Staying in the game

As the winter holidays draw near, there’s a temptation to put our goals (and ourselves) on the back burner. With so much going on, we don’t feel like we have the time or energy to focus on ourselves. So we decide to let ourselves off the hook for the rest of the year and regroup in January.

It feels like a relief at first. One less thing to worry about. But then that low-level anxiety creeps in. How much further from our goals will we be by January? What does this say about our chances of ever actually reaching this goal?

The thing is: It takes so little to stay in the game. It’s not about spending the holidays on a diet. It can be as simple as not finishing a cookie that doesn’t taste as good as it looked. Or putting on an extra layer or two and going for a walk even if it’s frosty. Or setting aside just 15 minutes for a morning warm-up. Or, checking in with others who are working on the similar goals.

Even if you’re not making rapid progress toward your goal, these small actions can reinforce your commitment to your goal, and help to strengthen the mindset and habits that will ultimately get you there. You may be on the bench taking a breather but you’re still in the game.

And here’s the crazy thing: Staying in the game won’t make your holidays any busier or more overwhelming. To the contrary, you’ll probably feel a bit calmer, more in control, and less stressed.

If over the next few weeks, you find yourself tempted to throw in the towel until January, see if you can find one tiny way to stay in the game for another day. (Need some ideas?  Let’s chat about it in the Weighless Life Facebook group.)

 

There are better ways to avoid wasting food

“I often eat things because I don’t want them to go to waste. I may not even like them that much, but they cost money and I don’t want to be wasteful.”

Can you relate?

One of our Weighless program members posted this in our forum this morning. We’ve heard hundreds of variations on this theme over the years. I shudder to think how many millions of excess calories are consumed every year by people who just can’t stand to throw food away. Or the kids who are being indoctrinated into this unhelpful mindset with things like the Clean Plate Club.

Don’t get me wrong. Food waste is a huge problem that deserves our earnest attention. But guess what? Eating food you don’t need–or don’t even want–does not reduce food waste.

It doesn’t feed starving children. It doesn’t recover the resources that were used to produce it. It doesn’t put the money back in anyone’s wallet. It doesn’t really even keep it out of the trash. It simply turns your body into the trash receptacle.

Once we recognize the sheer folly of eating food just to prevent it from being wasted, it opens up some really useful alternatives:

  1. We can truly commit to an essential Weighless principle: If you’re not hungry and/or you’re not enjoying the food, stop eating!

  2. We can truly commit to meaningful action to reduce food waste.

The best way to reduce food waste is to stop buying, cooking, ordering, or serving yourself more food than you want or need. (We have specific strategies for this in Weeks 3, 6, 8, 9, and 12 of our year-long program)

If you do find yourself with more food than you want or need, share it with a friend, stranger, or even with your future self. Split an oversized portion with your dining companion. Donate excess food to a soup kitchen or homeless shelter. Pack it up and put it in the freezer for later.

If none of that is possible, throw it away or compost it. If it feels bad to throw it away, let that motivate you to redouble your efforts to avoid the situation in the future.

It is everyone’s job to help reduce food waste. But it is not your job to be a human garbage disposal.

I hereby disband the Clean Plate Club.

But I’ve tried so many times before

We asked people to share the biggest thing keeping them from tackling their weight issues. And one answer that keeps cropping up is breaking my heart.

“I have tried (and failed) too many diets in the past.”

“With a history of yo- yo dieting, I already feel discouraged.”

“Knowing myself, I won’t succeed.”

Ouch. I get it. You’ve tried again and again to lose weight without success. Or you’ve lost weight and always gain it back. The thought of trying and failing again is just too painful.

But the alternative seems just as painful: simply giving up and accepting that you’ll always be unhappy with your body and your relationship with food.

But there is one more option. And it’s not simply to try again and hope that this time, somehow, it will be different. It’s to try something you haven’t tried before.

Instead of going on yet another diet to lose weight, you could start creating a life in which you weigh less.

You can accept that this process will involve a certain amount of failure. But if properly utilized, those failures can actually become stepping stones to success.

And just like mountain climbers clip into each others’ lines for safety, you can hook into a community and a system that will keep you from falling off the mountain when you slip, and hold you in place until you regain your footing.

This is what we do in the Weighless program.

Here’s the thing: Every single one of the people who has succeeded with us had a long history of failed attempts.

I’m so glad they didn’t give up. I’m so glad they decided to try one more time…but to try something completely different.

Motivation and the Hierarchy of Needs

I have been thinking about how our current covid-heavy situation might be affecting our motivation and willpower lately and my research led me to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Now, this may sound dry but stick with me for a minute.

This is how the hierarchy goes, in order from most important to least important (remember, this is in “the survival of the species” terms).

  1. Biological and physiological needs – food, drink, shelter, warmth, sleep, air.
  2. Safety needs – protection, security, order, law, stability.
  3. Love and Belongingness – family, affection, relationships
  4. Esteem (cognitive, aesthetics) – achievement, status, responsibility, reputation
  5. Self-actualization – personal growth and fulfillment
  6. Transcendence – Helping others (this was a later addition to the hierarchy)

If we are striving to maintain motivation for some of the higher needs on Maslow’s scale, like “Self-actualization” (personal growth and fulfillment), but – for perhaps the first time in our lives – we are faced with the possibility of our “physiological” or “safety” needs not being met, well isn’t it totally understandable that our motivation for self-improvement takes a backseat? Or gets the boot altogether?

Here’s an example: you want to learn how to do a pull-up properly so you resolve to exercise for at least 30 minutes each evening after dinner. Great! But instead, you find yourself reading social media posts about how the food supply in your nation is deeply flawed or obsessing about how your retirement savings have taken a hit during the current financial downturn.

By nature of our own instinct for survival, the motivation to get strong enough to do a pull-up is replaced by worry about safety and security.

This is the problem with relying too heavily on motivation. And I mean any time In hIstory, not just during a global pandemic.

In the Weighless approach, (unlike in most diets or exercise programs) we take the focus off of motivation and willpower and instead build systems that can withstand stress and uncertainty. We focus on paying attention to the thoughts and the feelings that drive our choices and actions. Are they true? Are they meaningful? What other choices do we have that are rooted in reality (not just in fear)?

By doing this we can circumvent motivation and achieve our goals, even during stressful times.

Motivation can certainly help you survive but it is unlikely to help you thrive.

There’s a choice to be made

I know it seems like a lifetime ago, but think back to before we were all plunged into this global pandemic. What was on your personal To Do list? What goals were you working toward? What projects were most important to you?

Are those things still important to you? Why or why not?

Does it still feel possible to make progress toward your objectives? Why or why not?

It may be tempting to use this disruption and uncertainty as a reason to give up on goals you have been working towards.  Or as an excuse to (over)indulge in things that move you even further from your goal. 

Alternatively, you can choose to find the ways in which this disruption offers an opportunity.

  • Cooking more at home means eating more nutritious meals.
  • Less commuting means more time to exercise.
  • Fewer trips to the grocery store means less impulse buying.
  • Not eating out equals less temptation to overindulge.
  • The loss of old routines is a golden opportunity to establish new patterns.
  • A change in employment status is a chance to pursue a new path.

You can decide which of your previous habits you want to return to when conditions allow and which of them you’ll shed for good. After all, not all of what we used to consider “normal” was good for us. 

How do I know that it is possible to grow and thrive in the midst of chaos and uncertainty?

I’m watching you do it.

In March, just as Covid was shutting down the world as we know it,  a new cohort was just beginning in the year-long Weighless program.  We’ve got teachers, parents, essential workers, business owners, furloughed workers, and first responders. And these people are KILLING it!  They aren’t making excuses. They are figuring it out.  (And if you can learn to weigh less during a global pandemic, there’s really nothing that can stop you.) 

In a few weeks, we’re planning to open enrollment for our next group. We don’t know how the current situation will affect enrollment.  We may have a smaller group than usual. And that’s totally fine.  In fact, it may be a bonus. Because these will be people who understand that conditions are never ideal and that health and well-being is not a luxury. And that right there is a powerful predictor of their success. 

In the meantime, I want to encourage all of us to use the challenges we are facing as an opportunity and not an excuse. 

Photo by Mark Duffel on Unsplash

The Power of a Craving Reboot

When I was younger, I worked for a division of the Government in IT. In that crowd, there is a running joke that almost any computer issue can be resolved by “turning it off and back on again.” And all joking aside, it really does work… a surprising amount of the time. Seriously, give it a try next time your computer, phone, tablet or even TV is giving you grief.

The American author and poet, Anne Lamott, also wrote that “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.” Which is a key point in her TED talk called “12 Truths I Learned from Life and Writing” which I encourage you to check out.

This restarting strategy is very similar to something we teach in the Weighless program as a way to outwit random food cravings. And no, it doesn’t involve you having to go and take a nap everytime you get a craving for [insert default food here]. It simply involves taking a break from the situation that caused the craving in the first place.

Many conventional diets will simply tell you that you are not allowed to have that food (or will try to sell you on a substitute version) but in Weighless we prefer to be both a little more forgiving and more realistic in our advice.

We know the strength of willpower but we also know its weaknesses – so whenever possible we prefer to take it out of the equation.

So, instead of using a ton of willpower (if you have any left at this point in the day) to resist that urge, we suggest instead to make a deal with yourself to simply take a break for 10-ish minutes and remove yourself from the location or situation that kicked off the craving. Restart your inner CPU, as it were.

Then, the second part of the deal with yourself is that if you still have that same craving after 10-ish minutes of letting your brain reboot, follow through and go ahead and enjoy a sensible amount of that treat. But, and this is important, you REALLY take the time to enjoy that treat!

Don’t eat it distracted.

Sit down, focus on the treat, and enjoy the heck out of each bite until you are satisfied.

You know what? Honestly, more often than not after the restart, our members generally forget about the craving and move on with their day. And even if they don’t, the anticipation, the ritual and the mindfulness of eating that treat with no distractions makes it more enjoyable and often they find that just a few bites is all they required.

Try this strategy next time you find yourself with a random craving and let us know how it works for you. I bet, like my crappy old MacBook, a restart will make all the difference.

How to feel better right now

Photo by pine watt on Unsplash

How many times in the last 24 hours have you said (either outloud or to yourself) “I’m so stressed”  or “This is so incredibly stressful!”?

And it’s true: We are all going through something completely unfamiliar and unknown. We have to do things we’ve never done before, We have to find completely new ways of doing things that we’ve been doing all of our lives.

This is the textbook definition of stress.

For most of us, the word “stress” has a very negative, even harmful connotation. And when we hear and say and think it over and over again, it enhances the sense of doom and disaster.

But stress is not inherently bad or good, positive or negative. It’s just challenging.  And simply replacing the word “stress” with the word “challenge” can ratchet down the anxiety. And help you reclaim a sense of control and resilience.

Challenges can be energizing. They may cause us to discover strengths and talents we never dreamed of. We may have ideas and inspirations and experiences that we would never have had otherwise.

Of course, challenges can ALSO be difficult. They may be frightening, or painful, or sad. We may feel fatigued or anxious or numb.  I’m not denying that.

But we can work with those feelings (and our responses to them) much more effectively if we can name them more specifically.

So, instead of saying you feel “stressed” and diving for the chocolate, see if you can be more specific.  What actual physical sensations are you aware of? What emotions are you feeling?

And then consider how you can relieve that sensation, or address that feeling.

  • If you’re hungry, fix a meal that will nourish both body and spirit.
  • If your muscles are tense, try a gentle stretching routine.
  • If your breathing is shallow, try some deep breathing.

  • If you are tired, try taking a nap.
  • If you are feeling grief, allow yourself to mourn.
  • If you are keyed up, try releasing some energy by taking a brisk walk.
  • If you are worried about someone, try reaching out to them.
  • If you are anxious about having too many things on your to do list, do one of them.  (Or, remove one of them!)
  • If you’re feeling overwhelmed, ask for help.
  • If you’re depressed by news, turn it off.
  • If you’re anxious about the future, bring your focus gently to the present, which is the only realm in which you have any agency.
  • If you’re lonely, reach out to a friend.

We are all stronger, more resourceful and more resilient than we ever imagined.  I don’t think any of us would have chosen to be in our current circumstances. But every challenge is an opportunity for growth. And massive challenges offer the opportunity for massive growth.

The hidden opportunity in the current chaos

Who can focus on their health goals when the world is falling apart? Who can resist comfort food when all of our normal comforts have been pulled out from under us?

Who has the bandwidth to work on behavior change right now? Who could blame you for stress eating your way through the next few months?

If thoughts like these have been running through your head, I want to offer you a completely different possibility.

Not only has it never been more important to work on our mindset and habits, it’s also never been easier.

This unprecedented set of circumstances offers an unprecedented opportunity.

After all, what is it that has always kept us from making progress in the past?  We’re too busy. We’re running from thing to thing, over-committed and over-extended. No time to think, much less plan.

Well, many of us just became full-time telecommuters. Most of our social lives and recreational activities have ground to a halt.

With nowhere to go, we suddenly have more time on our hands. Almost too much time. We’re bored and restless.

Perfect.

When else do we have time to slow down and observe our thoughts? To insert a pause between the moment we feel an urge or impulse and the moment we respond to it–and see what’s really going on in there?

To be more intentional about what, when, and how much we are going to move, eat, work, and rest.  To put some real thought into how we are going to execute our plan. To try it out, analyze our results, tweak, and try again?

None of us have ever experienced anything like this.  And it will not go on forever.  But we can absolutely exit this crazy episode with better habits and mindset than we went into it with.

And, fortunately, we don’t have to do this alone.

In addition to the intensive work we’re doing with our members inside the Weighless program,  we’ll be in the Weighless Life Facebook group every day, teaching you how to use the Attention – Intention – Action cycle to manage your mind, take care of your body, and live the best life you can. No matter what’s going on in the world.

I hope you’ll join us.

Make “no quit” Your New Habit

A day or so after one of my favourite runners of all time came in fourth in the USA Marathon Olympic trials, Boston Marathon Champion, 2-Time Olympian, and NCAA All-American, Des Linden, posted this on Twitter.

Screenshot ot a Tweet from Des Linden

I share this for a few reasons:

  1. Des had every reason to feel defeated and down after barely missing a spot on the 2020 USA Olympic Marathon team but instead she focussed on the fact that she didn’t quit and kept pushing through.
  2. The idea that we can actually make a decision like “no quit” into a habit in our daily life is one that lends itself to success in many areas of life.
  3. If we don’t quit, we can make our worst days into barely a hiccup rather than a disastrous cascade of choices that don’t align with our goals.

You know, before folks join us in the Weighless program, one of the prevailing issues that we see repeated again and again, is that when a person hits a bump in the road and makes a misstep (like eating a cupcake at the office birthday party or being too busy to make it to the gym) that instead of accepting that they slipped up and get immediately back on track, they quit and throw caution to the wind for the remainder of the day – or the week – or the month – and they resign themselves to start again when they are “really ready.”

But what if they added “no quit” as a habit?

What if they simply shook off that momentary lapse and got right back on track? Well, then they would join us in taking their worst day and make it “not that far off their best day.” A day that would have otherwise turned into a stream of regrettable decisions would instead be a day where you missed your workout but went for a lunchtime walk instead. Or you ate the cupcake but then had a lovely piece of fish and a salad for dinner.

The truth is that every time we give ourselves an excuse to quit, we get better at quitting. But every time we don’t quit, we get better at pushing through.

Which one would you rather practice?