Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Streak


I'm interested in motivational techniques, especially methods of self-motivation. A lot of this comes from feeling like I can't sustain things. Losing weight is a good enough example. I'm 207 pounds today and should really weigh about 185 according to my doctor and my own feelings on the matter. I'm not too fat looking except when I stand looking at myself in the mirror and know, "that's not me" But losing weight is a tough thing for me to do and, based only on the number of ads for weight loss products, surgeries, and television shows, I'm not alone in this. I have tried diets, writing down all the things I eat, I've cut meat out of most of my life, and I try to eat whole foods, but the results have been mixed. At least once every day, usually more than once, I find that I have eaten things without being present. I get nervous and eat. I get bored and eat. I get confused, lost, or fall deep into thought and eat. I get tired and eat. Those times of eating are the ones when I don't even taste what I'm eating, swallow before I've chewed enough, and eat a second thing as I'm still working on the first. At those times I eat not out of hunger but out of a desire to fill some other emptiness. 

I write about this, I think about it, and I sometimes make plans to stop doing that particular behavior, but then it all falls apart when I run into the same old problems and fall into the same old trap. And I worry that I just don't have the self-motivation, the strength to do these things. This gets me into a guilt trap and, often enough, when I feel that way, I eat. Round and round and round.

So I look for good ways to motivate myself and sustain change. For me, one of the best of those is to get on a streak. Today is the 29th day of my 750words.com streak, the 7th day of my bgfay750 streak of publishing, and I have nearly reached my ten-year mark on a streak of not eating fast food from McDonalds, Burger King, Taco Bell, Wendy's and the like. The streak is playful and game-like and that seems to work for me for whatever reason. It's not enough for me to pile up points every other day, every third day. I need the daily reminder.

What kind of streak then, works for eating?

I've looked at the times when I eat. Mornings are fine. I wait on breakfast a bit later than I've read I should, but I'm simply not hungry in the morning and the first rule of this for me is to eat when I'm hungry and to not eat if I'm not hungry. Sounds simple, but in our culture, it is anything but. I eat breakfast around nine or ten and it is usually a small bowl of two-ingredient yogurt with some maple syrup. Morning is not my problem. I don't eat doughnuts. Lunch isn't bad either and dinner, especially now that I'm giving up meat (more on that in a moment), is good too. The time when I get in trouble is after dinner. I eat a small cup of chocolate chips with my evening coffee. Then, in front of the television, I eat whatever. This is always mindless eating. It is when I reach for crap foods. It's when I eat non-foods.

The streak then is something like not eating in the evening. But that doesn't work. Too vague for me. How about this: don't eat anything after dinner? The problem I can see with that is being out and wanting to have dessert or eating while having beer with the guys. But both of those things are okay to give up. I could say that I won't eat after 7 in the evening. That might work. But for now, I want the stricter streak: nothing after dinner for one week. That sounds like a challenging game to play.

Oh, and one other streak: no eating in the den where the television is. That might save me from a lot of things.

The streak is really about establishing a new habit. I'm not good at setting out to create habits, but I like the game of a streak. It fits me better than a goal, better than a plan. I mean, look at this, I just finished day 29 of my writing streak and it was simply fun. Go figure that it has me publishing, writing with more structure, and trying to get used to the rigors of publishing daily. That's all beside the point; I'm on day 29!

There's nothing to do but write on.