I have always had a push-pull relationship with managing my weight and have been trying various things to magically change the single pack into a six or at least a four pack. Over the years I realized that most of the weight loss advice is pure bullshit.
Everything comes down to one thing - To lose weight, eat less than you burn and to gain weight eat more than you burn. I have detailed this in one of my earlier articles. I am no health expert and of course there are bad food and stuff, but simply put it boils down to caloric deficit.
While it is easy to say that motivation is the drive behind achieving a goal, author James Clear mentions that our motivation is to do the least difficult thing. He highlights this point in this boo Atomic Habits:
Our motivation is to be lazy and do whatever is convenient.
According to the book, this is in accordance with the Third Law of Behaviour Change - Make it easy. The first two being - Make it Obvious and Make it Attractive and the fourth being Make it Satisfying, those for another day. Every action or everything that we do involves spending energy. The possibility of that action taking place decreases as the energy required to do that activity increases.
To put this in a better perspective, to achieve any desired goal or an outcome it is essential to form a habit around it. If you are planning to lose weight, you need to be consistent on your workouts and eating habits. This might be difficult for most of us.Restricting food and going through the pain of workout are the hurdles to achieve your ultimate goal of losing weight.
So, every habit is an obstacle to the desired outcome or your goal. The habit is not what you want but the outcome. The easier you make a habit, easier it is to achieve the end result.
The influence of environment in any situation cannot be exaggerated. In the chapter 12 of Atomic Habits, James alludes to the book Guns, Germs and Steel which describes the influence of the shape of continents on the development of agriculture.
The east-west orientation of Asia and Europe helped farmers to domesticate and cultivate few similar crops across the vast area since the climatic conditions were the same across the same latitude. But the Americas had a north-south orientation and there was a great difference between the climate along the length of the continent. This resulted in farmers having to domesticate different crops for different regions and seasons. Again - Make it Easy in effect here.
During the 70s Japanese TV producing factories were much more efficient due to the design optimizations in the workspace of the workers which enabled the factory workers to assemble TV sets much faster. This made the Japanese TV sets more reliable and American workers took about three times more time to assemble a TV compared to their Japanese counterparts.
To put this in practice, it is essential to craft an environment around us that supports the habit that we are planning to form. Having a snack box next to your table doesn’t help contribute to the weight loss habit. Similarly having access to all the social media does not help when you sit down to write an article.
Crafting an environment around you that makes certain good decisions is a way to avoid going off the track on your good habits. Eating in smaller plates will help in eating less portions and using a website or social media blocker that prevents access to these distracting sites will discourage you from spending time on them.
While I am writing this article, I have YouTube and other social sites blocked using an app called SelfControl for Mac where you can add the list of distracting sites and set a timer. Once you set the times, you cannot access these sites even if you restart the computer or uninstall the app. The time has to run out. There are also other apps and extensions that either prevent you from accessing a site or adds a pause of few seconds to let you evaluate whether you really need to go into the site.
I have also stopped bringing up snacks to my room to avoid the temptation to eat them. Before the lock down started, I had also deleted all the food delivery apps on my phone to avoid getting into the habit of ordering when bored 😜
Now I need to go on the web app and login to order something which in itself creates a delay and inertia in the ordering process. By making the process of accessing food difficult, it makes it easier to avoid eating junk.
Modifying your environment to include the habit as a part of regular activities also enables setting up a better pattern to follow through. If you are planning to finish reading a book, keep it somewhere where you can see it and remind yourself to pick it up and read it.
I have been doing some HIIT workouts at home and I keep my workout shoes and mat to make the process of getting ready for workout as easy as possible without any friction. If I keep the shoes in the shoe rack in the ground floor, there is a greater inertia in going own and getting them to prepare for the workout.
Similarly to ensure that I am hydrated during these long work from home sessions, I get bottles of water from the fridge downstairs to my room. Else I might skip a drink because of the energy it requires to go down.
What seems like lack of motivation or willpower can often be attributed to the design of the environment. If subtle changes can be made, it would be easier to follow through on those goals sitting in the backlog.