I have a confession to make.
What I’m starting to notice these days is that if I'm continually given a choice between what's easy and what's best for my goals…
I'll typically default to what's easy.
I know I like to think that “I do hard things” and “make hard decisions”, but I would bet most of my decisions in life come down to defaulting to what the easy option was.
If I’m really hungry, I typically just grab something that’s within eye line or easy to put together…also known as chips and salsa.
If I’m tired I’ll typically just reach for my phone and scroll social media instead of grabbing the book I keep telling myself I’m going to read.
Do I have willpower?
Does my willpower fade and then I blame myself?
Why Willpower Doesn't Work
I like to tell myself that I have enough willpower to make the right choices day in and day out. But the reality is, I have just enough willpower to make some decisions. For the other decisions throughout the day, I just end up choosing the easiest option.
But it’s not really willpower’s fault. There’s only so much willpower in a day and then it runs out like any power or energy within us.
In the morning after a good night’s sleep I’ll start my day with a peaceful meditation. Then usually flow into some journaling to assess my progress around each of my goals and then head to the gym for my morning workout. After, I cook up my eggs and veggies for a healthy start to the wonderful morning.
As the day progresses though, meeting after meeting comes and goes, that bright, cheery attitude is gone and I’m just looking to satisfy my cravings. That’s when I rummage through the fridge and snack on whatever has been leftover from the previous night’s dinner.
Did my goals suddenly change?
No, I just ran out of willpower and focus. The day caught up with me and decision fatigue set in.
How to Make the Healthy Choice... Easy
Whether it’s going to the gym each day or trying to eat more high-quality meats and vegetables, we tend to make the “right” decision more difficult than the easy decision. It’s in our human nature to default to easy. That’s just how we’re all built.
So what’s the solution?
Review Your Routine
What are some small tweaks to your routine to help you make the choices you want to make easier?
Set out your gym clothes the night before.
Have fruits and vegetables visible in your kitchen.
Keep your phone in another room and a book beside your bed.
Set screen time limits on your phone or place the undesirable apps on another page of your phone.
In other words, make your ideal choice easy or the less desirable choice harder.
Clean up Your Kitchen Cupboards
Let’s say you want to eat more lean meats and vegetables because that aligns with your goals of a leaner body. You could buy a ton of lean meats and veggies at the market and get rid of all of the junk food in your house. You’ve then made your ideal choice easy and you’ve made the less desirable choice much harder.
…but that may not be enough.
Just having healthy food in the house is helpful, but that doesn’t always mean it'll solve your “easy” problem. Junk food or fast food often comes ready to eat and that’s what makes it an easy option. Healthy food is usually minimally processed which means it'll require a little prep work. Once I’m confronted with this decision my mind immediately starts weighing the time requirement of my options.
So let’s see…well…it’ll take 10 minutes for the oven to preheat…then it’ll take twenty minutes for the chicken to cook. I’ll have to prepare the sweet potatoes as well and that’ll take five minutes and then they’ll need to be cooked. Can I cook them both in the same oven at the same time?
…or I can go to McDs and be back in twenty minutes.
Even though we think we solved our “easy” problem, we still haven’t made it easy enough. When we’re tired and the kids are screaming, a twenty-minute drive to McD’s still sounds like an easier solution.
To combat this we have to make the easy choice easy.
Schedule Food Prep in Your Week
If you’re like me and tend to do this time gymnastics with your choices then maybe food prep when the willpower is high is a better alternative. We know we have periods throughout the week when we feel like we can accomplish anything. Capitalize on your high willpower when you have it or schedule food prep in your week when you know you won’t have a lot of demands on your time. These are the times we could put in the work for the days when we know we’ll be rushed. So make a few dinners ahead of time. Create some quick snacks for the times when you know you’ll want a quick bite.
Below are a few options which stay fresh for days in the fridge.
Set Yourself Up for Success… Especially in the Lows
By taking this strategy you’ve now made your easy choice super easy. When you’re feeling hungry and just want a meal regardless of what it is you’ll still have the same choices as before. A meal full of lean meats and veggies (pre-made by you and already in the fridge) which will now only require a couple of minutes of work or a twenty-minute drive to the local fast food place or even waiting around for the delivery person to bring it.
Your ideal choice has now become super easy.
It’s what you’ll default to when life feels like it ran you over.
I love willpower, but I know I can’t depend on it. So make your ideal choices easy…super easy. When our easy choices direct us to where we want to go, we feel accomplished and fulfilled.
How will you make the ideal choice easy for you?