“These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.”
With one sentence and a simple waving of his hand, Obi Wan Kenobi became the coolest guy in the world to 5-year-old Steve.
I couldn’t help but wonder how great it would be to possess the powers of the Force like this Jedi master, getting in or out of situations that I couldn’t normally, simply through the powers of persuasion.
Now, unfortunately the Force has yet to be officially discovered in this Galaxy (or has it?), but it doesn’t mean we can’t actually use Jedi mind tricks on OURSELVES to live healthier lives.
Although you’ll hear everywhere that “eating less and moving more is the key to losing weight,” I would argue that conquering the mental battle before the physical one is the real key to weight loss and healthy living.
Here’s what I mean: our brains are incredible pieces of technology, and they tend to get in the way of our quest to get healthy.
Whether it’s eating too much accidentally, or tricking ourselves into rationalizing and justifying unhealthy behavior, our brains have the ability to move us towards a better life, or closer to the dark side.
Here are 5 of my favorite tactics you can use to Jedi mind-trick yourself into living better.
Use smaller glasses, plates, and bowls
Yup, I realize this sounds absolutely crazy.
The problem with that argument is that this actually works.
Back in February I was down in Brazil for Carnival (crossing a few things off the Epic Quest) staying in hotels in a few different spots throughout the country, and realized something peculiar: all of their plates, bowls, and cups were TINY! They had breakfast buffets, like we do in the US, (with a lot of the same unhealthy foods that we have) but there was a few key differences:
- The glasses that you could use for drinking juice? Maybe 4 ounces.
- The plates to get your food? The size of a side plate.
- The bowls for cereal? Smaller than our soup bowls.
Compare this to a typical American setup: massive plates designed to allow you to stack your food sky high, bowls so large you could fit an Ewok in them, and glasses/cups that will hold massive amounts of your favorite beverage.
Right now, you’re thinking “Steve, that’s ridiculous. If they are smaller plates, I’d just get two or make an extra trip.” Or maybe, “Here in America, the plate size doesn’t matter, I eat until I’m full.”
To that, I reply, “OH REALLY FOOL!?”
It turns out, we are pretty bad at being consciously aware of the food we eat — by simply tinkering with your plate or cup, you will eat more or less and not even know it!
“Prove it, Kamb!” you might be saying. Sure.
Researchers at Cornell University wanted to test serving size and overconsumption of movie theater popcorn. They told movie goers they wanted to ask them questions about the m0vie afterwards, and they would be given free popcorn before. Some people were given a medium or large size tubs of fresh popcorn, while others were given a medium or large size tubs of 14-day old stale popcorn. What happened?
- People with large tubs of fresh popcorn ate 45.3% more than people with medium sized tubs.
- People with large tubs of STALE popcorn? They ate 33.6% more than those with medium sized tubs.
IT WAS 14 DAY OLD POPCORN!!! It looks like size does matter. If you struggle with portion control, shrink the size of the serving devices you use when feeding yourself.
Not only that, but I believe this study has shown us something else as well:
Practice Mindful Eating
Think back to yesterday: how many times did you eat a meal or snack while doing something else?
I bet it went something like this:
- Ate breakfast while watching the news and checking email
- Ate a snack at my desk while checking email and working on a project
- Ate lunch during a meeting and listened to Jim talk about TPS reports.
- Ate some candy at Carol’s desk while taking a break
- Ate dinner in front of the TV watching Duck Dynasty
- Late night snack while playing Bioshock: Infinite
Notice a pattern? We have become so indoctrinated with multitasking and doing so many things at once that it’s crept into our eating habits.
Now, as you’ve seen from the previous research study about mindless eating while at a movie, where moviegoers ate buckets of 14-day old stale popcorn, eating while also performing another task is a great way to overeat yourself to extra calories.
In another experiment, researchers gave soup to two groups of people. The catch? One of the groups’ bowls were secretly being refilled as they ate! The people who ate from the rigged bowls ate 73% more soup, and didn’t rate themselves as being more full! The best part? They didn’t even notice they ate almost twice as much! As the author put it, “In effect, people use their eyes to count calories and not their stomachs.”
Plus, it turns out, distracted eaters actually do consume more calories than people who are focused on eating.
I challenge you this: today, you are only allowed to EAT. You cannot “Eat and ________.”
You can have a conversation with the people at your table if you’re eating a meal with your family or friends, but that’s it:
- No eating at your desk while working.
- No eating while watching TV.
- No eating while checking email on your phone.
- No eating while gaming (besides, you’re mucking up the controller. Stop that!)
If you are going to eat something you need to be focused on JUST EATING. Think about what you’re putting into your body, and enjoy each bite.
Speaking of bites…
Advanced food tactics
Another batsh** crazy idea that doesn’t make a lot of sense, until you think about it:
According to results published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, chewing food 40 times instead of a typical 15 times caused study participants to eat nearly 12 percent fewer calories. Now, I take every “study” I read with a major amount of skepticism: after all, I don’t believe there’s any physiological change that results from chewing food more often.
At least not directly.
Instead, I believe this tactic works because it forces you to do a few important things:
- Enjoy/savor your food. Rather than engulfing your meal in five minutes and moving on as quickly as possible, you’re actually taking the time to enjoy each bite of it.
- Eat slowly. It is said that it takes around 20 minutes or so for our brain to get the message from our stomach that it’s full. When you eat a meal in five minutes, your brain never gets that message! If you SLOW down, and lengthen the time it takes you to eat, your brain gets that message sooner and you’ll feel full sooner.
Now, this tactic is predicated on not changing what you eat, but rather the quantity of food you’re consuming. Although not all calories are created equal, we’re huge fans of small changes, and adjusting quantity of food is a great first step.
Another tactic that works for this? Putting your fork down between every bite. A challenge, for sure, but it makes you stop and think, “do I really need to eat this whole thing? Am I full?”
Create a trigger for change
My friend Derek Halpern wanted to kick his horribly addicting soda habit.
Derek is one of the most driven, successful, and intelligent people I know, and yet he couldn’t get healthy. Sound like anybody you know? Really smart, but can’t seem to break an unhealthy habit or cycle?
Fortunately for Derek, he’s a student of psychology, and understood the importance of making a trigger for himself. He simply made one tiny change to his life that lead him to dropping high calorie drinks and losing fifteen pounds.
What was the change?
He put his scale in front of his refrigerator.
Every time he went to the fridge to get another soda, he had a subtle reminder that he was trying to lose weight, and that he probably didn’t need that extra soda. It reminded him that he was working towards something.
He’d go to open the fridge, see the scale, and ask himself, “do I REALLY need another one?”
What sort of trigger can you add to the habit you’re trying to break or build? Because we are constructed of our habits, creating a change requires us to be mindful of that habit for the first 30 days or else the habit won’t stick. We use up willpower when we make a new habit, so we need to be reminded of that habit constantly with a trigger or mental switch of sorts.
I use post-it notes as my triggers. I post them them EVERYWHERE:
- Bathroom mirrors – “I FLOSS AFTER BRUSHING MY TEETH”
- Counter tops- “I AM NEVERY LATE TO ANYTHING”
- Laptop – “I WALK AROUND EVERY 15 MINUTES”
- Desk – “DO IT NOW”
When I’m building a new habit, I use these post it notes to remind myself of the habit I’m trying to create.
You can do the same: create a reminder (post-it notes, a calendar reminder, an app with pop-up notifications, whatever!) that allows you to stay on target.
Increase the steps between you and a bad habit
This one might be my favorite.
Instead of trying to outsmart yourself with Jedi mind tricks, use your own laziness to your advantage.
A friend of mine felt like he was addicted to television and watched WAY too much of it.
Want to know what his solution was?
He put his TV in his closet.
When he came home from work and wanted to plop down on the couch to watch some mindless reality show, he had to ask himself: “Do I care enough about this show to get up, open the closet, take out the TV, plug it back in, set it up, and then turn it on?”
For many occasions, the answer to that was “hell no, that’s a lot of work, I’ll just read a book or do ANYTHING ELSE instead.”
If you are trying to break a bad habit, increase the number of steps between you and that task:
- Don’t keep cookies on the counter. Put them in a container, in the closet, or downstairs. Out of sight, out of mind.
- Perform a great purge. Chuck all of the bad food in your house. Tough to cheat by eating bad foods when you have to get into your car and drive to the store just to get them. Less willpower required when they’re not in your cabinets!
- Cancel your cable. If you want to watch your favorite shows, purchase them for 2 bucks on iTunes or watch on Hulu or Netflix. Tough to spend extra time watching crappy shows on TV when you are legitimately unable to do so, or have to fork over cash each time!
- Turn on Self-Control. (or Self-Restraint for PC) Addicted to going to Facebook, Twitter, and Perez Hilton at work? Being less than productive? Turn on Self-Control so you are locked out of those sites until your work is done. This is the tactic I’ve used to increase my productivity by 100000% (approximately).
Don’t turn off your targeting computer until you’re ready
Young Jedi, there are still things you must learn before you can save the Galaxy.
We’re damn smart creatures, and unfortunately we allow our brains to drift when it should be mindful. We allow our brains to rationalize the irrational and justify the unjustifiable.
We need to use our targeting computer during the first month of building a new habit, until that habit becomes automatic and we can turn it off.
For that reason, I recommend only picking one or two tactics from above to implement at once for the next thirty days. REMEMBER: our goal isn’t to drop a bunch of weight quickly and miserably, only to put it all back on two months later.
Our goal is to have life long success, happiness, and bring balance to the Force.
What are your favorite mind-tricks to help keep yourself on task?
Which ones did I miss out on?
Leave a comment with your answers, and may the Force be with you, always.
Running in The Great Tribal Chase around Sydney, Mitch dominated the competition, obliterating the course record by two hours. Unfortunately, after the race it was determined that his Nerd Fitness shirt qualified as a performance enhancer, and Mitch was disqualified.
Not that I’m surprised, my shirt gave me the power of levitation…
Okay, so maybe none of those things happened.
But Mitch did kick some serious ass in the Great Tribal Chase!