The internet is full of gurus who have garnered a following by using obscure studies and outlying results to wage war on “the system.” But sound science is not made up of the outlandish data. In the eloquent words of Dr. Kashey, when it comes to science, the conclusions should be a “duh,” while the process of getting there should be an “oh neat!”
Finding a“duh”at the end of the process means that there are other studies in the field (and in other fields) that lend support to the conclusions.
There is a long journey from academic research to general consumption. Academic discovery moves to clinical research. The findings are then picked up by professionals in the field, and soon after explored by enthusiasts. By the time it makes it to the general population, it has been like one long game of telephone.
Lucky for us we have a Dr. Kashey who has worked at every stage in the process, and has the context, intelligence, and perspective to break through the noise and find the “oh neat.”
Now fair warning, he will steal, cherry-pick and combine the scientific findings with his own clients’ experience in a heavily biased way to make it most useful to the subset of people he works with.
What does that mean?
It means if you are reading this, all of this information and expertise has been repackaged in a way that will be most helpful to you.
Today we are looking at an experiment that Dutch researchers set up to explore the relationship between short term goals and long term goals. They tested how mental simulation could shift the focus between short term and long term consequences, specifically relating to food choices. These mental simulation models involved two experimental groups:
The first group of subjects had highly stimulating foods (read: junk food) placed in front of them. The researchers then took the group through what was essentially a guided meditation on the pleasurable EXPERIENCE of eating junk food. Fun, right?
The second group of subjects also had highly stimulating foods placed in front of them. But this time the researchers guided them through a meditation on the OUTCOME of eating the junk food. Less fun, but still interesting.
You will probably not be shocked by the results.
The group that had focused on the pleasures of the eating experience wanted the junk food more. And in the end, this group chose to eat the junk food.
The group that went through the guided meditation about the OUTCOME of eating junk food ALSO wanted it more.
It is important to note that although this group was directed to reflect on the long term effects of eating the junk food, they were still being directed to focus on the junk food. Ironic process theory combined with the built in appeal of these foods triggered the subjects to desire the junk food.
Group 2 still CHOSE to eat healthier food options.
Both groups were directed to focus on the junk food.
Both groups wanted the junk food.
BUT, Group 2 was able to divide their attention enough to:
- increase the space between stimulus and response,
- use that space to inject logic and reasoning into the situation,
- and choose a different action.
The Hierarchy of Decision-Making
Let’s pause for a moment to consider the decision making process.
Often when it comes to eating, our thoughts and actions feel simultaneous. We walk into a room with freshly baked cookies, and we find ourselves eating the cookies. At lunchtime, we automatically move from working to eating without much thought of how we traveled between the two actions.
But every time you eat, you must make a choice.
Some people prepare for the choice ahead of time. Some make the decision in the moment. Some don’t even realize they have made a decision until well after the meal took place.
Even when we do stop to consider our decision, we usually think in terms of two options:
Do I eat this or that?
But actually, there is an exhausting decision hierarchy that people go through before they reach their final decision.
In order, these are the questions we typically ask ourselves:
- Which food is more pleasurable to me
- Which food is more convenient?
- Which food is more socially acceptable
- Which food is more expensive?
- Which food is more satisfying?
- Which food is healthier?
Again, these questions are usually asked and answered so rapidly that we only think about a particular question if we get stuck on it.
Automation over exhaustion
Obviously, different people have different priorities. The same person can even have different hierarchies depending on the situation and environment. But identifying your decision-making hierarchy gives you the opportunity to rig the deck in your favor.
If you can automate your choices, you can save yourself the background decision fatigue. The more we are able to set our autopilot on decisions that pull us towards our goals instead of pushing us away, the less exhausted we will be.
The less exhausted we are, the more energy we have to continue to work for our own benefit. It is a beautiful virtuous cycle.
How to Outlast the Impulse
But still we haven’t really answered the question of how to make choices in favor of the long term consequences when the decision is NOT automated. What do we do when our impulses are in conflict with our best interest long term?
We know that giving in to all of our impulses can lead down some dark paths. We know that being able to adopt a long term mindset (similar to what was provided to the Group 2 in the experiment) would help us make better choices. But knowing something is different from acting on it. What can we learn from this study? How does the mental simulation model help us?
We have heard the advice to prioritize a “long term” mindset over a “short term” one so often that the whole idea has become noise. PLUS, when you want something NOW and must also make a decision NOW, it feels nonsensical to choose something that you don’t want NOW.
In fact when you make choices with long term consequences in mind, you essentially are making choices that will only make sense at an undisclosed time in the future. Maybe.
No wonder denying your impulses can feel so absurd.
To outlast your impulses and set yourself up to win, you must first increase the gap between stimulus and response. This is the first step to giving yourself a fighting chance when faced with an absurd decision.
You can do this by distracting your attention from the object of your impulse. In the experiment, the researches accomplished this through a guided meditation. You COULD replicate elements of this experiment by creating visible reminders for yourself relating to the outcome of eating your danger foods.
However, just like in the experiment, you would also be increasing your desire for the food by directing your attention to it.
Here are a couple of alternative options:
- Create a mental simulation focused on the outcomes you want. Write these outcomes out. Put them somewhere visible. Redirect your focus to the things you want. Use that redirection to increase the space between stimulus and response, bring logic into your situation and take control of your choices.
- You can further rig the deck in your favor by securing mentorship or coaching for yourself. The decision to act against your impulses feels nonsensical in the moment. But these decisions can be helped along by the experiences and perspectives of others. Having other voices that reinforce the mindset you want to adopt is a powerful tool. You are able to hedge your bets against the collective experience instead of giving into your impulses.
Set yourself up to focus on the direction you want to go, and watch the finish line come to you.
Decrease your desire for food by directing your attention elsewhere.
Outlast the impulses
We know giving into all of our impulses can lead down some dark paths.
- Pause for a moment to consider the decision making process.
- Realize every time you eat you must make a choice.
Are you someone who prepares for the choice ahead of time or do you make the decision in the moment?
If you want to learn how to outlast the impulses, reach out, we’ve got your back .
About Jacquelyn Laporte
Jacquelyn LaPorte has had the privilege of working with TKN since 2018. The journey has been a wild one, but it has ushered her into the driver’s seat of her own life. She learned how to ask questions, answer them honestly and act on the answers. She has used this process to become a better parent to her 3 kids, a better wife, a better boss, a better learner, a better human. She believes that no experience is wasted, (not even majoring in a dead language with no career plan😊 or starting a business with 0 entrepreneurial spirit). Each experience gives the gift of new eyes. Perfect choices are not required, and that makes her free to choose.
“There are a thousand thousand reasons to live this life, and every one of them sufficient.”
Team TKN cultivates, curates and shares Dr. Trevor Kasheys’ stories and core principles, to help others achieve an extraordinary life.