There is no one on this Earth who doesn’t get caught up in the occasional bad decision. It doesn’t matter if it’s money, jobs, sex… every so often we make a decision based on immediate gratification instead of keeping the long term in the forefront of our minds.
And, by all means, a bad decision every now and again feels reeeeeally good. They’re certainly human.
But—and this is an important “but”—the more frequently you make the same kinds of bad decision, the more difficult it eventually becomes to say “no.” This is especially true of food.
If you’re like me, you spent a lot of time saying “yes” when you should’ve been—and probably wanted to be—saying “no,” and then you eventually found that it was incredibly difficult to even think about saying no. It happens to us all. And it’s not our fault—it’s literally how we’re wired… sort of.
We’re wired to connect to things that bring us joy, and disconnect from things that bring us pain (rather, things that bring us more pain than joy), and that’s despite whether or not our rational minds believe that “joy” is rooted in a harmful habit. In other words, our minds don’t care whether or not those Cheetos make your belly a bit bigger than you’d prefer—your mind knows it brings you joy and, therefore, will direct you towards the junk food aisle when it knows you’re going through it. Your mind doesn’t care whether your ex is a dirtbag—if getting that d—
Sorry. I’m sorry. I know.
One of the weird habits I’ve developed in learning to control my habits is talking to myself. I talk myself out of making bad decisions, because sometimes it helps to hear the rationale behind making better choices than to simply hear them. I don’t know—for some reason, the actual sound of words attempting to convince me to do and be better is more… convincing. Maybe these will help you, too.
1) “I can have this any time I want—I don’t have to have this right now.” — Sometimes, I find that a lot of the habits I have surrounding food come from my initial fear of scarcity: the sense of “there won’t be enough for me” or “there won’t be any more” that can compel some people to act against their best long-term interests. Operating from a position of scarcity also means we think that if something is going to go away quickly, we won’t be able to get any for ourselves, so we have to overindulge now in order to benefit from its presence.
You can see how that can turn out badly for someone with a weight loss goal, right?
When you remind yourself that you can have this particular food item any time you want—even if, for numerous reasons, that’s not entirely true #paydaystruggle—you take away the sense of urgency that comes with having to have that particular item right then and there.
2) “This really isn’t that big of a deal.” — I used to fixate on name brand cereal. And yes, this dates back to when I was a kid. Back when we were extra-super-duper-broke, my mom used to buy the super cheap cereal in the bag, and I used to always complain. “Whyyyyyy can’t we get the one with the big cartoon tiger on the front?!” I’d whine, like a little jerk. “Do you have cartoon tiger cereal money?” my mom would reply, like a typical black parent. (I literally just told my daughter “do you have bacon-egg-and-cheese money?” like three days ago.)
I remember when I was finally an “adult” and old enough to earn my own “name brand cereal” money… and had to take my budget into the grocery store, only to realize that that “big cartoon tiger” cost an additional $3 for far less cereal per box. Do I make an irrational decision based on nostalgia? Or do I tell myself “this isn’t really that big of a deal,” in favor of buying the healthier, less expensive, more affordable option?
Remember, I’m cheap—you know exactly what I did.
Telling yourself “this isn’t really that big of a deal” diminishes the feeling of novelty or excitement we experience when faced with something that seems “exciting.” Often, the excitement we feel is ginned up from marketing intended to make us feel like the item in question is worth the awe and wonder, the nostalgia, and the added expense. If you give yourself a moment to remember that, you’ll find that you were right: it really isn’t that big of a deal.
3) “I don’t even really want this right now.” — People underestimate the power of marketing and imagery.
Grocery stores employ all sorts of tricks to compel you to buy the more expensive items—placing the most expensive items at eye level, organizing the junkiest items at the checkout line where you’re forced to stare at it the entire time you’re waiting to pay for your fruits and vegetables—and, because we’re human, we fall for them. Restaurants put “home-y” artifacts all over the walls to encourage you to feel at home, and buying the more comforting dishes—often the more expensive (or more profitable) ones.
Lots of things contribute to cravings. A certain smell, a passing memory, a random commercial—these are just a handful of reasons why we experience cravings. And sometimes, we catch ourselves in the checkout aisle preparing to purchase something when we aren’t even certain how it wound up in our hands or carts to begin with.
You have to look at your hands, look at the item, and tell yourself, “I don’t even want this right now.”
Saying this gives you the space to acknowledge that you might like the item, but that right now it doesn’t do you any favors. It acknowledges your feelings of desire, but respects your “no.”
4) “This does me no good right now.” — Picture it: you’re leaving the gym after a pretty rigorous workout. You’re exhausted. You’re starving. You pass by the open windows and partially-burnt coffee scent of a Starbucks. You see, through all the glass, a row of banana muffins.
“Mmmmmmmm,” you think to your exhausted and starving self, “Muffinnnnnnnnns.”
You let the scent guide you through the front doors of the ‘Bux, and you saunter into line. The lovely lady behind the counter asks you what you would like, and you blurt out “banana muffin” before you can even catch yourself. She instinctively puts it in the toasted oven for you. The smell of banana and pecan fills the room.
You finally make it to the register. Your muffin is waiting for you. The gentleman behind the register rings up your muffin. $9.
“What? That can’t be right,” you both say at the same time. You both maneuver back to the shelf where the muffins are, and you spot the tag for the muffins’ price. And that’s when you see it:
836 calories. It’s more than you burnt in that super-rigorous workout you just left.
Your heart drops. You say to yourself, “For one damn muffin?” Out of sheer incredulity, you don’t even realize you said it out loud.
In that moment, you say to yourself, “This does me no good right now,” and you walk out of Starbucks. An annoyed cashier puts your muffin back, but laughs at you to himself. He understands.
Telling yourself “this does me no good right now” gives you the opportunity to reaffirm your priorities, and acknowledge that right now, your fitness goals are a higher priority than the fleeting joy you’d receive from this bad decision. This choice impacts my goals, and does me no good right now. I can’t have that.
5) “This ain’t even all that.” — Sometimes, the foods we have cravings for ain’eem all that.
Can you remember the flavor? Could you point them out if asked? Are they naturally-occurring-in-nature flavors, or artificial? Could you pick it out in a taste test? Is it super-high in sugar, a signal that it might not even have any actual flavor? Is there a crazy amount of salt? Do you even remember the last time you ate it? When you’re eating it, do you remember each bite, savoring it and relishing in each spoonful? Or do you blitz through it only to forget you ate it at all?
Chances are high… the object of your craving affection ain’t even all that. And reminding yourself of as much helps you to accept that the decision you’re trying to make isn’t even remotely as fulfilling as you might wish it to be, and allows you to develop a new understanding of the choice in question with the new information you have. “This ol’ fake vanilla, fake chocolate, all fake everything ass ice cream… this ain’t even all that.”
What do you say to yourself to help save you from bad decisions?