A woman recently called my program wanting to know why she couldn’t maintain a diet and exercise regime. I asked her, “Do you know the difference between you and a person who doesn’t stop?” “No,” she responded. “They don’t stop,” I said.
There are two ways we make choices. The first way is reflective. In the moment, we are consciously aware of our actions and motivations, and we make a choice with a goal in mind. The other is reflexive. Similar to lower animals, we don’t change our behavior because of the consequences; we don’t stop to think at all really, we just do it like some kind of machine. For example, many people sit down with a plate of food and don’t make choices about what’s on the plate or how much of each thing they’re eating – they just eat.
Routine behaviors are very hard to control. However, the more you make things reflective and consciously parallel your behavior with your goals, the easier it will be for you to achieve them.
Last year, a man called my show who was struggling with pornography. Wherever he was – in his office, car, etc. – his reflex was to look at porn and masturbate. I told him to photocopy pictures of his wife and kids and put them on his cell phone, the visor of his car, and every computer he owned. I then said, “The next time you’re preparing to masturbate to porn, look at the pictures of your family and make a choice. Do you want to have dignity as a husband and father, or do you want to do that?”
He called me back a week later saying that when he reflected on it, he chose not to do it. When he didn’t reflect on his actions, he grabbed for the porn and his parts. Taking the behavior from automatic to conscious was all about reflecting on the behavior and making a choice.
Unfortunately, a lot of people want immediate gratification and do most things without thinking. More than half of deaths worldwide are due to four big diseases: cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and chronic respiratory disease. The main causes are smoking, overeating, excessive alcohol consumption, and sedentary lifestyles. It’s estimated that 75 percent of diabetes and heart disease cases and 40 percent of cancers would be prevented by changing the behaviors that cause them.
With all the information out there, you wouldn’t think so many people would make such poor health choices. And yet, they do. Remember the ads with the woman smoking through a hole in her trachea? Remember the “this is your brain on drugs” commercials with the egg frying in the pan? Well, even after seeing these, people are still smoking and doing drugs. Personalizing the threat isn’t enough.
One time I asked a waitress in a restaurant if she thought the calorie counts printed on the menu affected people’s decisions about what they ate. She candidly responded, “To fit people, yes. But to overweight people, the calorie count means nothing.”
The reason people don’t make healthy choices simply comes down to the fact that they don’t reflect on their decisions. Information by itself means nothing if you don’t care. That’s one explanation for why there are so many diet books on The New York Times best-seller list: people buy the books thinking that simply reading them will get them to change and when they don’t, they move on to the next one.
So the next time you sit down for a meal, reflect, “Is this what I should be eating? How much should I be eating? Which things on my plate should I toss?” Make a conscious effort to cut your portion size in half, and eventually, it will become habit to put less on your plate. As I have said time and again, it’s all about character. Some people use theirs and others don’t.
What will you choose to do?