Failing to Prepare is Preparing to Fail, Pt. 2

By Jimmy Warden

As promised, here is part two of the series, Failing to Prepare is Preparing to Fail.

Our Nutrition

Ultra-processed foods make up most of the modern American diet, and they are a major factor in why obesity rates are sky high, according to Hall and Kahan (2018). A lot of people are trying to make shifts in their food consumption; they’re trying to incorporate more whole foods, and even organic foods, when possible. But when whole and organic foods are scarce, processed foods are not. This is the main reason why a lot of people eat processed foods. They’re more readily available, and they’re much cheaper than fresh, organic produce.

It's easy to eat processed foods all day.
It’s easy to eat processed foods all day

This is when preparation comes into play. If we are trying to eat healthily, we must have a plan for how to do that. It could be going to the grocery store on a specific day or time when we know the store will be stocked with what we’re looking for, or it could be a subscription to fresh pre-prepared options. Regardless of which one it is, a system needs to be present.

And that’s only one-third of the battle. The other two-thirds is cooking and eating.

Cooking a healthy meal takes time. It’s a task that we don’t want to take on after a long day because we’ve convinced ourselves we don’t have the energy for it. And if we don’t cook that nutritious food, there’s usually nothing of nutritional value to eat at home.

That’s another big reason why we flounder with our nutrition. We don’t follow through with cooking meals for ourselves and those we live with, so we don’t have anything good to eat, and when that happens, we resort to convenient options. It’s much easier to pick up the phone for delivery or takeout or hop in the car and go through a drive-through because it just takes enough energy to tell someone else what you want.

Drive-throughs make life easy in the moment, but there are long-term setbacks.
Drive-throughs make life easy in the moment, but there are long-term setbacks

So if we’re trying to improve our health through nutrition, we have to create a three-step plan: when we’re going to purchase our food, when we’re going to cook it, and when we’ll eat.

Our Personal Development

Depending on who we are, we have different areas of personal development we’re working on, but a lot boils down to habits and lifestyles. We tend to start out strong with high levels of enthusiasm, but that quickly fades away. Why? Friction and impulse.

Not friction in the literal sense, but in the figurative sense. There could be a lack of friction or a lot of it. A lack of it could look like the person who says they’re not going to eat any more sweets for a while, but they have ice cream sandwiches in their freezer (full disclosure, that was me recently, so please don’t take any of what I’m saying personally). It could also be the smoker who says they’re going to stop smoking, but they keep their lighters and all the other items they use to smoke. So if we’re trying to kick a habit or stop living a certain lifestyle, we must increase the friction (Clear, 2018).

With friction, however, impulse lurks behind. Let’s imagine you’re living one of the scenarios I just mentioned. Let’s say you take that step forward and get rid of your ice cream sandys or your smoking materials. What’s the first thing you’re probably going to experience? The impulse to dig them out of the trash or go get more because you’re going to feel a personal loss.

Impulsive pleasure can lead to major setbacks
Impulsive pleasure can lead to major setbacks

No, feeling loss doesn’t mean you’re crazy. It means you were highly accustomed – some may say addicted – to those habits or lifestyle choices. That feeling of loss is a large reason why people get back on sugar or start smoking again. When that feeling is present, it makes it that much easier to succumb to impulse.

In general, impulsive decisions set us back. They’re counters to the habits and life we’re trying to cultivate, but our ability to resist impulse moves forward. Most people rely on willpower to do this by saying to themselves they won’t engage in the activity. Unfortunately, willpower fades over time, so it’s crucial to have systems to use when our willpower gets extinguished. And that brings us back to friction.

To resist buying sweets or smokes on your drive home, leave your debit card at home when you go to work in the morning. When you go shopping, don’t go down the aisle of temptation. That way, you won’t see sugary treats. Next time you get gas, don’t go into the store. Buy it at the pump. That way, you won’t see cigarettes. This increases the level of friction between us and the impulsive decision. I know it will take willpower, but with steady practice, it will become habitual.

Perseverance will get us where we want to go.
Perseverance will get us where we want to go.

At the end of the day, we don’t rise to the occasion; we fall to the level of our systems (Clear, 2018). So let’s make sure we have the best damn systems we can to ensure we’re prepared for what life throws our way.

References

Clear, J. (2018). Atomic Habits: An easy and proven way to build good habits and break bad ones. Avery, Penguin Random House.

Hall, K., Kahan, S. (2018). Maintenance of lost weight and long-term management of obesity. National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5764193/

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