Photo credit: Giuseppe Chirico
I am a master at justifying my bad habits.
Like when it’s 10pm and I really don’t need to be eating a bowl of coconut bliss ice cream.
Give me 30 seconds and I can convince myself that it’s been a tough week and I’ve earned this small reward — after all, there are much worse things I could be eating.
Or that it’s really no big deal because it only has 13 grams of sugar per serving.
Or that I haven’t had any sweets at all for nearly two weeks, and I had a super healthy lunch. Surely a little ice cream before bed can’t hurt.
Any of this sound familiar?
It’s amazing how, in an instant, we can talk ourselves out of our big picture goals — what we TRULY want for our lives, for a few seconds of pleasure that we’ll instantly regret.
Yes we want to lose weight, to be healthy, to look and feel our best and be an example of health for our loved ones.
But in the moment, we decide that we’d rather have the ice cream!
Instead of saying no, instead of taking a stand for our radiant health and our goal weight, we take a step in the other direction, promising to do better tomorrow.
Now, I’m a big fan of the “crowding-out” strategy.
The idea is that you focus on adding good habits and good foods to your life. These good choices eventually “crowd-out” the bad and the bad falls away on its own.
But sometimes crowding out isn’t enough. Sometimes we get stuck and it becomes clear that there is a craving or habit that is standing in our way that we must let go of.
Especially when months or years pass and we still aren’t making progress.
How can we breakthrough so that in 3 or 6 months we can look back and see how far we have come?
How can we begin to make real progress towards our goals?
At a certain point, true transformation means you have to get serious. You have to make a commitment to yourself and stick to it. You have to learn how to say no.
But what we sometimes miss is that saying no is also something that we can learn. It is something that we can practice.
If it’s time for you to take the next step to take your health, weight-loss and well-being to the next level, here’s how to get started.
1) Draw a bright line
One of the most effective ways to create change is to make a single rule and commit to it 100%. Start with a meaningful commitment, but something that doesn’t terrify you.
For example you might commit to attending a single party without eating anything with sugar, a week of eating 100% vegan, no animal products, or a month of starting each day with a green smoothie.
This is called drawing a bright line — making a clearly defined rule that comes with a 100% commitment.
Yes, we all love freedom. Believe me, the last thing I want to do is to make a 100% commitment to never enjoying my favorite chocolate treat ever again. In fact, the idea of letting go of something forever can prevent us from ever getting started (more on that on the next point.)
But drawing a bright line removes the in-the-moment decision of whether you are going to make a good choice or a bad choice. It removes that possibility of justification.
As we’ve already covered, and I’m sure you’ve seen in your own life, we are all masters at justifying the choices we make that are not in our best interest.
Trick the justifier. Get the upper hand on your psychology. Draw a bright line.
2) Set a start and end date
Bright lines work best when you set both a start date and an end date.
A start date also helps you to formalize the commitment. It allows you to prepare yourself mentally and makes it more likely that the commitment will stick.
Most of us make 100% commitments after a particularly brutal fall off the wagon, but it becomes all too easy to throw that commitment out of the window when presented with the temptation again.
Give yourself at least a couple days to let the commitment marinate. Mondays, the first of the month or the new moon are also good dates to pick.
Setting an end date, on the other hand, removes the fear that you are never going to be able to enjoy a (insert your favorite vice here) ever again.
Again, make the commitment meaningful but not terrifying. A week or a month is a good length of time to start with.
Finally, mark both the start date and the end date in your calendar. If it’s not scheduled, it’s not real.
3) Start with one thing at a time
Making big change is awesome.
I love it when people go 100% plant-based, or quit sugar cold turkey. When you make a drastic change, it doesn’t take long to experience the benefits, and getting quick results is a powerful motivator to keep you moving forward.
But making big changes that last is difficult for most of us. If your personality is better suited to making small changes or you’ve tried to make big changes before that haven’t stuck, then taking a step-by-step is the way to go.
The behavior change literature supports small steps as the more effective way to make life-changes that are sustainable.
Again it really comes down to knowing yourself and your personality, but I recommend making just one single commitment at a time.
Pick something realistic that you know you can accomplish. Engineer a win for yourself. A small success now can cascade into bigger wins down the line.
4) Eliminate decisions
Bright lines work so well because they eliminate the in-the-moment decision of will we stay on track or will we indulge?
If you haven’t drawn a bright line then every time you are faced with temptation you have to make that choice.
Do we decide to grab the candy when it’s there? Do we order the healthy option at a restaurant or the old favorite? Do we give in to that afternoon sugar craving?
Long-term success on any diet or health plan really comes down to consistently winning these small daily battles.
If you have to make this decision every time you place an order at your favorite restaurant, or every time you walk past the candy bowl at the office, it is almost guaranteed that eventually you will give in.
The amazing power of bright lines is that eventually the decision becomes automatic. Once saying no becomes habitual you no longer even consider reaching for the candy bowl.
The golden rule here is to make your decisions in advance, and eliminate as many decisions as possible.
For example, try planning your meals and snacks the day before, or deciding what you’ll order at the restaurant before you go.
5) Practice accountability
Let’s get real. Nobody wants to be held accountable, because deep down we don’t want to give up our indiscretions.
As much as I want to put my health first, I don’t want to have to give up my afternoon Miracle Tart. And when I’m sneaking my afternoon chocolate, I surely don’t want anybody looking over my shoulder!
That’s why accountability is so often talked about, but so rarely put into practice.
But in the same way that we can begin to practice saying no, we can also begin to practice accountability.
When you draw your bright line, make the commitment to mention it to someone. Make your commitment public in whatever way pushes you out of your comfort zone just a little bit.
You can ask your friend or significant other to help you keep the commitment or post it on facebook.
Just take that small step to let someone else know what you’ve committed to.
Do this now
You can get started right away. Decide on your commitment, pick a start date and an end date and mark it on your calendar.
There will never a perfect time to get started. There will always be something coming up or some excuse about why this can wait another week.
But I care most about what is best for you. Honor yourself enough to make this top priority. Care about yourself enough to set a higher standard. This is game time.
Let us know your commitment and start and end date in the comments below, and we’ll follow up and help hold you accountable.
We will never sell your information or spam you, ever.
Matt Jager is a wellness activist, yogi and co-founder of True Wellth. His life mission is to transform the healthcare and food system in this country, so that every single person has access to the tools and support they need to look and feel their best, control their health, own their happiness and revolutionize their well-being.