We think we need self-control


We think we need self-control.
Keep our desires in check. Count calories and abstain from things that are not good for us.

We have to force ourselves not to fall for temptation and we believe that people that succeed, that doesn’t gain weight, that excersize regularly, finish all their projects and live a seamless life, somehow, they have character traits we don’t have, they are more disciplined or have stronger will power.

But what if this is plain wrong? What if it is the other way around.

What if it is the fact of trying to control ourselves, forcing ourselves to abstain. Dragging ourselves to the gym even though we hate it or diet just to avoid anxiety and in the same time creating new anxiety. To force ourselves to eat “healthy” food that taste like cardboard, just because it is good for us. What if it is this behaviour that causes us to fail?

What if it is the force and fake discipline that we put ourselves under that makes us fall for temptation every time. What if our body and psyche responds to this slavery by creating a desire for sugar or pleasures that turn into bad habits, make us crave the wrong food or to avoid food altogether?
Maybe it is this force that kills our lust and joy for life and to cope with that, we crave all these things?

But, we dare not take a chance. We are so scared that if we let go there will be no end to our indulgence.
Because we have learnt from birth, that if we want results, we have to put in a lot of effort. And we use this strategy in everything we do.

What if our lives will automatically regulate itself if we just stop putting our nose where it doesn’t belong?

That must be too good to be true.



What is it really, that creates change?

In my last post, I wrote about changing habits. But if it was that easy, wouldn’t we all have changed our bad habits a long time ago?
I think what I wrote to be good advice. It sounds reasonable and attracts us. But the question is if that is the case because it is the whole truth or because it means we can procrastrinate a little bit more? We can set up a plan. Step by step. Steps are easy to like.

But, when do we actually decide? When is the point of decision? When have we had enough?

Our reactions is a mix of our biology, prior experiences in relationship to the current situation. But we had no control on where we were born or in what environment. Who had I been if I was born in China? Would I have had the same view on life? The same values or opinions?
We may say we chose a certain education, a direction in life or that we chose to go to a certain country. But why did we chose that? Did we choose it because of prior experiences? People we met, or books we’ve read? And why did we meet just those people? Why did we read those books? Two people can be in the same spot at the same time, meet the same person or read the same book, yet still have a completely different experience. Why is that?
Every situation is unique. Despite them being apparently the same.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that who I think I am, is more a coincidence than something within my control. All my prior decisions or actions is based on prior decisions and actions, which are based on prior experiences, based on prior decisions and actions.
At the end of that line, who am I? Is there something here making decisions at all? Is there free will? Or are we just like a river. A blob of water following the law of least resistance on it’s way to merge with the ocean?

According to Benjamin Libet, he proves through his research on human conciousness and free will that our brain has already made decisions prior to us becoming aware of it. That processes in our brain has already chosen a direction up to seven seconds before we think we make the decision.
We can choose (or can we?) to not believe in this, quesiton the validity of his methods. But in any case, it brings up questions about something that almost everyone of us takes for granted.

So, if we decide to change our habits. From where does that decision come? How was it made, did we have any control over it? Or is it just something that happened?
And if it just happened, is it then important to write about it? Talk about it? Does it matter wether I write this or not? Or, maybe, by writing this, someone reads it and in that moment, something is triggered in that person. A change is created beyond the control of a someone writing it or reading it.

If this is so, it’s easy to think that nothing no longer matters. There is no point in living or doing anything. But asking yourself that question brings you, immediately back to motivation. Are we motivated because we want to do something, or because life is self-motivating? Maybe I’m writing this, not because I want to or having decided to do so, but just because I do. The law of causality is no longer working. First there is an event happening, then, after there is an explanation saying that we wanted to or that we made a decision. Our experience of control and autonomy is a fabrication, an illusion.

The logical next step is that we really have no control at all. It is not possible to act in any other way than we do. Nothing can be undone and we can be no other than we are. It may sound depressing, but it also bring a huge sense of freedom. Suddenly, all concepts of guilt or shame disappear, thoughts that are based on the idea that we could have acted in any other way than we did. Suddenly our worry disappear that we might not act in the future the way we want to or hope for. Suddenly our pride of past actions and achievements becomes meaningless. The constant focus on what has been or what will be.
Our experience is no longer about things outside of our control and instead on the here and now, being in every situation as it is.

Maybe it is not at all about changing habits in small steps. Figuring out how to create change or make decisions. Maybe it is rather so that we stop worrying about it, live each second fully and suddenly change happens by itself.

How to change bad habits

Habits are strong forces.

Everyone who has bad habits knows that. And don’t we all have bad habits?

But maybe, habits seem to be strong forces because we don’t know how they work, and instead spend our time fighting these habits. Wasting our energy, trying to change them, because we don’t understand how we got them or how to change them. I’m no expert on the subject, but I have found new good habits that are easy to stick too. And because of this, I have started to think about them. Among other things, I’m reading the blog Zenhabits.net, where Leo Babauta is writing about creating new, good habits. Check it out if you want some inspiration.?I believe that if we can understand how we got here, how habits work, we can use these same strategies to create good habits instead of remaining stuck in the bad ones.

I believe habits is not things of the past, something we got stuck with, but something we unconsciously reinforce right now, in the tiny decisions being made all the time without our conscious awareness. If we want to change something, we need to do it in equally small steps. One change at a time, one now at a time, letting it take time. You don’t go from nothing to running a marathon tomorrow. You start today, by going for a short run. You might have a long term goal of running a marathon in a year, but the important thing is wether you go for that run now or not. If you never do that run now, if you never begin, you will always remain where you are.
Usually there is an effort involved in the beginning, but as we get over the first horizon, it becomes a habit that work in the same direction as we do, and after a while, it is equally inconceivable to stop running as it was to start a couple of months back.?
That is how we got stuck in bad habits in the first place, and that is how we must get out of them.

If we want to start exercising, it is stupid to start doing it five times a week at top speed, usually all that leads to us quitting, giving it up altogether. The reason most people stop dieting is that it is too much of a difference, usually involving things we don’t even like. To stick to it we must rely solely on our will power, but as we go on we start hating what we do and no one has the will power to keep up for very long, something that we hate.
We fail. And having failed, we will sit there feeling sorry for ourselves, cursing our lack of character and discipline, thinking there is a difference between us and others who do succeed.

But it is not our character or lack of discipline that make us fail. Our failure is in our ignorance, not understanding habits, thinking we can force ourselves into something we dislike.
Our failure is built in from the beginning. We are doomed. We could just as well not have started it in the first place and saved our energy.

I have three principles that I stick to when trying to change my habits. If one of them is not there, I know it won’t work. These are:


If I intend to change a habit, I only do it if I am willing to keep doing it for the rest of my life, otherwise, there is no use trying. If I am not willing to pay $150/mo for a personal trainer or punish myself in the gym, then I’ll just have to find some other kind of exercise. If I’m not willing to eat fruit every day for the rest of my life, I’ll have to find some other type of food that I’m willing to stick to. I do not believe in special diets that you stick to for a few months to loose weight if you are not intending to keep that same diet. You might loose weight, but it won’t teach you good habits, and when you stop, you go back to your old habits and start gaining weight again.

Small changes

Start small. Don’t change your entire diet, but just add some healthy things you enjoy eating. Start by exercising once a week , or walking for fifteen minutes a day, then add a little bit as you go. When you start something, there is always resistance. Running for ten kilometers, five times a week, will meet a lot of resistance if you have never run before, your mind will tell you to stop, that you have better things to do, not enough time etc., and soon you’ll start hating it and stop.
I started doing Yoga once a week in December and after about two months, suddenly all my resistance just dropped away and I couldn’t wait to do it again. I couldn’t do more than four times a week though, because after three days in a row, I had a hard time getting out of bed, because of sore muscles.?
But in about two months time, I no longer needed to motivate myself, or use will-power. I’m not doing Yoga anymore, now it is my Yoga doing me.

Focus on the positive

If we focus on loosing weight, it is something negative, it means a sacrifice, giving up the something we enjoy (eating). Sacrifice will create a lot of resistance, because no one wants to give up something they enjoy. When people go on a diet and they can’t eat this or that, it creates a huge internal battle. You have to force yourself to abstain from something that you desire. It is a battle of wills that you will loose.
If we instead focus on eating healthy food that we enjoy, or do things we enjoy doing that does not involve eating, we focus on the positive, the benefits of change. Instead of a sacrifice, we just do something we enjoy doing. It will probably still be an effort in the beginning, until we have passed the first obstacles, but the resistance will be easier to handle.
I found out that I usually got cravings for food or sugar when I was bored or felt lonely. Today, I’m neither bored nor lonely and my bad eating habits seem to have disappeared like a miracle. I have no rules that I’m not allowed to eat something, I’m not trying to abstain or go against my desires, things just seem to work on their own accord.

I’m not writing this because I’m an expert about changing habits, it is still very much an on-going process, but at the moment, how we seem to work regarding this fascinates me a lot. So I thought it could be interesting to share a few ideas I have around this.

Do you have any ideas yourself how to make changes? Write in the comments…