I used to be a slave to the chocolate overlords.
In my old job, every day at 3pm, I’d make a quick coffee. We had a Nespresso machine at my office, so when I started making my coffee I’d have a few seconds to kill. I would open a drawer right above the machine and grab a mini chocolate bar as I waited. Usually a Mars. When the coffee was done, I’d grab another bar and head back to my desk. Lovely stuff. Sugar high in tow, I’d be good until the end of the day.
So, at this stage, I was eating two mini chocolate bars a day. Let’s multiply that out — that’s 10 a week. 40 a month. Around 2000 a year! What does 2000 mini chocolate bars a year look like?!
A shit tonne of chocolate, a few trips to the dentist and you can say goodbye to those washboard abs.
As Annie Dillard says — ‘how you spend your days is how you spend your lives’. Multiplying out a habit and thinking of the cumulative impact can give you a new perspective and help you take some positive action.
Multiplying out a habit and thinking of the cumulative impact can give you a new perspective and help you take some positive action.
Do I really want to continue eating at a rate of 2000 mini chocolate bars a year?
Remember, real life doesn’t start tomorrow. It’s happening right now. There’s no point giving up the chocolate next week, next week is probably just going to feel a whole lot like today.
Binary rules are number 01
So I’m sold on cutting back on this sugar but how do I approach it? This is where the wisdom of some of my favourite thinkers come in. Dan Ariely refers to his ‘binary rules’ and for Derek Sivers it’s ‘directives’, but the ideas are pretty similar.
We already have our own cognitive biases, which are essentially mental shortcuts that help (and sometimes hinder) us make quick decisions in particular circumstances. So how about we tap into that and create a few new ones?
Derek‘s directives are his rules for life. For example, ‘act calm and kind regardless of how you feel’. You can read more of his directives here. Dan Ariely’s rules are even more relevant to this situation though. My favourite example of his is the ‘spinach in teeth rule’. Any time he sees someone with spinach in their teeth, his rule is — he tells them. No more agonising over the awkwardness!
For me? My new rule became — ‘I don’t eat chocolate from that cupboard’. That’s it. The first few days — it was pretty hard, the reflex action is to go to the cupboard. But after about a week, maybe two — it just felt weird. Like going to the cupboard was just a thing I didn’t do. And that was it, it worked. Simple, kinda stupid, but extremely effective for small habit changes.
Did I go off sugar altogether? Not as such, but the odd cookie from the café around the corner (love your work Foxtrot!) was certainly a lot better for me than two mini chocolate bars a day.
Three life lessons from eating small chocolate bars
So there you go, who knew that eating mini chocolate bars could hold three life lessons in it.
- When you think about habits, remember to multiply them out
- Real life doesn’t start tomorrow
- If you want to change habits, make (binary) rules
Sidenote: I still don’t have those washboard abs :(