[Editor’s note: I requested that Gabe allow me the use of this platform once again. I wanted to share my thoughts on obstacles on the path to achieving our goals. He generously agreed to the request. The words below are all mine. –Stephanie]
If we had to pick a motto at Kaplifestyle, it would very likely be “take the first step.” While I’m not yet ready to get it tattooed on my body, it is a mantra I have wholeheartedly adopted. The full quote reminds us that seeing the entire picture isn’t necessary to take an initial action, trusting that the outcome will reveal itself more fully as we walk the path.
That first step, however, may be much more powerful than the end result. Learning to take it is often the hardest part. As I engage in deliberate and focused self-experimentation (and discuss the results with everyone reading here), I have come to learn the obstacles that I place in my own path.
We all have idealized goals. We want to look better, feel better, do better. We make New Year’s resolutions. And now, as the calendar turns to February, many of those fall by the wayside. We never truly took the first step down the road to achievement.
This doesn’t mean we’re bad people. When I was debating, I often would use the example of the dieter who truly wants to lose weight – then sits down for dinner at TGI Friday’s and can’t stop eating the deep fried mozzarella sticks and triple chocolate brownie sundae. Evolutionary psychology refers to these as first order (cheese sticks and gooey desserts) versus second order (wanting to be thinner) preferences, and it is really hard to resist the siren call of the first order.
This makes sense. The part of our brain that we share with lizards operates on a very simple reward system. If it feels good, do it. Fat, salt, sugar – all of these things taste good because, when we were first coming out of trees and walking on land, they signified a good source of calories for our bodies. The lizard brain hasn’t caught up to the influence of highly processed foods designed to press that reward lever more and more strongly. Our higher order thought processes, the ones that want to look good at the beach when summer rolls around, will typically lose an individual fight against the temptation of immediate rewards.
Note that nowhere in there is a discussion about not wanting it enough or about being too lazy to achieve your goals. Instead of simply trying to will yourself beyond millions of years of evolutionary programming, a little bit of planning can set you up for success. By identifying your failure points, you can avoid them or put strategies into place to compensate ahead of time. If the lizard brain doesn’t experience the temptation in the first place, there’s no fight to lose.
That may mean not going to TGI Friday’s in the first place or making a concerted effort to clean out the snack cabinet where the candy stash is. As an added bonus, the less you have to exert your willpower in resisting the chocolate, the more willpower you have for other things like making the decision to take a walk after dinner. When I’m in my “fasting” window during my intermittent fasting experiment, I don’t sit down at the bar when everyone else is eating Boston cream pie French toast for brunch. It won’t end well.
Personally, I know that I struggle with the decision to actually get up and do my swim. So I set up a system for myself. I told Gabe the night before I was starting my new routine and asked him to hold me accountable to it. The next morning, when I wanted to balk and say that I was starting the next day, or next week, or next year, he wouldn’t let me. He stills asks me “are you going for your swim today?” There’s really only one allowed answer to that question. If this sounds like an issue you’re having, find a partner – or tell us here at Kaplifestyle and check in regularly. We love to hear about your progress.
Moreover, I force myself to get up and do it immediately. If I sit back and think “oh, I’ll just wait another 10 minutes,” I don’t do it. I’m happier for having done it afterwards, but overcoming the inertia to get dressed, go out in the cold, and drive to the pool is a lot. I slip into thinking how much warmer it is under my blanket, how my joints feel sore, how crowded it might be. The litany of justifications begins, and I fail to take that day’s first step. The immediate reward of being comfortable is too strong. If I immediately get up as soon as a window of time opens, I cut off the narrative before it has a chance to begin.
In the moment, the lizard may win out, but you can outsmart him. With a little planning, you can identify the areas where you’re not able to take the first step, whether on that day’s staircase or your long term life goal’s.
What are your lizard brain moments?