Free choice is simultaneously a blessing and a curse.
Don’t get me wrong, I am as libertarian as (or maybe more than…) the next guy and I love the ability to freely choose things for myself. I understand, though, that with choices come responsibilities.
In my personal struggles, not only with the primal lifestyle, but also with other areas of my life, my problems always come when I give myself any chance to deliberate on the details. Therefore, I give myself hard rules to stick to. Why? If I make every marginal decision about whether or not I am going to eat this cookie or eat this bread, I am likely to give in. I am weak and I know it. Soft rules such as, ” it is okay to eat this occasionally” or “just one cookie a day won’t hurt, 80/20, right?” do not work for me.
Soft rules are dangerous for two reasons:
1. We are likely to go overboard when we let ourselves decide whether or not to do certain things. Whether we eat too many cheat meals or exercise too little, it is probably a result of rationalizing our decision in the moment. Many of us are focused on the short-term and do not do well giving up benefits in the short-term for benefits in the long-term. This cookie or that bowl of pasta might taste delicious now, but too many “just this once” moments ruin our healthy eating and move us farther away from our goals.
2. Rationalizing marginal decisions time and again can easily become a habit. Like my driving to the store example, we frequently do things not because we want to or need to, but because we are used to doing them. Let’s face it, are we really eating that cookie because we truly want it, or because it is part of our “20%” that we allow ourselves each day (a.k.a. because we are used to doing it)? [I am grateful to my girlfriend Amanda for bringing up this point.]
Hard rules that you set and don’t deviate from solve the above two problems. Each time you are confronted with some small marginal decision, you don’t have to think about it. Your rule already made the decision for you. This allows you to easily stick to your resolutions without trying to weigh the possible costs and benefits (or, more realistically, rationalize little things). In short, hard rules keep you from developing habits that are potentially detrimental to your goals while simultaneously economizing on brain power.
Maybe you are a person who can use soft rules and stick with them. Soft rules might work for you and you might be happier because you use them. If you are one of those people, I applaud you. You are a much stronger person than I am. For everyone like me who might be struggling with taking a few too many cheats during meals and snacks or a few too many days off from your exercise routine, try trashing the soft rules and replacing them with hard rules. Resolve right now to solve your problem and stick with it. Examples: “I will not eat any grain products this month.” “I will exercise every Monday and Thursday morning.”
Are you a fan of soft rules? Do you think I am wrong? Let’s hash it out in the comments. I am always open to suggestions and criticism.
Or, are you interested in setting up systems to keep you on track and shield you from your own excuses? Let me know in the comments and I will set up a time to talk with you about what I am currently doing in my life with that sort of thing and we can talk about how I can help you get started implementing systems in your life.