I attended a seminar a couple years ago where a number of successful entrepreneurs presented their systems and beliefs around why they believe they became so successful. One of the speakers said three phrases that really stuck with me, and has ultimately not only changed the way I view my world, but also the way I help my clients overcome their mindset “plateaus”. It helped me to understand choice fatigue in greater detail and develop strategies to overcome it. These three things were:
1. “All human beings ensure their behaviour is consistent with their perceptions of their identity”
2. “You cannot be what you do not already define yourself as”
3. “When I interrupted his perception of himself things changed”
We’ve just come out of the holiday season where so many excuses float around for losing sight of the health goals that have been set. January 1st inevitably rolls around, and New Years resolutions will start out strong, and then for most people things will begin to falter. I know people who have already “fallen off the wagon”! The reason so many New Years resolutions fail has everything to do with those three quotes listed above!
Everyone has their own opinion of who they are, and this identity opinion can be different for various settings. Because 96% of our thoughts, patterns and beliefs are unconscious, we are often unaware of why we do the things we do, and will make excuses to justify (or JUST-IF-I) our actions.
Let’s take one of the most common New Years resolutions for example – losing weight/getting fit/being healthy. When people drop off this resolution, the excuses are plentiful – “I didn’t like my trainer”, “I’m too busy”, “I’m a mum or dad, and my children come first”, “It’s too expensive” or “It wasn’t working, I didn’t see any changes”. You may consciously think these reasons are the truth, but in reality they are simply an excuse. If this has ever happened to you, it’s likely that you engaged in this self-sabotaging behaviour for one reason – you don’t believe that you are healthy/fit/thin.
Your identity opinion or default setting will always control your actions. Think of your brain like a GPS, whenever you hit “home” you’re going to return to how you started. Even if you have the best of intentions, until you change your default setting and believe yourself to ALREADY BE your goal (healthy/fit/successful etc.), you won’t achieve it.
So what is choice fatigue that I mentioned earlier? Choice fatigue is a principle that states that the more choices you make throughout the day, the more likely you are to divert back to your default setting or to make poor choices later in the day. Did you know that Barack Obama has ten of the exact same suit? Or that Mark Zuckerberg eats the same thing for lunch everyday? These two men have a number of important decisions to make throughout the day, so by making these changes to their routine and behaviour, they are able to remove at least one decision each day.
Let’s go back to the goal of getting healthy so I can explain choice fatigue in a different way. Say we have a businessman or woman who wants to get healthy, and this goal includes regular exercise or movement, and eating right (however their default belief is that they are unhealthy). They work in an industry where they are consistently making decisions throughout the day. They come home from work and have to choose between sitting down and watching TV (“relaxing” as they’ll call it) or going for a run/to the gym. They are more likely to choose watching TV than being active, despite their strong desire to become healthy. Or maybe they need to choose between cooking a healthy, nutritious dinner and ordering in take-away. What do you they’ll choose? If you said take-away you guessed right!
Now that you know WHY you self sabotage, how do you stop it from happening? There are three strategies I use with my clients:
1. Use the choice fatigue principle to your advantage
2. Removing self judgement
3. Implement choice structuring
You now know that the more decisions you make throughout the day, the more likely you are to make poor decisions later in the day. You can use this to your advantage by:
· Working out first thing in the morning – walk/run the dog or yourself, attend a morning bootcamp or yoga class, go for a morning swim – just GET UP and DO SOMETHING!
· Do your meal prep on the weekend when you’re less likely to have to make decisions. Buy all your food for the week on Sunday so you don’t have to worry about what to make for dinner or needing to grab something on the way home from work
· Make a list of the things you need to get done in a day and prioritize it. Start with the most important things first!
· Lay out your clothes for work the night before
· Pack your gym bag the night before
· Develop a Sunday night to Thursday routine so you create new patterns and habits
· Get up earlier (6am) and go to bed earlier (10pm)
We all know that life is going to happen. You’re going to be out at a dinner function one night and really want to eat something unhealthy on the menu or want to drink something sugary, or just stray from your goals in general. Firstly can I mention that this is OK! You’re a human being; you’re not a robot! Don’t be judgmental with yourself. It’s highly unlikely that you’d judge your best friend if they said to you “My goal this year is to get fit, but last night I ate a whole tub of ice cream”. So if you wouldn’t judge them, why judge yourself? Acknowledge what happened and move on. Be your own best friend and treat yourself as such!
The last strategy you can employ when you’re in these “life happens” situations is to use choice structuring. Basically you choose a person or character that has want your goal is. If you’re aiming to be healthy you might simply choose to model “a healthy person” or you might pick a known person – say Australian Fitness Icon Michelle Bridges. Or maybe your goal is to get your finances straightened out, you might choose to model Robert Kiyosaki. Then when you’re faced with a situation where you may revert to your default setting, you choose to play that character and ask yourself “what would a healthy person order?” or “what would Robert Kiyosaki do?” This strategy can help you give you more direction and confidence in making the choice that’s in line with your goals.