At the height of my “going out” phase, I was living with my sister Kyle and we noticed that it was quite common for us to excitedly make plans with each other or friends, go shopping to get the “perfect” new outfit, and even spend significant amounts of time getting ready the day of, only to realize that we didn’t feel like going out after all. Although I have already talked about some of the reasons how and why I try to do it anywaywhen it comes to the fun stuff, I’ve recently be considering how the phenomenon of affective forecasting errors can influence our ability to build and maintain healthy habits. Undoubtedly we’ve all observed how much more fun and exciting making plans and setting goals or resolutions can be versus actually carrying them out. Although we often do have the best of intentions, many of our ambitions never make it too far beyond the initial idea phase or if we do get things going, our enthusiasm quickly wears off. Psychologists call this the False Hope Syndrome because simply vowing to make a change can fill us with optimism that feels good in that moment. According to Dr. Kelly McGonigal of Stanford University, “we love to imagine how making the change will transform our lives, and we fantasize about the person we will become. Research shows that deciding to start a diet makes people feel stronger, and planning to exercise makes people feel taller (nobody said these fantasies were realistic)… the bigger the goal, the bigger the burst of hope…. The decision to change is the ultimate in instant gratification – you get all the good feelings before anything’s been done.” Unfortunately, as we have likely all experienced, the actual DOING is generally filled with significantly less, or at least less intense, positive feelings. Although our optimistic good intentions provide effective motivation to get us started, believe it or not, a little dose of pessimism can help us to carry on. Because our brain loves a strategy, dedicating some time to if/then planning can pay dividends as we start to do the work.
I originally learned about the idea of if/then planning when I read The Whole30 which cites studies that “show you are two to three times more likely to succeed in your goal if you use if/then planning than if you don’t…. Habits have three parts: the cue, the routine, and the reward. If/then statements create a really strong link between the cue (the ‘if’) with the routine (the ‘then’). That strong link means you’re more likely to follow through with the action automatically, with far less effort. And ‘less effort’ translates to ‘less willpower required,’ which is always a good thing when highly tempting, rewarding comfort foods are involved [or any other potential stumbling blocks for your own personal resolutions].” When we try to develop a new healthy habit, relying only upon our initial enthusiasm and transformation fantasies, we risk falling prey to the False Hope Syndrome and the real challenges of making the changes required can lead to disappointment, frustration, and abandonment of our efforts. That’s why a little if/then planning in advance can make a big difference.
If you set any September Resolutions, are a part of the Flex in the City Studio Whole30, or just started working on a new habit, you’re probably (hopefully!) still feeling pretty good about it, but asking yourself now when you are mostly likely to be tempted to give in or how you are likely to be distracted from your goals can be vital to avoiding those situations or at least handling them better. According to if/then planning experts, imagining yourself in these hypothetical, but likely, scenarios – what it feels like, what you’ll be thinking, and what you could say or do to stick with your resolution – can be instrumental to long term success. Clearly outlining the specific strategies that you could use or ways you can deal with your desire to compromise can help to boost your confidence in the present and future and empower you to actually behave in that way if and when you face that obstacle. If/then planning is essentially planning for failure so that you know specifically how to succeed.
If I know I’ll be stuck in the office working late this week, then I’ll pack a few extra healthy snacks or a dinner to avoid becoming hangry or heading to the vending machine in desperation.
If I might not feel like going to barre tomorrow morning, then I’ll ask my friend to come with me so that I feel accountable for showing up (besides barre is always evenbetter with friends!).
If I get stressed or frustrated with the project I’m working on, then I’ll treat myself to a ten minute walk outside to refresh.
If I’m going to a dinner party where the food options will be limited or less healthy, then I’ll eat beforehand and stick to just light snacking on whatever is aligned with my nutritional goals.
Since we usually feel so optimistic and motivated when we get started, it can feel a bit silly or overkill to do this, but it makes a big difference psychologically. Being caught off guard can quickly lead us to make compromises that we’ll later regret, but if/then planning eliminates the need for making a decision in the moment or “white knuckling” your way through it. It’s good to have a few failproof strategies in your back pocket in case of emergency. And I believe it’s also good to have a few failproof recipe options in your back pocket which can be mixed and matched to keep eating healthy both interesting and tasty. Not too long ago I shared my Avocado Poppy Seed Dressing over a summery Chicken and Strawberry Salad and now I’m remixing for the change in season with this simple Fall Salmon Salad.
- Sweet Potato, medium 2 each
- Salmon Filet 4 each
- Coconut Oil, melted 2 TBSP
- Sea Salt and Black Pepper to taste
- Pink Gala Apple 2 each
- Green Cabbage, shredded 2 cups (180 g)
- Chopped Kale 2 cup (135 g)
- Avocado Poppy Seed Dressing, half of total recipe (Recipe Here)
- Prepare the avocado poppy seed dressing. You only need about half, so you can either reduce everything accordingly or my recommendation would be to make the full batch and use it with the Chicken Strawberry Salador another option of your choosing!
- Preheat the oven to 350 F/ 180 C and line two baking sheets with foil
- Chop the sweet potato into about ½" pieces and then toss in a bowl with half the coconut oil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Spread on the baking sheet and roast in the oven for about 15-20 minutes. The potatoes should be slightly crisped on the outside, but nice and soft in the center.
- Meanwhile brush half of the remaining coconut oil on the other baking sheet and then place the salmon the foil, skin side down. Finish by brushing the rest of the coconut oil over the top, season with salt and pepper and bake in the oven for about 10-12 minutes or until cooked to desired doneness.
- While everything is cooking, core and chop the apples.
- Toss the cabbage and kale together in a large bowl with the avocado poppy seed dressing.
- Then build your plate with the greens on bottom, potatoes and apples next and the salmon on top!