How often do you say the phrase: ‘I am trying to …… (quit sugar) (eat less) (lose weight) (drink less coffee)’?
(whatever might be relevant to you)
I know how it is: we want to be doing something good for our health, so we do our best to ditch the stuff that we feel might be causing us problems.
But, you know, LIFE gets in the way.
Someone in the office has a birthday, so they bring in cake.
You get invited to a conference, and they have nibbles.
Or your best friend needs a heart to heart, and the best place for that is, of course, the coffee shop.
So instead of happily knowing ‘I don’t eat sugar’, or ‘I don’t have drink caffeine’, we end up fudging what we are aiming for, with a bit of real life, and then because we set ourselves a goal, but then don’t quite manage it because we are such failures, we end up just feeling a bit pants about not being able to resist the call of coffee/sugar/whatever.
Which normally then means we go on a bit of a bender, because ON MONDAY, we are starting again.
Back on the wagon.
Back off sugar.
Back to no caffeine.
Even though we know that it won’t last, we’ll feel guilty again, and it’s just one heck of a spiral to be stuck in. Not only that, but quitting foods that you love, and avoiding the things that make you happy really doesn’t feel very mindful or loving or even nice at all.
In fact, doesn’t that feel just a little bit, well, sad?
(as in, the actual meaning of the word ‘sad’ not, sad as in pathetic)
Wouldn’t it be nicer to be able to aim to eat better, but not feel rubbish when that doesn’t happen?
I have the answer for you.
It’s so simple, and easy, that it’ll pretty much revolutionise the way you eat and the way you feel about what you eat.
It’s to add these four words to the start of anything you tell yourself about food:
As a general rule……
So: as a general rule I don’t drink coffee.
As a general rule, I don’t eat sugar.
As a general rule, I’m staying away from alcohol.
As a general rule, I eat six portions of fruit and veg a day.
(or whatever it is that works for you)
Can you see how mega handy this is?
It gives you permission to really do your best to eat better (after all, we all know that eating less sugar, or drinking a bit less alcohol is probably going to be a good thing) but without making you feel bad when you can’t. Because as a general rule only counts when you need it to.
So, for me: as a general rule, I don’t eat crisps.
Which means at the weekend, I can happily stuff my face with a big pack of them (pretending to share them with my hubby) while watching a weekend movie, partly because I know that come Monday, I won’t be having them. Not because they are ‘banned’ or because they are ‘bad for me’. It’s just because I generally don’t eat crisps during the week. I don’t have to ‘do my best’ to avoid them like the plague, because I know that next weekend, or any other time that I fancy, I can have loads more. So if, in the middle of the week, we go on a picnic to the beach, I can also take some crisps, because going to the beach is a special event.
Likewise: as a general rule, I don’t drink coffee.
Which means at the weekend, I really enjoy my cuppa with a special ‘weekend breakfast’ because I don’t have loads of coffee at other times. But if a friend wants to meet up one day at the coffee shop, well, that counts as a good reason to have a cup then too. But because, as a general rule, I don’t drink coffee, it’s pretty easy to have something else when I’m working from home, and I need a reason to procrastinate a little.
The key with having a general rule, is that you decide what you want it to mean.
If you currently drink seven cups of coffee a day, then having a general rule which says you don’t drink coffee is going to stuff you up. You’ll get annoyed, angry, fed up when you fail, and you’ll probably have a banging headache too. Instead, make your general rule that you only have coffee in the morning. Or that you, as a general rule, only drink coffee after having a glass of water first. Or whatever would work for you.
To make it work, your general rule needs to be a bit of a stretch towards your goal of eating well, but not so hard that it feels like a joke.
Another one for me is that, as a general rule, I only eat good cakes. Which means if I’m at a kids party and there are some of those fairy cakes that you get in the supermarket 24 for £1.50, I find it really easy to resist. After all, this body is so very temple-esque that a crappy cake just isn’t worthy. But if I’m enjoying an afternoon with Auntie Gill (she of Spiced Red Cabbage fame) and she brings out one, or two of her supremely delicious cakes or puddings, well, there’s nothing to it, but to really enjoy them (and I don’t just mean one slice) (or two slices if I’m being honest) (they really are very good) without any guilt. (unless, of course, I accidentally eat all the cake, and then I feel bad for everyone else)
Can you see how handy this is? I don’t eat rubbishy cakes because they aren’t part of my general rule. But I am very partial to a lovely proper cake. A homemade one always trumps anything else.
So, what’s your general rule? You don’t need to have just one. I have plenty, and they work out just brilliantly for me.
Here are a couple of mine so you can see how it works:
- As a general rule, I don’t drink coffee.
- As a general rule, I only eat good cake.
- As a general rule, I don’t eat cheap chocolate.
- As a general rule, I don’t drink fizzy drinks.
- As a general rule, I don’t drink alcohol.
- As a general rule, I don’t have sugared cereal for breakfast.
- As a general rule, I don’t snack in the evening.
Looking at this non-exhaustive list, you’d think I was a bit militant. I don’t drink fizzy drinks!? What?
But of course, this is a general rule. During the week, on an average day, I wouldn’t tend to choose a fizzy drink. But take me to a networking event, with a choice of still or sparkling water, I’m going to hit the bubbles everytime. Or take me to a barbeque, and I’ll probably bring with me some cans of fizzy juice. Or out on a night out and yes, beer or prosecco, here I come.
Of course, there are plenty of flaws in this idea. If you aren’t convinced by your own general rule, then you are going to find plenty of reasons to ignore your general rule, and carry on with some habits or foods that really don’t serve you. And if you confuse your general rule with ‘I’m trying to…’ then you are setting yourself up for failure, because ‘trying to do’ something is fraught with excuses and failure right from the start.
But that’s what I love about having general rules. They work, or can work for pretty much everything. Whether you’ve just done a Reboot, or have decided to eat better, or start running, or want to give yourself extra energy, having a nice set of general rules will work a treat. It why, even when you work with me or come to one of my talks or workshops, you’ll find there are no ‘rules’. Just us all being nice with ourselves!
So, start slow, give yourself a really handy and useful general rule, and see how you go.
(I also wrote a bit about ‘general rules’ here too.)