Today’s article is brought to you by Marks and Spencer, in so much that my mid-afternoon snack purchase from their inspired today’s writing. I am currently intermittent fasting, if you’ve not heard of this before, type it into Google, but in brief, I eat between 12pm and 8pm, and outside of this ‘window’ I drink water. I also aim to eat healthy and nutritious foods to assist in a little weight loss, but no food is off limit, rules make me want to break them. I’m only 2-weeks in, but I am finding fasting beneficial for a variety of reasons, but more on that in another blog. This afternoon, I popped out to M&S (other stores are available) for food; I purchased a tub of pineapple chunks, a tub of melon chunks, a tub of flapjack, and a tub of millionaire bites. Don’t judge me; I was stocking up for the week! As is customary now, I no longer use carrier bags and instead can often be found precariously balancing food items all over my body as I walk back to the office. Literally, on the one hand, I had the food I would eat if I made the right choice, and on the other hand I had the food I would eat if I made the wrong choice.
I was led to question, why it is I, like many others, often make the wrong choices at the moment. As Life Coach, I come across this challenge almost daily, not just in my own life, but in supporting other people to live theirs. The one thing I have learnt is it boils down to one thing short term pain over long term gain. I see the flapjack as being just what I need to sweeten up my afternoon, but I see the melon as the one thing I need to get me into my swim shorts 6-weeks from now.
We live in a world which delivers everything to us quicker than ever before, answers to questions at the click of a mouse, food to my door at the press of a button, or a meal in 5-minutes at the ping of a microwave. Along with other things has created an epidemic of short-term thinking. Rarely do we live in the moment and rarer than that do we look beyond each moment. Yet, we always feel like we have more time. I can eat the flapjack today and eat healthily tomorrow. What I am saying to my mind is, give yourself the immediate reward as this is what you need right now, and you’ve got plenty of time until you arrive at the point at which you will potentially regret this decision. Between now and then you’ll make up for it.
What we fail to see when we trade long term gain for short term pain is the clock is ticking, and if each day, we make this choice, we’re another day closer to the day we’ll regret it.
One of the top tips I use myself, and share with my clients, for dealing with these moments, is to time travel. So grab a suitably garish scarf and jump in the Tardis with me as we go on a quick adventure.
Step 1, stop and take some time to think, we need to programme coordinates into the Tardis so let’s breathe and gain some perspective as we do this.
Step 2, take yourself forward a few minutes after you’ve made what you know to be the wrong choice and ask yourself, ‘how do I feel now?’ I know myself well enough to know that the reward will be fleeting, and I’ll feel no better having satiated my short-term needs. As someone once said, “you can’t get enough of what you just don’t need.”
Step 3, don’t take yourself forward to a few minutes after you’ve made what you know to be the right decision. You, like I, are a short-term thinker, and thinking like this only runs the risk of feeling worse than we did after making the wrong decision. Your mind will trick you into believing a few moments later with melon juice still wet on your lips; you really wish you’d had the flapjack! Skip step 3 and head to step 4.
Step 4, travel out into the not so distant future to the point at which you will regret this decision and ask yourself, how do I feel now?’ For me, today that meant travelling to a beach in Spain, stood in my swim shorts, and I thought to myself, ‘I wish I’d taken a little better care of myself.’ While you are there, reflect not just on this individual choice you are about to make but all the previous and subsequent choices. Just one flapjack is not just one flapjack. You must educate your mind not to cheat you and ensure it knows this decision is one of many wrong decisions if you don’t keep yourself in check.
Step 5, return to the present moment and make a choice. If the urge is still strong, there is one final thing you can do. Simply, delay gratification. Tell your brain you will give it gratification but not right now, in a little time, this is a great way to begin to put time and space between a trigger (I want flapjack) and the response (eating flapjack). You are rewiring your brain to no longer expect instant reward and therefore making future choices easier and more in line with your long-term goals.
While I have used the example of food, this process works for any form of decision making where you are having to decide between satiating short-term pain or achieving long-term gain.
What’s that I hear you ask? What did I end up eating? The melon of course and the flapjack and millionaire bites sit in the cupboard, and I’ll have them when the choice to do so is no longer a triggered response. Do feel free to pop in for one if you’re in Leeds!