We’ve all been here before. We’ve set a health or weightloss goal and told ourselves “this time is going to be different.” We’ve been getting to the gym as we promised. And we’ve been sticking to the meal plan, at least for the most part (those thin mint cookies don’t count because they helped the Girl Scouts, right). But when we walk into the teachers’ lounge at work and we see that someone has brought in the snacks. Just seeing those doughnuts or birthday cake, we all of the sudden have the self-control of a preschooler. Time and time again we are unable to avoid the snacks in teachers’ lounge, and it sends us into a feeling of disappointment and self-sabotage.
The bottom line is this: We have a finite amount of willpower and the more we have to use it, the more drained of its strength it becomes. Think of it like a battery. There’s only so much juice in it, and once it’s gone, there’s no getting it back for the rest of the day.
So how do we stay the course and not fall victim to temptation?
The trick is to get a better understanding of what’s going on in our minds and then game the system to put us in a position of success, as opposed to a position of failure.
First we need to understand that we are all hard-wired a little different from the next person. This was proven back in 1972 though the now famous Stanford marshmallow test. The short version of the experiment is that Walter Mischel wanted to test the process of delayed gratification on a group of 4 year olds. So with parent consent, he brought them individually into a room and sat them at a table with a marshmallow on it. He told them that they could eat the marshmallow now, or if they could wait a short amount of time, when he came back in they would get a second marshmallow if the first had not yet been eaten. Mischel found that 1/3 of the kids ate the marshmallow as soon as he left the room. 1/3 were able to hold out a few minutes, but ultimately gave into temptation. And 1/3 were able to wait it out for the 15-20 minutes before he returned and enjoyed 2 marshmallows as a reward for their will-power.
Now your mind is a muscle in the sense that the more you practice using it, the stronger it can become. But the truth is that some of us have more willpower than others, and have a greater potential to improve this willpower over time.
So which kid from the Stanford test to see yourself as? Do you rush over to the doughnuts in the teachers’ lounge? Or do you have no problem standing near them and avoiding the temptation?
So if step 1 is to understand your personal temptation resistance level, then step 2 is to understand that your resistance level is affected by many factors that can weaken it throughout the day. Many studies have shown that when we are stressed, tired, or feeling like there are too many tasks to deal with simultaneously we will cave into temptation. And it doesn’t matter what our temptation resistance level is, we are going to struggle when these issues are in play.
Stressed, tired, and feeling like a circus performer who is balancing all of those spinning plates pretty much sums up a day in the life of every American teacher. So no wonder why this becomes such an issue. It’s like stepping up the batter’s box in a baseball game and already having two strikes against you.
So here is the solution. Instead of relying on willpower to get us through the temptations that are holding us back, we need to setup roadblocks to limit our exposure to these temptations.
Remember, those thin mints I’ve mentioned already in this blog? I keep them hidden in my freezer at home. They are out of plain sight and not easy to get to. This way I am not seeing constant reminders of them. And when they are gone, they are gone. The empty box will not be replaced by a new one, unless I want the cycle to continue. This is also why we help people clean out their cupboards of junk food when we help them with our FREE 7 day clean eating challenges. Because you have to set up those roadblocks which make it difficult for you to continue your unhealthy habits if you have any hope of replacing them with better choices.
Harvard Professor and New York Times best-selling author Shaun Anchor has coined the idea of the “20 second rule” which works great for avoiding temptation. Shaun points out that we should lower the amount of activation energy needed for habits we want to adapt while raising the amount of activation energy for habits we want to avoid. Basically, the harder it is to do something the less likely we are to do it. We need to get past those initial 20 seconds of temptation by making it harder for us to fall victim to them.
So avoiding the temptations of those sweets and treats makes more sense than trying to tough it out and remain strong while having them within an arm’s length of our grasp. Eating a healthy snack while near those treats keeps our hands and mouth occupied. Likewise, going into the teacher’s lounge before school instead of near the end of the day makes it less likely that our paths will cross with these tempting items.
This is also why I’m a big advocate for at home fitness programs. There are less obstacles to completing a workout at home than if you have to drive to the gym or some outside location in order to exercise. Something always comes up. And if you factor in getting the kids to the gym also so you can exercise, the difficulty of being consistent with the task increases exponentially.
The bottom line is this: You aren’t going to rid the world of temptations. Those snacks are going to be there regardless of it’s the gas station convenience store, the supermarket, or even the teacher’s lounge. But you can set yourself up for success by avoiding limiting your time in these places as much as possible. And when you do have to go there, have a healthy snack ready to eat instead of those treats that are sabotaging your efforts.
To your health,