Monday, June 3, 2013

Self Control and Changing Habits

 I have been thinking a great deal lately about self control and decision making.  It is so very difficult to consistently make good decisions for ourselves and others.  There are so many temptations out there, and self control can be really tricky.  I know that I WANT to exhibit self control, but actually doing it is really hard. I always have believed that if we have a strong core philosophy on important issues, we will make strong decisions in critical times.  The key is to know where you stand before that decision needs to be made. I know, it seems like an odd line of thought for the early summer.  But, for me, a couple of things are going on that have led me in this direction. 

First, Dan Airly, the commencement speaker at NCSSM spent some quality time on this subject.  He made some great points in his remarks. (Find them at The things that particularly stuck with me were that we are faced with temptation and difficult decisions all the time.   Temptations like texting while driving, spending just a little more time on Facebook, looking at just one more you-tube video, and other fun and interesting technologies provide temptations for us and as technology grows, those temptations will get stronger.  (I remember hearing that we get a little dopamine hit in our brain whenever our phone lets us know we have received a text.  So, subconsciously, we all want that hit of ecstasy.)   And, that we are most likely to make good decisions when there is both a positive reinforcement to that action AND a negative reinforcement.  In other words, just knowing that we shouldn't text and drive isn't enough for most folks.  We need something more to actually show self control and make the best call for ourselves and others.  (There is much more in the speech, but these are the things that I have been thinking about.)

These ideas are particularly hitting me because I am in the midst of trying to lose some weight.  I know it is hard to believe that a 48 year old man has put on a few extra pounds in recent years.  But, alas, it is true.  And, my doctor has advised me to make a few changes and lose a few pounds. 

This has provided me a great deal of opportunity to think about decision-making and ideas surrounding self-control.  It is so doggone hard to exhibit self control for me when it comes to food and eating.  I have become very aware that that I have developed the HABIT of eating my stress away.  I have the HABIT of eating snacks after dinner.  I have the HABIT of thinking that just one extra piece of cake won’t hurt me.  You get the idea. 

So, here in the early part of the summer, I am trying to retrain myself to make good decisions.  I am trying to develop better habits.  I am trying to develop a new core philosophy about eating and weight. My journey has been interesting to date and I still have a ways to go.  A few months ago, I joined a “pedometer challenge” at my school.  Teachers and students were encouraged to wear a pedometer, join a team, and compete for the greatest number of steps over a 6 week period.  I joined and found that a 10,000 step daily goal was really good for me.  I could look at the pedometer and see just how active or non-active I had been in a normal day.  The results were really interesting.  I could swing anywhere from 17 or 18 thousand steps on an active day, to under 5000 steps on an office-heavy day.  Many evenings included a walk at the end of the day, just to get to a more respectable 8 or 9 thousand steps for my team.  In the end, our team won the challenge and I have continued to wear the pedometer every day.  I get a huge positive reinforcement from a high number at the end of the day and certainly get a negative hit from a low number.

Last weekend, I was visiting friends from high school and one of my buddies is also trying to drop a few pounds.  We decided to hold each other accountable through the summer and try together to get below 200 pounds.  (That will be almost a 20 pound drop for both of us and I haven’t seen the 190’s since college.)  He texted me a few days ago with some encouraging words and an update on his progress.  This has been an incredible motivator for me to make good decisions surrounding my eating. I want to hang with my old friend on this and see it through to success.  In essence, I don’t want to lose the “competition.”

So, to lose the weight, I am changing habits.  I am attempting to exhibit self control. I am avoiding sweets and carbs.  I am really cutting down on the pasta and bread.  I am trying to eat vegetables, fruit, and lean meats.  But, the big one for me is not eating after dinner.  I really like those evening snacks.  There is nothing quite like Trisquits and cheddar cheese while watching a game on tv.  I also love the ice cream at night.  I could keep naming stuff, but it is making me hungry!  You get the idea.  So far, so good. I haven’t had any after dinner food for a week and I have survived.  I am trying to change my habits.

Of course, exercise is part of it too.  But, that is easy for me as I love to exercise. I love to get on the bike, walk, hike, etc. And, now that school is out, I have some more time for this.  I am hoping that I can be really consistent throughout the summer.  I am pretty sure that I can.

The bottom line for me is that losing weight now is a representation, for me, of the ability to make good decisions.  It represents self control and good habits.  I have developed a core philosophy and now, I need to lean on that philosophy when the going gets tough.  I hope that I can finish this race.

For my students and my own kids, I realize that losing weight might not resonate with you.  Many of you don’t struggle with weight loss and eating habits.  But there are plenty of other decisions and temptations that face you now or will face you in the near future.  The question is whether you have taken the time to develop a core philosophy on important issues.  Where will you stand when you are faced decisions regarding drinking, relationships, speeding in a car, texting and driving, drugs, studying, time management, and others as you get older and have more freedom and choice?  Remember, the short term pleasure, isn’t always worth the long term consequences.  I have definitely learned this from a weight gain and weight loss perspective.  Actually, I have learned this from lots of different perspectives.  And of this I am certain: the best decisions are made when a core philosophy has been developed long ahead of time.


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