In case you haven’t noticed, Summer is just around the corner. Flowers are blooming. Grass is sprouting. Trees are leafing (I’m pretty sure that’s not the right word…but, what the hell, it sounds good). And, soon enough, temptations will be rising as vacations hit, parties launch, and pool time is kicked into full gear.
It’s also during this time that many of us turn our attention from being Holiday food gluttons to health-conscious fitness enthusiasts. This is partly because we’re hoping to radically transform our body’s into beach-body form in just 6 weeks (in case you’ve tried this, it doesn’t work). But it’s also because the sun, nature, and being outside breaths fresh air into our minds and motivates us to want to be better, healthier people (if you were wondering, motivation actually doesn’t work…at least most of the time).
Somehow, though, we always tend to sabotage our progress. Just when we convince ourselves that we’re going to get into shape or lose weight or eat better, something keeps popping up that pushes back further than where you’ve progressed. And many times, this self-sabotage can be summed up in 3 simple words…” what the hell”.
What the hell does “what the hell” have to do with Anything?
Okay, I’ll try to tone down the number of “hells” I put into this article. I just noticed that I’ve probably already typed more time in the last 5 minutes than I have in the last 5 months.
None the less, to understand what is sabotaging you during your Summer health-makeover, it’s important to understand how we tend to react to given temptations that we’re confronted with. And to understand these temptations, I’d like to tell you a little story…
Over this past Holiday Season, my wife and I were lucky enough to have 3 Holiday gatherings at our house, all over the course of 2 days. This meant that was 3 fewer times we would have to get ready, pack up the car, head out into the Holiday madness, and eventually get to our destination.
That also meant that our house would be filled to the brim with food. More importantly, it will be filled with delicious Holiday treats such as fudge, cookies, pies, cakes, twirls, swirls, doodles and so on.
Now, being a “health & fitness” person, you’d think I wouldn’t have a problem with saying “NO!” to all of this temptation. After all, if a personal trainer doesn’t have willpower, how in the world do the “normal” people of the world stand a chance.
Luckily, there are certain things that I’ve drawn Bright Lines on. For instance, I won’t eat candy. I won’t eat packaged sweets. And I won’t eat anything made with artificial sweeteners (only the good stuff with the real sugar, please). So that eliminates a lot of temptation right there.
The problem is, most Holiday goodies don’t fall into these categories. Most Holiday goodies are homemade. Which means I have to kick my willpower into overdrive to ensure that I don’t overindulge in these tasty treats. Unless, of course, I give myself an “out”, like many of us tend to do, and convince myself that it’s “okay” to give in…just this once.
Which, as it turns out, is exactly what happened. I’d love to tell you that I was Superman during that time and was able to fight the dessert-demon. But, sadly, I’d be lying. Instead, after the first one or “slip-ups”, I told myself “what the hell, I’ve already had 3 cookies, why stop there?”.
The Beginning of The End
And here is where those 3 lovely words come into. Convincing myself that it didn’t matter at that point, so why stop now, led to more actions that had a lasting impact on my health and fitness goals. Instead of only having 3 cookies, I decided, what the hell, might as well have 3 more, and then a piece of pie, and then some eclair cake (okay, maybe I’m starting to exaggerate, but you get the point). All because I had convinced myself that I had already screwed up, so why not dive in and screw it up some more.
Now, be honest with me. How many times have you told yourself “what the hell”? How many times have you convinced yourself that you’ve screwed up and there’s no point in stopping now? If you’re like most people, it’s probably happened at least once or twice in the last 30 days.
And this, my friend, is the beginning of the end of your progress. Not because you’re a bad person. And not because you don’t have willpower. This is a very real thing that researchers call the what-the-hell effect. And, if you’ve been in a situation like I’ve described above, you know this effect all too well.
The good news is, there’s another strategy that you can use to overcome this mental monster. As you’re sitting down with friends this Summer or heading out on vacation or lighting up the grill, there is a way for you to overcome the temptation to rationalize your way to crappy eating.
From Fight-or-Flight to Pause-and-Plan
When confronted with a stressful situation in life, our natural inclination is to go into fight-or-flight mode. This is the body’s natural reaction to experiences it perceives as a threat. For instance, when your boss tells you that the project you’re working on is due at the end of the week instead of at the end of the month, the racing heart, sweaty, fuzzy-brained feeling you get is your body going into fight-or-flight.
This also happens in moments where you’ve convinced yourself that you’ve “screwed up” by giving into temptation. Instead of confronting and rationalizing the situation, you set common-sense aside and let your fight-or-flight brain kick in.
The next time, though, that you’re put into a situation where you’ve found yourself doing things are moving you away from your health and fitness goals, take a step back. Instead of going into fight-or-flight mode, bring yourself back to reality and take time to Pause-and-Plan.
How to Pause-and-Plan Effectively
Pause-and-plan has to do with taking time to gather your thoughts, bring yourself back to reality, and then consciously deciding what you’re going to do next. This, of course, is easier said than done. So, here’s a 3-step process to go through to effectively Pause-and-Plan the next time you’re confronted with a tempting situation:
#1) Take 6 Deep Breaths
Why 6 breaths? Well, 3 isn’t quite enough and 10 seemed like too many. So, 6 was a nice happy medium. And also, they should be DEEP breaths. Not shallow pants. You should feel your breath expand your ribs and below as you inhale and feel everything contract back in as you exhale.
#2) Think of a Time Where You’ve Been Successful
This step may not make much sense on the surface but let me explain. There are certain situations that we’re all confronted with where we’re “weaker” than others. For instance, may you like salty foods. So, when you get around potato chips, you have a hard time saying “NO!”.
On the other hand, we’ve all been successful at something at some point in our lives. For instance, maybe you recently completed a big project. Or maybe you’ve run a 5k or 10k and felt good about it. It doesn’t really matter what it is. The point is to shift your mindset from “failure” to “success” to increase your odds of resisting temptation.
#3) Decide if the Temptation is Moving You Toward Your Goal
Finally, you need to decide if you the action you were going to take is moving you toward your goal. For instance, in my story above, would having another cookie help become a healthier person? Unlikely. Conversely, had I taken the time to breathe, visualize success, and decide, then I would’ve made a more supportive decision to keep me moving forward.
Being confronted with temptations is a normal occurrence in life. It happens every month. It happens every week. It happens every day. So you might as well be prepared for it so you can know what to do in order to keep moving toward your goals. Follow the steps outlined above and you’ll significantly increase your chances of overcoming self-sabotage.
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