It turns out the science of decision-making is quite recent. It was only in the past century that people started running experiments to see how people tend to act in certain situations.
My introduction to this domain of knowledge was Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, a Noble Prize winner. My main take-away is that we use two “systems” in our brains to make decisions:
- System 1: fast, instinctive, emotional
- System 2: slower, more deliberative, more logical
Guess which system makes us fail in following diets?
I don’t know about you, but it is always the emotional System 1 chimp in me that wants the beer, pizza and cookies.
Looking back, it may seem that System 2 has made the decision. The experiments that Kahneman relates in the book has convinced me that these are just rationalization made after the decision.
3 things I have seen work again and again
For many years, I have been involved in a non-profit that helps young men in college build habits that improve their performance as students. Looking back at the tactics I’ve tried and have suggested to the guys I’ve coached, these 3 stand out:
1 Daily morning visualization. Spend some quite time in the morning. Visualize your day. Imagine it as clearly as possible. See the different versions — the ones where you succeed and the ones where you fail. Zoom in those key moments where you succeed or fail.
With this, you can be more conscious of preventing situations where you tend to fail. And if you do end up a high-failure situation, you have practiced overcoming in that moment of weakness.
Pro tip: also visualize how you quickly recover from failure.
2 Track your progress. Use a habit app. Just search for “habit” in your app store and pick the one you like most. The one I use is called Loop in Android.
Pro tip: track only one habit at a time.
3 Get an accountability partner or partners. Tell someone about your plan. Schedule regular updates. Some people make bets.
I have not seen pure willpower work, especially when it comes to food.
Instead, use your System 2 brain when choosing what nutritional approach to pursue. Then set up your life so that your System 1 chimp eats as planned.
I hope this helps!