I Don’t Eat Desserts
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As I got into my mid-forties I landed in my own version of a midlife crisis. Instead of getting a 20-year-old girlfriend or a red convertible, I started paying attention to my health. When you’re young you think your future health will be simply a linear extrapolation from the past, and for good reason: Up to that point you have had a lot of data points to draw a straight line through. Well, as you get older your body, as an older engine, starts to require higher-quality fuel (no more junk food) to run and requires more tuning up (exercise) just to maintain the same output of energy.
I realized that to feel good mentally I had to work on feeling good physically. That meant I had to change my habits: Drop the bad ones and acquire good ones. There are two ways to give up bad habits: Change your environment and make a half-binary decision (more on this one later).
Let’s start with changing your environment. Dan Ariely, a behavioral psychologist, said in an interview (I am paraphrasing): “If you are trying to lose weight you probably don’t want to have dozens of donuts lying on your desk. Not eating donuts would consume a lot of your willpower and thus energy. If you think of energy as being a finite resource, an environment that requires you to use a lot of willpower will rob you of energy that could be used for something else – thinking creatively, for example.
Here is an example: I used to be addicted to checking stock prices dozens of times a day. This is not healthy for a long-term investor as it tends to shrink your time horizon. I removed the shortcut to the site where I track my stocks from my browser, and when I’m done checking I always sign out. Now checking stock prices is an effort (I have to type a URL and sign in), and so I check them only once a day.
The other approach to dropping a bad habit is to make it a half-binary decision, which is basically a non-decision decision. In December, after I read a wonderful book by Rolf Dobelli, The Art of the Good Life, I quit eating desserts (no more cakes, cookies, candy, ice cream). I told myself “I don’t eat dessert.” Bear with me here. If I eat dessert sometimes, let’s say 2% of the time, despite that 2% being a miniscule number, it makes eating or not eating dessert a decision. But if you have a firm “I don’t eat dessert” mindset, then every single time it’s a non-decision decision. I call it a half-binary decision: full-binary would be “Yes” or “No”; half-binary is just “No.”