In your quest to lose weight, how many times have you thought, “I’m not going to . . .”?
I’m not going to order fries at dinner.
I’m not going to drink wine tonight.
I’m not going to binge on chocolate today.
I’m not going to skip my workout tomorrow morning.
I spent at least 20 years saying these things. What I didn’t know was that rather than helping myself, pushing myself to succeed, I was actually sabotaging myself, dooming myself to failure. And the failure wasn’t only that I gave in to temptation — it was that I kept myself stuck in the same place for years and watched my confidence erode.
If you’ve read any of my posts, you know that I’m a proponent of making small, manageable changes to your habits instead of dieting, failing, and doing it again. But embracing this approach can feel really hard, because what you want is to just get rid of the weight, as fast as possible.
And to do this, you’re probably making the mistake of trying to use willpower not to do certain things. But willpower is completely ineffective because of the intense resistance it creates. Simply put, it doesn’t feel good to use willpower, and you eventually give in so that you don’t have to feel that way anymore.
So using willpower actually keeps you stuck: you try not to, you give in, you start over the next day . . . and you do it all again.
But I have a super easy trick I’ve used and continue to use that helps me break out of this cycle. It’s extremely effective, and it takes all the pressure off. All you have to do is give yourself an out.
Here’s how it works: if you give yourself the option of doing whatever it is you don’t want to do, you actually increase your odds of successfully not doing it. It seems counterintuitive, but it’s true.
It works because you’re putting yourself in control as opposed to feeling out of control. And you are never out of control, despite how it may feel at times.
Remember, too, that what’s really interfering with your ability to lose weight isn’t the foods you’re eating that you’re not supposed to eat — it’s the psychological state you consistently put yourself in and the thoughts that you think. These in turn cause you to do what you do, and if you do these repeatedly then you have a habit. And thoughts + habits = results.
So if you have the wrong thoughts and the wrong habits, no amount of cutting carbs or counting calories is going to help you because you don’t have a success-promoting foundation to build on. And then you’re just creating more work for yourself by trying “not to” and adding resistance to the mix.
You have to shift your thinking, and this simple psychological tactic — giving yourself an out — can help you break out of your restriction/binge cycle and let you finally move forward.
Let’s look at an example. Say you’re going to dinner and you don’t want to eat fries with your meal. (The fries that you “love” and are “obsessed with,” which is a whole other topic.)
You summon all your mental toughness (ie, willpower) and resolve to order steamed broccoli instead of the fries. Then you spend the day preparing yourself for the sucky dinner you’re not going to enjoy, and you endure the constant back-and-forth in your mind, determined that you’re going to gut it out but fearing that your willpower will run out by dinner time.
And by doing all this, you’re focusing your attention squarely on what you’re trying to avoid — thereby making it even more desirable. So what happens is that you create a ton of resistance that has to be neutralized . . . and ironically, you’ll end up doing it with the fries.
However, if you give yourself an out, none of this happens.
Let’s look at the opposite approach. What happens if you give yourself the option of ordering the fries? What if you say, “I’ll get fries if I really want them”? Or what if you at least allow yourself the leeway to have a few fries off your friend’s plate? Here’s what happens:
If you give yourself the option, then there is no failure. So the judgment and shame that typically come with failure don’t happen.
If you decide to order the fries and without judging or shaming yourself, you get to pay attention to how the fries really make you feel — and you get to use that information to help you make a different choice next time.
If there’s no failure, you don’t have to start all over tomorrow or Monday. You break the cycle, get yourself un-stuck, and move forward.
Most of all, you take control. When you give yourself an out, then you’re deciding, you get to choose. And making a choice means that you’re automatically owning the outcome, whatever it is. So you’re successful either way.
All of this equals confidence — the opposite of how you feel when there’s only one way to do it (in other words, “not to”) and you fail.
So even if you decide to eat the fries, it’s because you chose to — not because you ran out of willpower and gave in to temptation. You didn’t fail, you don’t have to feel bad about yourself, and you don’t have to start over tomorrow.
Then you get to keep building on your success. One small win leads to another, you get momentum, and then your results compound and multiply.
And all the while you keep proving to yourself that you can make any choice you want, you can learn from those choices, and you have the power to create whatever you want in your life.
As I said earlier, you are always, always in control. When you finally get this and let it really sink in, you will stop looking outside yourself for a solution — and diets will become a thing of the past. You will take responsibility for the results you currently have and stop blaming your weight on your genes, how you don’t have enough time, or how old you are. And once you do this, you’re already halfway there.
Giving yourself an out is an easy way to get results, to learn what works for you, and to eliminate the sense of shame you keep feeling every time you fail and start over.
Losing weight doesn’t have to be miserable or a lifetime struggle. So try this simple trick, shift your perspective, and make it easy for yourself.