of hilarious, it also got me thinking: Why don’t we stick to the plan we’re on? And how can we stop mortgaging tomorrow’s happiness for today’s temporary enjoyment? That’s a big question—and it’s one we’re going to tackle right now.
To start, let’s consider all the major ways we fall into what I call “The Tomorrow Trap.”
Trap No. 1: We take credit for tomorrow’s achievements today.
The first trap we need to look out for is “sin today, salvation tomorrow.” It’s easy to think about all the hard work we’ll put in tomorrow and take credit for it now. Here’s what I mean: Have any of these thoughts ever crossed your mind?
- One cookie is OK—I’ll just wake up early and go for a run.
- Let’s order pancakes; I’ll start my diet on Monday.
- I feel terrible, tired, and hungry, and don’t feel like cooking anything… but that’s fine. I’ll hit the gym extra hard next week.
If you’ve ever said anything like this, can I get an amen? Because I sure have. But the truth is, when we intend to make a healthy decision tomorrow, we’re far more likely to overeat today.
Trap No. 2: We’re overly confident.
Some of us are so confident that we’ll eat healthier tomorrow that we’re perfectly OK indulging today. In one study, individuals were asked to rate themselves based on how much self-control they think they have.
And the funny thing is: Those that rated themselves as having high self-control were those most likely to order unhealthy meals. Now, you may be thinking, Well, that rules me out! I’d never say I have a lot of self-control. I clearly don’t fall into the overconfident category.
Not so fast—overconfidence is a sneaky trap. Have you ever said you’re going order a salad for dinner, but got the burger and fries instead? (Cough, cough… I have.) So it’s not just about thinking you’re confident—it’s about how you really behave.
Trap No. 3: We’re too optimistic about what we’ll do tomorrow.
Today, life is hard: We’re overwhelmed, we have zero free time, we’re tired, and we don’t feel like eating healthy. But, tomorrow… well, tomorrow is always going to be different. Tomorrow, we’ll find time to go to the gym, make that hard decision to eat a healthy lunch, and skip those drinks with friends. It’s so easy to be convinced we’ll make great future choices—and excuse our present actions.
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So here are four ways to escape “The Tomorrow Trap.”
Now that we have the three most common traps covered, this is where we bring it home: Let’s talk about how to avoid them so we can finally stop saying, “I’ll start my diet tomorrow.”
Solution No. 1: Catch yourself before you fall.
Once we’re aware of what we’re thinking, we can catch ourselves in those thoughts. I had a client sum this up perfectly: “I know what works, but I routinely make choices that do not take me closer to my goal. While I’m making those choices, there’s a piece of me that’s not committed to reaching the goal, and it reminds me that I know what to do, and I can do that later or tomorrow.”
So often, we realize that we’re falling into “The Tomorrow Trap,” but what can we really do about it? Listen to my client, who explained how to make that change perfectly:
“I can intercept those thoughts and make better choices moment by moment.” Yes! That’s exactly what we’re talking about! When we find ourselves rationalizing all the reasons to indulge now, we can recognize that behavior, stop, catch ourselves, and avoid those pitfalls.
Solution No. 2: Give yourself a reality check.
When we make promises to work out tomorrow or order healthier at our next meal, stop and ask, “Do I actually do those things I’m promising? Or am I falling back into the ‘indulge today, change tomorrow’ cycle?”
When you’re completely honest with yourself, you can spot rationalizations and stop them in their tracks. Here’s what that looks like:
“I don’t feel like cooking; today was absolutely wild. I’ll order a pizza tonight. But I’ll be back at it tomorrow.” And here’s where the reality check comes in. You have to question yourself. If you catch yourself having one of these thoughts, you can counter it: “That’s what I said last week too. But when I promised myself to get back on track, did I stick to it?”
We ask ourselves this kind of question not to make ourselves feel guilty—feeling guilty doesn’t help anyone. The point is to call out our excuses for what they are: rationalizations to make easy, self-sabotaging decisions.
Solution No. 3: Realize that tomorrow is not easy.
I read this quote a while back, and it’s always stuck with me: “Tomorrow: a magical place where 99 percent of all human productivity, motivation, and achievement is stored!” How true is that? When we think about tomorrow, we imagine ourselves with more time, more willpower, and the ability to make better choices.
What we’re doing is creating this “ideal image” of what tomorrow will look like, but here’s the flaw: Tomorrow will present the same challenges we have today.
We’ll still have friends that want us to have a drink with them, be busy at work, feel anxious, and crave the comfort of food when we feel bored. The time to change isn’t tomorrow; it’s now! We can only avoid the discomfort for so long—we might as well make the change today.
Solution No. 4: Make each day’s choice a copy of the last.
Behavioral economist Howard Rachlin refers to this concept as “reducing variability.” What does that mean? Instead of changing our behavior, we double down on it.
Here’s an example: Say we’re faced with the choice of having a doughnut or not. What usually happens next? We have this internal debate about whether we should have it or not. We’re at war with ourselves until one side wins. And usually, it’s not the side we want to win!
Of course, this doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your favorite food. Everything in moderation—even moderation. I believe in teaching clients how to be fit and happy, not fit and miserable. Sometimes, you just want something because it’s delicious, and that’s OK. I encourage you to enjoy your favorite food. The idea is to enjoy it with others… not use it alone. And don’t let one indulgence throw the whole day or week off.
But what we decide to do today dictates what we’ll do tomorrow too. If we remove the idea that tomorrow is going to be different and recognize that our choices today are going to be the same as our choices tomorrow, it’s much harder to avoid facing the consequences. We can clearly see the real effect that each of our decisions has.
So ask yourself, Do you want the result of eating a donut every day of your life? Of course not—so let’s decide that what we do today is what we’ll do tomorrow, and make great choices today.
This post originally appeared on mybodytutor.com and was republished with the author’s permission. Adam Gilbert is the founder of MyBodyTutor.com, an online program that offers daily and personal accountability like no other service in the world. Sign up for his free mini-course on weight loss, and follow Adam on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.