Friday, January 24, 2014

Read this if you can resist everything, except temptation

One of the greatest mysteries is why we human beings carry on doing things we know don't do us any good and don't do quite simple things that we know will do us good.

Meditation, exercise, eating more vegetables and fruits,  relaxation exercises, yoga ... the list goes on of things that we know we should do but don't. At least not regularly, not after our new years resolution resolve has ended ...

The key question is "What can we do to help us do these helpful things more regularly?"

I met up over a civilised dinner with some old friends and fellow psychologists to discuss this very matter.  A number of good ideas surfaced in the conversation (sorry David and Antonia, I can't remember who to credit with each one).  I'll list them in no particular order....

1) Think about the pros and cons. You need to be convinced of the rationale behind the practice. For example, its not enough just to vaguely be aware that exercise is good. Its much more convincing if you remember that not exercising increases your risk of illness, makes you put on weight.
2) Be specific. Its even better if you know the specifics about the pros and cons of the practice you are thinking of taking up. For example, its worth know given your own condition, how much exercises reduces your risk of which illnesses, and how much weight you will put on if you do not exercise
3) Start Small. It's helpful to just make a start doing it. If you start with 5 minutes of exercises, you are more likely to do 15 minutes than if you imagine you have to do the whole 15 minutes.
4) Tell other people  If you inform others of your intentions you are more likely to stick to it - you dont want to have to lie or admit failure
5) Set yourself  a SMART goal.  For example, instead of saying "I will do exercise" say "In the next week I will do at least 5 minutes on my rowing machine every day"
6) Make them enjoyable.  If there is a way to make it fun, then do so. For example, my rowing machine ritual is to the beat of music from my favourite playlist.
7)Make it part of your routine.  For example, do your exercise just after you get up, and do it every day
8) Don't rationalise. Watch out for rationalisations such as "Oh I'll let myself off because I feel a bit tired" - because you may well make the same rationalisation the next day and the day after.
9) Be compassionate towards yourself.  At the same time, recognise that progress might be slow. Don't expect exercise to be easy if you haven't done much or a while, or to be an expert meditator the first time you try.

We nodded agreement on these points, and then the evening took an interesting turn. I mentioned that I had put on a few pounds over Christmas and whilst I was quite successful in my exercise regime was less consistent in giving up  chocolate.  At this point the waiter handed us the dessert menu. My eyes immediately leapt to the 2 tempting chocolate-based items - truffles with walnuts or dark chocolate mousse.  Both extremely tempting and all this talk of chocolate had made them more rather than less attractive. "Which do you think is  the least unhealthy?", I asked my friends, hopefully.  We all knew that if I was serious about my losing weight I should forego dessert.  But at that moment the rationalisation "Its a special occasion" had a good chance of winning, when  David asked the ingenious question

              "Imagine it's tomorrow, what choice would you wish you had made?"

Immediately the answer was clear - the next day I would wish I had eaten neither. I decided to have a caffe latte instead. The waiter however was not on board with my plans. "I'm afraid the machine is broken. Would you like something else instead?" My resolve wavered for a moment.  A rationalisation entered my head . Perhaps  tonight my diet was just not meant to happen ... However I recalled the perspective of tomorrow, and stuck to my abstinence. "A filter coffee with warm milk please, then.", I replied, to the surprise of everyone, not least me.

In this case, the proof of the pudding was definitely in the not eating.  I hope that these 10 tips can help you exercise, meditate, stick to a diet or do whatever you know will help you live in your valued direction.