This year has been an amazing, wonderful year for me personally and professionally.
If you’re not familiar with my story, the focus of my life for the past three years has been building my life coaching business and losing weight. My business is growing, and I’ve been shrinking. I have lost a total of 176 pounds, and the question I get most is, “How did you lose all that weight?”
Here’s the secret answer: I did it by making decisions ahead of time, constraint, commitment, and resolve. As this year ends and you consider the next, you may be looking to make big changes in your life. Let me give you a few pointers.
I have learned two important lessons this year. First, I learned constraint. I learned how to limit the number of decisions I was making. Second, I learned to make decisions ahead of time and honor those decisions later. These two skills have changed my life in ways I could not have imagined even a year ago.
Let’s get started. What do you want to change or achieve? Pick one thing to do.
I know you want to pick all the things. Pick one thing. It doesn’t matter what it is, just one. Here’s why: You must focus and practice what I’m teaching you here. Limiting your focus is fine. It really is a good thing. You have your whole life to change. Don’t be in a hurry. We’re always in a hurry to change something to make ourselves feel better. Slow down and think about what really matters to you. Totally nail this one thing and then go on to change another thing.
When making life-changing decisions, determine why you want the change.
If you’re making a decision in order to feel better, you are not ready to make the decision. Make sure you really like your reason for the change and why you’re changing it. Make your decision because it’s something you want to do. Don’t make a change from fear, lack, or because you don’t want something. Make a choice to be better than you are because you simply want to. Then own your decision and feel great about it.
Do not make decisions based on what you think other people think you should do, or what you think society says to do, or any preconceived ideas about what someone else should or shouldn’t be doing.
There is a belief you may, or may not have, that you get to plan your life. If you don’t plan your life, it still happens.
The good news is, you can strategically plan and create it. So why not? Life is like taking a road trip. You get to look at the map, look at the GPS, decide where you want to go, how you’re going to get there, how often you want to stop, how far you want to go, and when you’re going to get there. You get to plan all of it.
Many people understand this intellectually. They like the idea that they happen to their life and their life doesn’t happen to them. However, just because one understands this concept intellectually, doesn’t mean one actually does the planning, and accomplish what one really wants.
Be sure you make your decision from a good feeling place. Your decision must be rock solid, and you must resolve to commit to it, and honor your commitment 100 percent.
Let’s switch gears and talk about the brain. The brain is designed to do three things: Avoid pain, seek pleasure, and be efficient. In other words, do the least amount of thinking possible. When we are changing on purpose, the brain must spend energy thinking. To change, we must work against our brain’s automatic programming.
In simple terms, we have two parts to our brain. Our pre-frontal cortex that can make all our dreams come true, can decide ahead of time, create goals, envision and devise plans. It’s where our humanness resides, meaning it’s the most evolved part of us as humans. It’s where executive function and conscious decision-making occurs. The pre-frontal cortex uses a lot of energy, and it wants to use as little energy as possible. It’s only going to be recruited for big, consistent jobs we want to put a lot of effort into.
The other part of our brain is the cerebellum, our automatic unconsciousness that’s efficient and already programmed. It comes up with reactions, solutions, and actions very quickly without much energy involved based on our past experiences. Remember, the brain likes to be efficient. It likes to expend as little energy as possible. The cerebellum is where the code for walking, driving, and brushing our teeth is. The brain is set up this way, so when we take the time to learn a new skill, that skill, once mastered, gets shuttled to automatic unconsciousness to conserve energy.
The neural pathways in our brain are formed by paying attention to something, then repeating it over and over. Slow, deliberate effort, consistently repeated, is what makes something unconscious and effortless. New skills and habits take practice and effort.
I’m obsessed with the idea of decision fatigue and how it affects us. I’ve been studying willpower, the brain, and choice for years.
Decisions require mental effort and we have limited mental effort available. When our mental effort is depleted, we have no willpower. Willpower is needed when we want to maintain and create better habits. The obvious solution is to make fewer decisions. Therefore, we can do two things to save our brain energy: constrain and make decisions ahead of time.
Energy drain comes from indecision. Making decisions provides so much relief and freedom.
Being in indecision creates agitation, anxiousness, and all sorts of negative emotions. Imagine how many of us don’t make decisions, we don’t make plans or move into action, and how that indecision energy just drains us more and more.
Many times we don’t make a decision because we think we’re not sure and we think we need to take more time. Indecision is pretending to be responsible. All indecision does, is burn you out and wear you down. Then, when you finally make the decision, it’s usually the decision you would have made when the question first popped up.
Give yourself the gift of making a decision.
Constraint is the practice of limiting your options on purpose. The more options we have when making a decision, the more confusion and delay will happen before the decision is made. For example, I have a very limited wardrobe and a short list of foods I eat. Constraining my options for clothing and eating, on purpose and by design, has completely simplified my life. The result is having more brain energy to work, change and create the life I want.
Here is the key. I made decisions ahead of time and planned for what I wanted.
We cannot rely on ourselves, in the future, to do what we really want, without using our pre-frontal planning mode in detail. Our decision has to be made ahead of time, and then it has to be non-negotiable once we get there. Anticipate what your automatic, unconscious brain will do and plan for it ahead of time. Do this by thinking and imaging what obstacles your brain might come up with. For instance, you’re going to a holiday party, and you don’t want to eat dessert. Think of what your brain will tell you: Oh, it’s all right. It’s a holiday party. Just this once. It’ll be so good. The holidays come just once a year. I’ve been so good. I deserve to treat myself.
Plan how you will answer your automatic thinking.
Resolve to have your own back. Honor your commitment to yourself. Honor your decision and plan. Mental rehearsal and deciding ahead of time what you will do, are two essential ingredients for sustained change. Planning something to the achievement of what you want, is a tedious process. It requires effort and discipline. Do the work.
To set yourself up with discipline, set expectations and rules for yourself ahead of time, and then honor those rules.
When you do this, you don’t have to use willpower and restraint in the moment of challenge. The more you set up all your decisions ahead of time, the less reactive you will be in the moment and the less chance you will go off plan. Use your highest executive brain functioning to design your life instead of letting your automatic lower brain decide for you in the moment.
You are in charge of the direction your brain goes. It’s a simple thing to understand, but not as easy to remember. If you choose to focus on the negative, that is how you’ll feel. If you focus on the abundance, the wonder and the success you’ll have, you will feel amazing and create what you really want in your life.