Why We Don’t When We Know We Should

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The other day, I was watching the show My Diet is Better Than Your Diet.

It’s basically a competition, overweight folks are matched with creators of different diet programs. And they compete on who can lose the most weight each week.

And during the episode I watched the other day, this one contestant, Jeff, shared a story about how he never realized how big he got until he saw himself in a family photo.

Then it hit him. He had let his weight get way out of control.

But even though that photo shook him, his solution was to just avoid photos and mirrors. To try and be blissfully ignorant about the problem.

my diet is better than your diet contestant jeff

And I’m guessing that most of you know that same feeling Jeff had.

Obviously you’re not alone.

It happens time and time again. We catch a glimpse of ourselves in a photo or in a mirror and we hate what we see.

We’re instantly disappointed with our appearance: The tire around our waist, the jiggle in our arms or the beer belly sticking out into no man’s land.

We hate how we look and disappointed that we let ourselves get so out of control.

Now the good news – we know exactly what we need to do to get that control back. To lose weight, to be happy with ourselves again.

It’s not rocket science – it’s called diet and exercise.

So do we know the solution? Yes.

Do we follow the solution? Hell no.

We think we look like crap and that makes us feel like crap. And what do we do?

We just avoid all the mirrors and photos.

We wear the fat clothes from the closet.

We avoid seeing people that knew what the fit us looked like.

And we put on stretchy pants and order a pizza instead of getting our asses to the gym.

So what the heck?

WHEN WE KNOW WHAT TO DO, WHY DON’T WE DO IT?

Jeff isn’t alone in the struggle to bridge the gap between knowing and doing. We all have this gap in our mind – a cliff that makes it hard to jump from the knowing side to the action side.

And it’s because we have two different thought systems going on in our head.

THE TWO SIDES OF OUR BRAIN

On one side of our mind, we’ve got a mind like a child. A little snot-nosed kid that only knows how to do exactly what he wants in this exact moment. He doesn’t have past or forward thinking. He doesn’t remember that the last time he ate a dozen donuts, he felt like crap. And when those same donuts are placed in front of him again, he doesn’t think about how he’ll feel in about an hour. justin beiber being put in the car by his security guard

No, the donuts are there and he wants to eat them now. He makes decisions based on pure instinctual need for instant happiness.

Now the other side of the mind is that bratty kid’s mom. The one that does remember the past choices and can make assumptions about the future. The one that does remember those donuts made you feel like garbage and knows you’ll feel just as crappy if you eat them again. The rational mind that sees the donuts and thinks skip the donuts and get your lazy butt to the gym.

Every choice we face each day is either decided by that kid or that mom.

And I’ll give you one guess which side of your brain rules 90% of our choices – that’s right, the dang kid with no forward thinking skills.

We constantly make choices that will make our present self happiest, not our future self.   And that kid brain is especially powerful when we’re sad, angry or frustrated.

When we look in the mirror and we hate what we see, that kid brain serves a purpose – a quick happiness fix, even if it’s fake and fleeting.

We can pretend we don’t hate ourselves.

Pretend we’re happy.

Pretend life is all sunshine and unicorns.

man on a bike at the gym, with his head down looking frustratedBecause if we listened to that mom side, we’d have to accept our unhappiness. And we’d have to work freaking hard to get back to a place of real happiness – to make that leap from knowing to doing. Because changing your appearance doesn’t happen in minutes – it takes weeks and months of hard, sweaty, ball busting work. And that sure doesn’t sound as satisfying as stretchy pants and pizza.

We listen to the snot nosed kid over and over because it’s easy happiness. It requires no jump from knowing to doing.

SO HOW DO WE CHANGE WHO WE LISTEN TO?

It’s not an easy jump to make. There’s a lot that goes into this knowing-doing gap. Things like motivation, environment, support, habits – they all go into it.

But there are two different ways you can start bridging the gap.

You can 1. force that mom brain out or you can 2. try and shut that kid brain up.

Here’s what I mean:

In that TV show, Jeff avoided mirrors and photos so that he didn’t have to feel like crap.

So you know what his trainer did?

He put mirrors all over his house (especially on the fridge). That way everywhere he turned, he was reminded about how unhappy he was with his body.

mirros all over the roomNow, that might be a negative Nancy place to sit for awhile – constantly feeling disappointed and frustrated every time you see yourself. But it also can spark new motivation and continued discipline to follow your diet or exercise plan. To force that rational side of your brain to keep reminding you: okay, you can’t keep looking like this, you’ve got to do something different.  

Those mirrors become triggers to bring that mom brain out.  And that mom brain is what makes the jump from knowing to doing.

That’s one way.

The other way is to train that kid brain to shut up.

And we shut him up by giving him the quick rewards he wants even while we’re working on long-term goals – the goals that’s don’t always give you quick results.

One way to do this is Temptation Bundling.

Here’s how to do it:

Get a piece of paper. On one side, write down all of the temptations you enjoy, ones that don’t involve any kind of crap food rewards. Think deeper – what other kinds of things make you happy quickly?

On the other side of the paper, write down the specific steps that would get you to your long-term goals.

Overweight woman working out, doing pull ups to a barThe things that you know you should do, but you don’t really want to because they don’t give you that instant gratification– like exercise daily, eat vegetables at every meal, meal prepping on Sundays, etc.

Then pair up an instant reward with a long-term focused task.

When you do a task from the long-term side, like making it to the gym (good job mom brain), you get to have an instant reward, like watching House of Cards on Netflix – one that will made that dumb kid brain happy.

But the trick is, you don’t get to enjoy those temptations unless you finish the long-term goal task.

So if you made it to the gym today – awesome, enjoy your Netflix.people watching netflix, pop corn bowl on the table

If you skipped your workout, that sucks, no House of Cards for you today.

The mom and kid brains are both happy or both pissed. By bundling the instant rewards with the long term goals, you keep the mom and the kid brains happy – which keeps you happy and your goals progressing.

So if you’re not happy with how you look and you’ve got trouble bridging the knowing-doing gap, pick one of these strategies and start using it. Today. Not tomorrow, not next week – because delaying is just the pesky kid holding back your progress.

The longer you wait, the longer you’ll be unhappy.

Don’t let your kid brain hold you back from real, long-term happiness.

Got any other good tips for pulling out that rational brain? Share them in the comments below! 

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