My behavioural economics lectures were really interesting this week – they were all about self control…something that I had a severe lack of, and something that myself and my fellow ‘losers’ still have issues with. But I have been able to improve my self control over the past year and so I was really interested in hearing what Mr Ariely had to say about it! His opening statement rang true…self control is all about the problems between now and later. Do we eat this cake that we want now in order to satisfy our immediate craving, and deal with the fallout later? Or do we wait and see if we still want that cake the following morning? So for me, self control is about how I can deal with my immediate emotions, or desires, to ensure that I have a successful weight loss.
Apparently our ability to resist temptation weakens – this is known as ‘ego depletion’ – and I can testify to this…as can most of you I am sure! I wake up in the morning full of good intentions. I ignore the pastries and croissants I could have for breakfast, and instead eat something Slimming World friendly. A trip to the horses means snacks for my other half…oh, and there is a massive packet of biscuits for when the farrier visits! But I resist those too. The regular Asda visit sees me with a healthy bag of food, but my other half brings home a bag of doughnuts, a family sized bar of chocolate, and two bags of giant cookies. But that’s okay…I can deal with that. And then there is the junk mail…offers for Dominoes pizza, a new Chinese takeaway, and even a letter with personalised vouchers for Pappa Johns as they haven’t heard from us in a while! TV adverts show KFC, Cadburys and McDonalds, and flicking through a magazine shows a pic of a lovely woman eating the latest chocolate bar. So is it any wonder that by 8pm I am starting to get a bit tetchy and my craving levels are rising? Losing weight is hard – but the more you resist, the easier it becomes to ignore these nudges towards unhealthy purchases.
So how can we deal with these cravings? It feels as if we desperately need to give in…that nothing else will suffice. Well, there is something called ‘reward substitution’ that might help. This basically means that we exchange a short term desire and unhelpful behaviour – such as eating that chocolate bar – with a short term reward and motivator such as painting your nails, or cutting out positive images of healthy role models for your motivational scrap book…or getting off your bum and doing fifty squats (if that kind of thing motivates you!). Dan Ariely discussed his personal example of reward substitution, saying that when he had to take some particularly nasty medication that made him sick, he would rent movies “rewards” early in the day and carry them with him. Once he got home and took the medication, he allowed himself to watch the movies immediately, thus rewarding himself for his behaviour. It created a form of reward for him, but I also suspect that it took his mind off how he was feeling both physically and emotionally.
The final and probably most difficult to achieve solution towards building self control is something known as a ‘Ulysses’ contract. It is basically a freely made decision that is designed and intended to set your behaviour. Apparently, a drug recovery group used to ask recovering addicts who were they most fearful of discovering their habit. They would then be asked to write a confession to this person, which the drug recovery group would keep for them…if they then took drugs, the letter would be posted. What used to happen was that the recovering addicts would have cravings and would beg and plead for their letters back, but the group would refuse and instead would offer to give extra support – including blood testing – over the next five days. The recovering addicts would then find that their cravings had subsided after five days…and would continue with the program. It was incredibly successful – as the fear of that person finding out was so great – but it was halted on the grounds of human rights.
The term ‘Ulysses Contract’ refers to the pact that Ulysses made with his men as they approached the Sirens. He wanted to hear the Sirens’ song although he knew that this would render him incapable of rational thought. He put wax in his men’s ears so that they could not hear, and had them tie him to the mast of his boat so that he could not jump into the sea. He ordered them not to change course under any circumstances, and to keep their swords upon him to attack him if he should break free of his bonds. Upon hearing the Sirens’ song, Ulysses was driven temporarily insane and struggled with all of his might to break free so that he might join the Sirens, which would have meant his death…it doesn’t sound pleasant! But imagine if you could take steps to ensure that you stuck to your healthy eating and exercise plan no matter what?!
I had a think about what sort of things would work for me. I suppose a giant billboard with my face and weight plastered over it, were I not to stick to my plan, would be a big deterrent. But some more practical ideas include something known as ‘loss aversion’…I don’t know anyone who likes losing money, and so I thought that including this kind of thing might help. I prepay for my Slimming World classes upfront – via a twelve week countdown – and this helps me to attend group when I might not otherwise…as I don’t want to, in essence, lose money. Another thing that I found used to help me with the gym was pre-paid and non-refundable personal training sessions. Not exactly a Ulysses contact…but as my Aberdonian Grandad hated waste, I am not one for wasting my money!
A rather extreme method was mentioned – and it has all sorts of moral and ethical implications – but what if you knew that a starving child would be fed if you stuck to your plan? And what if that child got nothing – no food at all that day – if you didn’t? And add in the fact that each night you got to have a face to face conversation – via Skype or something – with that child…and they could thank you for their meal, or not as the case may be? For me, when this was mentioned it almost made me cry. Imagine being responsible for that? But at the end of the day you are responsible for your health…it is just that you don’t see an immediate benefit, or the immediate results of poor health.
On a lighter note, in the 1960s, a chap called Walter Mischel tested young children for self-control in “The Marshmallow Test”. The children were each given a marshmallow and told that they could eat it anytime they want, but if they waited fifteen minutes, they would receive another marshmallow. Years later, he reached out to the participants of his study, who were then in their 40′s, and found that those who showed less self-control by taking the single marshmallow in the initial study were more likely to develop problems with relationships, stress, and drug abuse later in life…quite shocking really! You can take a look at the children and their self control in action here – a more recent study…The Marshmallow Test – kids and a rather amusing spoof of adults doing the same…The Marshmallow Test – adult spoof!
Anyway – self control – we know it is important, and we can work on strengthening it…you just need to identify your triggers and put in place some solutions that you feel would help. Even something as simple a getting a glass of water and telling yourself that you can still eat that chocolate / cake / pizza if you really want it, but after thirty minutes have passed. And just think about this – if you were really hungry, with true hunger, a piece of fruit would be an attractive option…if it isn’t, it is likely that you are dealing with a craving and not true hunger – so do something else that will distract you!
We were both fortunate enough to get a bit of a longer sleep this morning before my Mum collected us to go to the horses. It was a nice lazy morning but before we knew it, she was outside tooting her horn for us! Seeing the horses was great – and I was able to help out this morning and also able to fit in a nice groom for two of them…the other two – the biggest and the smallest – had decided to let themselves out and they wanted to stay out in the sun! Although we did end up with sleet here today, despite a gorgeous sunny start. I then headed home and had lunch, then popped to see my sister and the kids, and then came home for a nice quiet evening in with my other half…who is currently watching something about sparkly wedding dresses for gypsies! No real excitement for the day I’m afraid!
Breakfast: Half a can of baked beans, two slices wholemeal toast (HEB) and a banana.
Today was a truly scrumptious food day! Brekkie was good – and I usually have a whole can of beans but don’t think I need that much, so shared them with my other half…it meant that he got a decent breakfast too. Lunch was just delicious – I had saved a lamb steak from last nights meal – and cut down on the meat in that by using veggies instead – and thought that it would be good with couscous and roast veggies…and it was gorgeous! Dinner was another jam-packed pasta dish full of Superfree and my Phili was stirred through it…so quick to make and really tasty.
Exercise: Two sections of BodyPump plus grooming horses.
I was so pleased to get that little session in today…my leg is still in pain but I managed two section of BodyPump before my Mum arrived this morning!
Have a wonderful weekend my lovelies,
Weight Loss Bitch xxx