Relying Solely On Self-Control Is Lame!

Relying Solely On Self-Control Is Lame!

8 September, 2014 0

It was under the most unusual circumstances that I learned that proactively adopting good habits is far more effective in improving my eating habits than relying solely on what I call reactionary self-control.  In essence, if right before buying a candy bar, a friend offered you a fruit salad (that you previously purchased); I am sure that you would happily skip the candy and enjoy your fruit salad even MORE!


For much of my life, I was always late. I even instructed my family to tell me that events began an hour before they actually started. I figured that the grace period would compensate for my habitual tardiness. It didn’t.

Not only did this bad habit irritate my friends and family, but it hurt my wallet. I incurred more late fees, due to missed flights, than I care to remember. Once, after missing a train, I was even stranded in Paris overnight (ok, that was actually fun). Looking back, I would have been late to my own wedding if it were not for my best man and a 6”4’ father-in-law who tracked wild game on the rugged Ethiopian plains.

When Good Habits Trump Self-Control:

During graduate school, I landed the perfect moonlighting security desk job. The job was perfect in every way except the minimum wage pay.

I didn’t complain however, because, my only responsibility was to keep watch and not fall asleep.  I was literally being paid to study. The only other rules were to 1) never leave my post 2) look professional and 3) always arrive to work on-time.

With a pregnant wife, a young son and the expenses of graduate school, I could not afford to lose this job. This was the only job in the world that allowed me to study while earning money. I decided that I would never be late; and that I would never show-up with an untidy uniform.

My history of always being late loomed over me like a ton of bricks. If I was going to keep this job, I needed to make what I thought were drastic changes. In the past, I tried unsuccessfully to change my behavior by relying solely on reactionary self-control.

I tried everything, from setting multiple alarm clocks early to sleeping on the couch in order to prevent oversleeping. These tactics never worked. I know now, that I was relying too heavily on reactionary self-control. In essence, reactionary self-control means that instead of taking deliberate steps to prepare – you wait for the moment to arrive and hope that you react perfectly. Sometimes I did, more often I did not.

“Finally, I thought; if what I have been doing wasn’t working, isn’t it time to try something new?

With my family’s livelihood at stake; I did just that; I tried something new. First I begin spending 15 minutes each day preparing for the next day’s shift. I also purchased a small carry-on suitcase to keep all my work-related personal effects. Before bed, I placed that suitcase in the car so that I didn’t forget it the next morning.

Next, I designated an area in my closet to store my uniform, black socks and black shoes. Each Sunday, I washed and ironed all of the week’s uniforms. Afterwards, I placed them in the same special area of my closet (think Batman-style). The night before each shift, I even placed my wallet in my uniform pants, placed my belt on the hanger and tucked my keys and socks into my shoes. I basically went into fireman mode.

Having showered and shaved the night before, all I had to do was roll out of bed and throw on my uniform. Needless to say, I never arrived late to my post.

But What Does This Have to Do With Food? – I am getting to that!

Learning to change a bad habit by proactively forming new ones was not the only lesson that I learned while working security. The fact that I was not allowed to leave my post left me with another profound realization- this time regarding the dangers of the American food environment. I discovered that once I left home, I had virtually no access to quick healthy food. My choices (which are the same for us all even without a security job) were to either brown-bag my meals and snacks or order fast food and/or gorge on vending machine treats.

Food and finance go hand-and-hand. I barely made eight dollars per hour. Hence, it would only take a few deliveries to eat up (pun intended) half of my check. Ironically, I often found stacks of Domino’s Pizza, McDonald’s and other fast food boxes in the garbage as evidence of what the other guards ate.

Having to prepare my meals for each security job shift was a sobering experience. Despite going on several fad diets in the past, this was the first time in my life that I spent time thinking about everything that I planned to eat the next day. At first, like many people, I only prepared lunch. I soon learned that this wasn’t enough. Invariably, I became hungry. It wasn’t long after lunch, that I began heading to vending machines.

Frustrated by not being able to resist the vending machines, I also began bringing snacks and a treat. Without trying, I noticed that after a few weeks of eating only leftover dinners for lunch and preparing snacks; I lost noticeable weight. Rule #2 – Always Carry Snacks was born!!! – Coming Back Full Circle:

Looking back, I didn’t will myself into becoming punctual. I didn’t go to work empty handed and will myself into not tapping the vending machines. I didn’t wait until I was hungry and will myself into not ordering fast food. This does not work.

“Hunger is Undefeated against Willpower and Self-Control!”

Instead, I adopted several proactive good habits which overcame my single bad habit.  Establishing several proactive good habits coupled with my sincere desire to provide for my family made it possible for me to change. You can do the same thing. Instead of simply trying to stop doing a bad habit; counter it with several good habits.

That is the essence of the 5 Rules for Healthy Living. For some, weighing food eaten at home may seem tedious; but you need to spend 30-days getting into the habit of visually matching what you eat with the correct portion size. This is much more effective then trying to rely solely on self-control to eat proper portions.

The same applies with the rules to include two vegetables and snacks? Committing to the habit of including no less than two veggies per meal and carrying an abundance of snacks, forces you into the proactive good habit of buying loads of produce and healthy snacks – thus improving your food environment.

Proactively establishing good habits can help you reverse just about any bad habit; especially as it pertains to food. Remember however; none of this advice will work if you don’t have a sincere desire to change.

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Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional and cannot even spell nutritionist or dietitian, which in my opinion makes me overly qualified to share common sense healthy eating tips. However this blog is for entertainment and informational purposes only. Please consult your doctor for specific medical advice.

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