The power of deciding “I am not going to do that”

This is a powerful phrase. There are lots of reasons that this is powerful. Today I am going to highlight just one. One that you probably haven’t thought of before. Saying no clears the mind and takes away the challenge of will power. No longer do you need to force yourself to resist temptation it is simply gone. The temptation no longer exists.

That at least is one of Gretchen Rubin’s theories in “Better than before — managing the habits of everyday life.” I read the book a few months ago and one of the core concepts is that if you decide ahead of time then you can resist temptation. That if you can notice a habit ahead of time then you can stop it. Control it. Change the outcome. This concept is also expressed in “The Power of Habit: Why we do what we do in Life and Business” by Charles Duhigg. Charle’s idea is that habits are based on feedback loops or cycles. If you recognise the first step in the loop then you can disrupt the habit and change it over time.

Got a bad habit? Think about how you want to change it. Eradicate it. Modify it.

Got a good habit? Think about how you want to enhance it. Improve it.

Plan the change ahead of time then you don’t need to think about it at the time. This saves you from temptation. This frees the mind to think about other things. This eliminates the distractions. The simple act of saying “no” ahead of time means that when the particular situation arises your brain has already moved past it. The subconscious deals with it and doesn’t bring it up to your conscious brain.

Let me give you an example. Recently I was presenting at some events for Oracle. We actually ran a couple of events one over breakfast and the other over lunch at a hotel. You probably know the type of event. A buffet is setup at the back with all sorts of gluttonous treats croissants, tarts and maybe a token plate of fruit. Before I headed down to the morning event I decided I would have a light breakfast at the hotel and then not eat anything during the morning event. The temptation at this sort of event is strong. Tasty bite sized treats taunting you. Especially when you’ve finished your presentation and you’re falling asleep at the back of the room listening to a co-worker give his presentation for the tenth time.

So, what happened? I didn’t eat any of the breakfast treats. I didn’t even really think about them. They were there taunting me but I didn’t even really see them. I didn’t have to consciously stop myself from nibbling. The thought never really entered my conscious mind. Unfortunately I didn’t have my lunch or dinner plans as well organised. I grazed and probably ate too much. I should have decided ahead of time that I only wanted a subset of what was served for lunch and that I didn’t need any afternoon tea.

I had forgotten this simple idea. I had forgotten the power of this. Or rather, I hadn’t realised that I had discovered this idea several years ago. You see about 8 years ago I decided to try and lose some additional weight. I had already lost a good amount but the losses had stopped. I had plateaued. Then I decided that the only desert I would have was a square or two of dark chocolate and that I wouldn’t have sweets on offer during the day. Birthday cake at the office? Nope. Afternoon tea biscuits? Nope. I decided ahead of time I wouldn’t eat them and it was easy to maintain this habit. Over the years I broke out of this habit and fell back into defaulting to yes. Time to make the decision again!

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