Each day, the average adult makes 35,000 different decisions. A few decisions can be life-changing. Most are insignificant. Many decisions don’t change your life in a moment, but over time can lead you far off the path you desire for your life.
Your alarm beeps at 5:30 am. Your bed is warm and the pillow is soft. It’s dark and quiet. One more hour of sleep would feel so good. Plus, sleep is good for you, right? You could get your workout in tomorrow instead. Do you go back to sleep, or get up and go to the gym?
You’ve showered and gotten ready for the day. It’s time for breakfast, before you head off to work. You know you’ll feel better later if you cook up some eggs and bacon, or make a low-carb protein shake. But, you can have a bowl of cereal ready in about 30 seconds instead of cooking for ten minutes. And the cereal is already out for the kids, anyway. It’s convenient and tastes pretty good too. What do you do?
You get to work, and one of your co-workers brought coffee and donuts for another co-worker’s birthday. It wasn’t part of the plan, but it’s free food, and it’s a “special occasion.” Do you eat the donuts, or just drink the coffee?
Situations like these situations play out everyday. Unless you have a full supply of willpower, you’ll often choose the pleasures of the moment, and feel guilty later because you shortchanged your future.
I’d like to propose a different perspective on this age-old situation of “I know what to do. I just don’t do it.”
First, I need to set the stage with an understanding of willpower and decision fatigue.
Willpower and Decision Fatigue
Short-term comfort and pleasure is pretty tempting. In each of the examples above, you need a certain amount of willpower to ignore temptation.
Willpower: control exerted to do something or restrain impulses
Willpower is the mental energy needed to do what needs to be done, or to avoid what shouldn’t be done.
Because willpower requires mental effort and energy, you need a reserve of mental energy to exercise willpower. Decision-making is the biggest drain on that mental energy.
Roy Baumeister and John Tierney, in their book Willpower – Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, describe decision fatigue as “the deteriorating quality of decisions made by an individual after a long session of decision making.”
In essence, the more decisions you make, the less willpower you’ll have. The more willpower you use, the more likely it is that you’ll make poor decisions.
Can you see why it’s a bad idea to schedule an important meeting at the end of the workday, or why you should never make important marital or family decisions late at night.
As the day goes on, and you’re faced with family, work, financial, and fitness decisions, you make lower and lower-quality decisions.
An exhausting day at work, followed by a half hour trying to pick out the perfect outfit for dinner, will make it really hard to choose wisely from the restaurant menu.
Or, if you don’t go out, just answering the question “What’s for dinner?” can be an overwhelming decision to answer. So you probably end up ordering pizza instead.
How to Conserve Your Willpower
Each day, you begin with a certain level of willpower. If you wake up tired from the day before, you won’t have a fully recharged willpower battery. That doesn’t mean you get a “hall pass” from good decision making. You are still responsible for every decision you make. You just need to conserve your willpower for decisions that are most important.
It’s like when your cell phone battery gets low and you don’t have a charger handy. You use your phone for just the essentials. You might also turn off notifications, stop apps that run in the background, and turn down the screen brightness. You save your battery for only what’s most important.
You can do the same thing with your willpower battery. To conserve willpower, you can:
- Make fewer decisions
- Turn certain decisions into non-negotiable activities
Make Fewer Decisions
If decisions drain your willpower battery, make fewer decisions. I know that sounds obvious. And with 35,000 decisions, where do you start?
Obviously, you’re not even aware of many of the decisions. And you’re probably not wearing yourself out with the questions you’re not aware of. It’s the questions that you consciously deal with each day that lead to decision fatigue, and a drop in your willpower battery.
Steve Jobs was known to wear the same outfit everyday. It wasn’t the same shirt and pair of jeans. He had multiple pairs. He avoided one of the most common early-morning decisions people make. “What should I wear today?” Simple, huh?
I eat the same lunch almost every day so I don’t have to think about it. It also helps me make sure I eat well.
If breakfast is a challenge for you, clear out your pantry. You could decide to eat eggs and bacon, or a protein shake sounds appetizing, if they fit the nutrition profile you’re looking for. Get rid of everything else and you get rid of a lot of decisions. Plus, your breakfast will be healthier.
What’s good for you is good for the rest of your family, so toss the breakfast cereal, cereal bars, frozen waffles, and other junk food. If it isn’t in the house, you won’t think about whether to eat or not. You won’t be able to, so there will be no decision to be made.
Transform Decisions into Non-Negotiable Activities
Vanessa and I came up with a concept for our network marketing team called a non-negotiable task list. We found that there was a very small number of simple activities, that if practiced every day, all but guaranteed someone’s success in their business.
We call it the Non-Negotiable Diamond in the Making Task List, because reach the rank of Diamond and above creates a lucrative and exciting business and lifestyle.
Whether it’s network marketing, or fitness, the idea is the same. To achieve success, you really only need to do a small number of activities consistently. When you do the work, a few years later, you end up with the body, life, relationship, finances, or whatever other goals you desire.
As an example, the following is my fitness-related Non-Negotiable Activity List:
- I workout a minimum of 5 days per week, focused mainly on strength training
- I eat protein with every meal
- I take a high-quality multivitamin each day
- I sleep at least seven hours each night, unless my workout requires me to get up before I’ve slept seven hours
- I do not (knowingly) eat gluten
Some people assume I have a long list of food, lifestyle, and exercise “rules,” but I don’t. I do have nutrition “guidelines” I follow, but those guidelines are negotiable.
For example, one of my nutrition guidelines is either skip breakfast, or make sure it’s low-carb if I eat it. However, if Vanessa and I walk by our favorite donut shop, Angel Food Bakery, on a morning walk, I’ll eat a few gluten-free donuts (along with a protein bar or other protein option).
My five non-negotiables are not negotiable. That means I organize my day, a vacation, or a trip around them. If I can’t workout at 11:30 am, which is my usual workout time, I change my workout time, even if I have to get up super-early. In fact, for most of my career, I did get up early and workout every day.
If we’re on vacation, I make sure there is a gym in or near our hotel or resort.
Keep in mind, those are my five non-negotiables. Yours could be different.
When I work with a client in a fitness and nutrition consultation, my goal is to help him or her start with just one or two non-negotiables. As they get a handle on those, we might add more. The benefit of these non-negotiables is that once you establish them, you no longer have to think about whether to do them or not. You’re 100% committed to doing them, so there is no alternative.
You can probably feel how powerful this concept could be for all areas of your life. It would be easy to get carried away, which is why I suggest a minimal number of highly-effective activities. That way, you can have a few for fitness, marriage, business, family, finances and your faith.
I also wouldn’t want you to get carried away with this idea, and end up with a life that’s so rigid and scripted that you can’t have any fun, or have you isolate yourself from everyone who doesn’t fit within the requirements of your list.
Read also: Vigor: 5 Simple Habits for Better Men’s Health.
How to Succeed with Your Non-Negotiable Activity List
1. Share Your Non-Negotiable Activities with Your Family and Significant Other
Your non-negotiable activities will, at times, inconvenience others, just as they inconvenience you. The path to success is rarely convenient and is often filled with resistance. That’s why you need suckituptitude.
By sharing this with your family in advance, you’ll reduce frustration, but probably won’t eliminate it. Help them understand what you will do everyday, without exception, and why you’re doing it.
To The “Significant Other”
Let me speak directly to the significant other here. Over the past couple decades of training and coaching others, the number-one factor in whether a married man or woman stuck with their health and fitness program, was the attitude and actions of their significant other.
If the spouse (more commonly the wife) felt guilty because her family was upset she was working out, or irritated about the “healthy meals” she was preparing, she eventually gave up. To her, the benefits of regaining her fitness, and looking and feeling better, didn’t exceed the feelings of guilt and irritation her family threw at her.
You can’t tell your significant other you support their health and fitness goals, and want them to get back in shape, and then get pissed if they don’t want junk food in the house, or to sleep in and skip a workout so you don’t have to wake up.
While some women have been less-than-supportive of their husbands, more often it’s the husband that doesn’t truly support his wife. He’d love for her to look her best, but when she gets rid of the junk food in the house, asks to eat at healthier restaurants, or asks him to do something active rather than sit around and watch TV, he gripes and complains.
Guys, if you’ve done that in the past, stop it! Man up and join her. It’ll be good for your health, and outstanding for your relationship.
Read also: How the Power of Others Influences You.
2. Accept Accountability
If you expect your family to adjust to your non-negotiable activities, even when it’s inconvenient for them, you ought to let them call you out if you slack on following through.
Some people can hold themselves accountable. But, if you have a history of trying things, and not following through for very long, you ought to get someone outside your family to help hold you accountable.
An accountability partner isn’t someone who makes you feel good about falling short, or puts up with your excuses. He or she politely calls you out on your BS.
Too often, when we fail to follow our plan, we want someone to coddle us and tell us it’s okay. We seek comfort. After a while, we get comfortable with our failure, because we know others will make us feel better.
You have to break the cycle. You have to get comfortable with the discomfort of someone else calling you out. Or, just do what you commit to doing, and you won’t have to experience the discomfort.
3. Eliminate Your Excuses
This might be hard to hear, but almost any reason you can come up with, for not doing your non-negotiable activities, is an excuse.
How can you tell the difference between an excuse and a reason? With a three-word question: “Was it impossible?”
“You said you couldn’t workout yesterday, because you had company over. Was it impossible to workout with your company there?”
“You said that the only food they served at our work lunch was sandwiches. Was it impossible to avoid eating gluten?”
“You said you had a really busy day yesterday, and didn’t have time for a walk. Was it impossible to fit a walk into the schedule yesterday?”
More often than not, what we’re really saying is that it was inconvenient, but surely not impossible.
If it would have been inconvenient or difficult, it was an excuse.
If it was impossible, it was a reason.
That’s why we’re talking about non-negotiable activities. “Non-negotiable” implies that you’re committed to them, even when it’s inconvenient to do so.
It’s also why I recommend putting only a few, very important activities on your list.
If you’re a fitness professional, manager, or leader, use this on yourself, and then apply it to your clients or team members.
Stop making excuses. Take action. Do the work.
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