Imagine a genie appears and grants you one wish: You can effortlessly change any of your bad diet habits.
Maybe you’d choose to skip those cookies after lunch, fly right past the drive-thru on the way home, or walk by the vending machine at work without giving it a second thought. Eliminating your worst eating habits would be powerful—maybe even life-changing.
Now, let me ask you: What's holding you back?
It's not that you don't know what to do: You know you should skip those cookies and avoid the drive-thru. And it's not that you don't know why, either—you know overeating doesn't make you feel good, it can cause all sorts of health issues, and you'll gain weight if you keep it up too.
But knowing the benefits of a healthy diet hasn’t been enough to stop these habits. You already know that consistent healthy eating is the key to getting the body you want. It will help you live longer, enjoy life more, and can even help prevent illness.
You may have even said to yourself, I know what I need to do, and it’s so simple—why can't I just quit?
Motivation Is Not Enough
This is so important, I'm going to say it again: Motivation is not enough. If we wait for motivation to carry us through to our goals, we're going to be waiting a long time. We also need to realize that many factors influence what we do: Some we can see, like easy access to tempting food, and some are almost invisible, like how the subtle way we’ve arranged our home can influence our decisions.
Tipping the Scale in Your Favor
Imagine you're in a tug-of-war battle. On one side, there's you, standing alone, and on the other side, there’s a big group of the world’s strongest people. It's pretty easy to see who is going to win this battle—and it’s a good way of imagining the forces that influence our behavior.
When it comes to temptations, on the one side, there we are. And on the other side, there’s a group of conveniently located temptations; impulsive, hunger-fueled decisions; and a lack of accountability. The trick is to get these forces working for you instead of against you. So let's talk about a few strategies you can use right now to start tipping the scales in your favor.
1. Why slay the dragon when we can avoid it?
If the temptation of the vending machine is too much, avoid walking by it—find a different hallway. If you want to stop by the drive-thru on the way home from work, try a new route. If there's candy hanging out on the kitchen counter, let's put it up high in the cupboard. The goal is to build tiny barriers between us and the foods we want to avoid; the more barriers we build, the easier it is for us to do the right things.
2. Make it nearly impossible to fail.
What if you can't avoid the vending machine because there’s only one hallway, or you pass a drive-thru no matter which way you take home? Both of these behaviors have one thing in common: We need money to make them happen.
But what if we didn't have any money?
I don’t mean throwing your money out the window—simply make it hard to access your money. If your credit card is stashed in your office when you’re walking past the vending machine, or secured in the trunk of your car while you drive home, you've set yourself up for success—and you've made passing up those temptations much easier.
3. Make good decisions when you're in the right mindset.
You’ve heard the old advice before: "Never go to the grocery store hungry!" There's a reason those words of wisdom have stuck around; when we go to the store hungry, we are setting ourselves up for failure. Everything looks good when we’re hungry, and we tend to buy too much (of the wrong stuff, usually).
Imagine you just woke up, you're starving, and you could eat anything placed in front of you. You're not in the right mindset to make rational decisions, so you eat far too much. Instead of one slice of toast, you eat three. Instead of one slice of bacon, you have four.
At this moment, it's not helpful for someone to say, "How about we try just one slice of toast today?"
So what can you do?
Make decisions about what you're going to eat when you're thinking rationally. Go to the grocery store after a solid meal. And plan—even prepare—what you're going to have for breakfast after dinner. By doing this prep work, you make future decisions automatic and eliminate the need for willpower.
4. Use accountability.
Accountability bridges the gap between what we said we were going to do and what we actually do; it's what ties it all together. Here are some ways to create accountability for yourself:
Consider going public. Some people feel very committed to their goals when they tell others about them. But some people have to keep their goals private, otherwise, they lose their appeal. The more they tell people about their goals, the less likely they are to achieve them. Which kind of person are you? If you know that you’re the first kind of person, this strategy can be very helpful.
Lock yourself into a decision. Buy a package of exercise sessions instead of just one—the pain of wasting exercise sessions can give you a jump-start.
Decide if you do better with peer or pro accountability. It’s harder to miss a workout when you know someone is waiting for you. Even better? Trade sneakers with your exercise buddy at the end of every workout. Then you’ll really feel bad not showing up.
Accountability partners often work better if you’re not close to the person, though. It can be hard to take a friend or family member seriously. Even more importantly, it’s hard for them to be brutally honest with you when necessary, whereas that’s a professional’s job.
Waiting to feel motivated is a form of wishful thinking. Instead, opt for accountability, which is what ties commitment to results. It creates follow-through, which is why investing in systems of accountability is worthwhile. The key is finding what kind of accountability works best for you.
Adam Gilbert is the founder of MyBodyTutor.com, an online program that solves the lack of consistency faced by chronic dieters. Sign up for his free mini course on weight loss, and follow Adam on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.