Bright Lines

I’m often working on some kind of self-improvement: changing my diet, exercising right, or adjusting my work-life balance. But changing my behavior is difficult and I had many failures before any successes.

In 2012 I tried to reduce the amount of meat in my diet, from 1-2 times per day to 1-2 times per week. I was successful for a couple months but it was exhausting the entire time. Every meal was a decision, “are these McNuggets worthy of my meat allowance?” and I had to have a little negotiation with myself. Eventually I went back to the old routine of eating animals.

In 2015 I tried to reduce the amount of sugar in my diet. It was the same anguish: the fit angel on my left shoulder was overrun by the jolly devil on my right shoulder.

In 2018 I took a different approach and it worked: I made a bright line. “Fish is okay; absolutely no other meat.” The bright line was successful because the decisions were removed. No more spending will power on pepperoni’s temptations! I’m eating fish once or twice a week, no other meat, and I expect to continue this diet (or better!) forever.

At the beginning of 2020 I cut sweetened sodas from my diet completely with another bright line. No Pepsi, Mountain Dew, or even Diet Dr. Pepper. There’s no decision and so I don’t get tempted. No cola sucked for a couple weeks but I’m over it now.

I’m successful at changing my behavior when there’s a hard rule that offers no decision to negotiate. “Less x” or “More y” don’t work for me, but “No x” and “Always y” just might.