Author’s Note: I’m currently in the process of migrating old blog posts to this new system. That may mean some links, syntax highlighting, and other details are broken or missing temporarily. Sorry for the inconvenience!
I wake up. At least, I think I wake up. One of the wonderful things about eschewing an alarm clock is that you stop paying attention to the boundary between sleep and wakefulness. In any case, I’m awake. I reach over to grab my phone.
My phone shouldn’t be there. It shouldn’t belong in this room. But I’m weak, and I caved, and Reddit and YouTube and Twitter are flooding into my eyes as I reassure myself once again that yes, the internet still exists.
Hop out of bed. In some strange, half-crawling way. As if trying to climb the air. I should get a bed frame. Not just live with this mattress on the floor - a reality born out of fear of buyer’s remorse. And laziness. But I tell myself it’s frugality.
Into the bathroom, and sliding the scale out from the wall into the middle of the room. I bet normal-sized people don’t need to pull out their scales. But I’m not flat, and I need the space. It’s a digital scale. It uploads my weight to the cloud. I like that. It means I don’t have to carry my weight around with me. It flickers up a number. Then the number changes a bit.
Why does it do this? It’s digital right? It can just wait until it knows. But instead it wobbles back and forth, adding five pounds, subtracting four, oscillating back and forth. Finally it flashes, settling on a number.
It’s not a great number. And it’s been a week since it’s been a great number. My shoulders slump. I’ve hit a plateau.
Lessons from not smoking cigarettes
Don’t pick up a smoking habit. Please. Do whatever you can to avoid ever picking up a smoking habit. Not only do you have a smoking habit, but you have the self-hatred of having a smoking habit. There’s nothing that even begins to make the addiction worthwhile.
But fighting against cigarettes gave me a pretty cool new strategy for changing habits. I’ve talked about it before, but it comes down to two very simple ideas:
- Create simple, hard-and-fast rules that don’t rely on motivation
- Spend any motivation making it easier to follow the rules in the future
It’s easy to have enthusiasm for making your life better. It’s even easier to wake up with that enthusiasm drained. And if the change relies on motivation, you’re going to have bad days. Don’t use a system vulnerable to bad days.
Meal Prep Sunday
I have a diet, but only one day a week. On Sundays, I care about nutrition, and recipes, and all that jazz. Every other day, I don’t have a diet. I don’t have a calorie limit; I don’t have to avoid certain foods; I don’t have to track my macros. What I do have is a very simple rule:
- Eat the food you prepped last Sunday
That’s easy to follow. In fact, it’s easier than ordering pizza. Ordering pizza requires brain power. It requires mental effort. Which pizza? Breadsticks? Where did I put my credit card? I don’t like that. The meal prep containers are less work. Stick it in the microwave, and you’re done. No thought involved.
I’ve made eating healthy the laziest possible option available
The strategy seems to work. Make a simple rule. Then make the rule stupid easy to follow. Have some energy to spare? Good! Don’t increase the goal, don’t do anything crazy. Spend the time trying to make the rule even easier (shoutout to Meal Prep Shopping Saturday).
But the plateau
Back to me, standing on that scale, being frustrated. Plateaus sound awesome. You’re climbing some crazy mountain, and suddenly there’s this wonderful little rest stop. You can make camp, relax, regain your strength on your journey to the summit.
Weight loss plateaus feel more like abandonment. All the same occasional hunger pangs, the same exercise, but the fun part - the encouraging part - it’s gone. And in its place are some interesting new voices. The Maybe-This-Is-A-Good-Place-To-Stop guy. The You-Know-If-You-Just-Don’t-Eat-Anything-You’re-Bound-To-Lose-More-Because-Physics-Right? gal. The You-Should-Have-A-Cheat-Day-NO-A-CHEAT-WEEK-TO-RESTORE-YOUR-METABOLISM person.
And each day they start to make a bit more sense. This isn’t the relaxing type of plateau. This is the hellish type of plateau. The wandering-in-the-desert biblical plateau.
But what those voices don’t know is: I’m not vulnerable to them. I don’t need to feel good about myself. I don’t need to feel like I’m making progress. It’s nice when it happens, but it is no longer necessary. To hell with motivation; I’m taking the lazy option: following the damned rules.
The plateau broke yesterday, though I’m sure there’ll be more in the future. That’s fine. I’m ready.