1. The Elephant and the Rider
There is a story that I will summarise here about an elephant and a rider making their way along a trail in Africa. The rider represents our conscious mind and the elephant, the subconscious. Our conscious mind plans and thinks logically to lead the elephant in the best direction. Our conscious mind thinks it is in control of our subconscious mind, but just like the rider of an elephant, the rider cannot completely control the elephant. The elephant is far too strong and if it did not obey the rider’s instructions, there is little that the rider can do.
Sometimes our subconscious mind can get out of control when we are not thinking consciously. This is why exercise and eating mindfully work so well. With practice you can also predict when your conscious mind is about to lose control and take steps to prevent it. This is where we need to train our subconscious ‘elephant’ to fall into good habits, or give the rider a break to recover and rejuvenate so that he doesn’t become completely exhausted. It is easy to let the subconscious take over when we see a negative result on the scales or after one glass of alcohol or a poor food decision but that is the time to put the rider back in charge. You’ve had your fun, now get back to the plan – the long term plan.
2. The Can of Shaving Cream
The tricky thing about a can of shaving cream is that you never know when it is going to run out. There is no warning, no measure, no time limit. Our will power operates in a very similar way. It is well established in the scientific literature that will power is finite. Our ability to make decisions even over seemingly trivial matters like what to wear and what time to wake up and what route to take to work all take a toll on our will power. This explains why to some degree, why you can become completely exhausted at the end of the day or on a Friday afternoon. This exhaustion can precipitate some really poor decisions being made before we can top up our will power again. It is important to develop strategies that will support you when your will power is low or exhausted. Taking the time now to implement an action plan can save you from making some big mistakes and undoing all of your hard work in the future. It is one thing to come up with a healthy plan that works. That is hard enough. But to come up with a plan that can be repeated over and over and over again without exhausting your will power is beyond difficult. If you can create a psychology to match your physiology, then you are on a path to success.
The problem with diets is that they often put an overt amount of pressure on you. A high calorie deficit, restrictions on certain food groups and subsequent low energy levels can all lead to the type of exhaustion outlined in these 2 stories above. It is no wonder that high pressure dietary practices lead to failure, especially in the long term. Take care of your will power and set realistic goals and you are setting yourself up for long term, sustainable success.