Want to know how to choose a diet or workout that you can stick to?
Then mercilessly reduce the number of fitness plans and dieting plans that you expose yourself to.
Read on to see how scientific evidence shows that too much diets or workouts to choose from is not always a good thing.
We have then provided 7 fail safe methods for you to choose a diet which you are guaranteed to maintain for the long haul!
SO MUCH CHOICES
Every Monday morning there is a new diet or workout claiming that you can eat whatever you want and look sexy with wash board abs.
The simple question on ‘how to find a diet that works for me?’ is no longer a simple one.
There is intermittent fasting, Paleo, ketogenic, high fat, low carb diet plans, eating nothing but greens and berries, high protein weight loss plans and hundreds of others.
I remember going through bodybuilding magazines from the 80s and they had just a few simple rules: lift heavy with basic compound lifts, eat a lot of food and sleep.
No discussion about how the color of gloves, chalk and water bottles affected workout performance.
Pick up any modern day fitness magazine and every week there are expert writes debating on every imaginable topic under the sun…machines vs free weights, Nike vs Puma, gloves vs straps, wheat vs gluten, broccoli vs mushrooms and thousands of other things.
No wonder many of us prefer to just eat whatever we want because it’s easier than trying to choose from among all the health and fitness options of the modern era.
An Experiment Gone Bad?
In his book The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz describes an experiment where 24 different type of jams were displayed in an upscale grocery.
Shoppers were invited to sample the jams and for those who did they received a coupon for $1 of for any one of the spreads. On another day shoppers saw a similar table, expect that only six types of jam was available.
In which scenario did people purchase more? Here is the kicker:
People purchased more when 6 types of jam were available!
Although the display with the 24 types of jam attracted a larger crowd they were only one tenth as likely to buy as people who saw the display with only 6 types!
Schwartz gives other examples such as when employees were offered varying retirement saving options.
The more saving options available then the less employees were willing to participate!
Imagine too much choice affecting whether you spend your retirement on the Caribbean beaches or if you eat dog chow.
This is indeed counter-intuitive. We would think that the more options we have the more we would want to save or buy jam. But this is not the case.
Too many choices for the brain
Choices have an impact on the brain. An article in The New Yorker shows that when people are shown two items of similar high value that the positivity areas of the brain is activated.
So show me an IPhone and my brain lights up and the same thing happens when you show me an IPad.
But when asked to make a choice and pick one of these two items the anxiety centers of the brain are activated instead.
When given the choice among six similar high value items the anxiety centers were activated even more!
The more items that we have to choose from, the greater the activation of the anxiety centers.
The study further showed that the more active these anxiety brain centers were during the decision making process then the higher the probability that participants would regret the choice made and would be more inclined to reverse it.
The word ‘high value’ is important. Obviously if given the option between a stereo system and a peanut then I would pick the stereo system.
So just remember that when you choose your fitness programs and diets that if there were other similar competing programs to choose from then you have to be wary of not wanting to go back and choose one of the other competing options…..especially when you are now getting started.
Biology of Choice
Choice also has a biology of its own. In previous articles we spoke about the rider or the pre-frontal cortex area of the brain.
Well the pre-frontal cortex is responsible for making conscious choices.
Although conscious choice is the turf of the pre-frontal cortex, it is easily overloaded when given too much choices leading to decision paralysis.
The nature itself of making choices requires a lot of thinking and the weighing of pros and cons of each option and this tires out the pre-frontal cortex easily.
When this happens the pre-frontal cortex instead of trying to do all this hard work of debating which choice is better prefers to revert back to the default: CHANGE NOTHING AND STAY THE SAME!
How Choice caused me to delay my fitness
I always wanted to be fit. I remember some years ago subscribing to Men’s Health magazine and to their online forum (Men’s Health was just one of many options I had).
I would spend hours trying to decide which program to do: as the magazine had so many. I spent even more hours shooting questions on their forums looking for advice. Then I obsessed over which diet to use.
And I took no action.
Then I went out looking for another program. I came upon a workout series by a guy called Vince Del Monte. I tried his workouts for a few weeks and then called it quits.
I realized that when deciding to take up any of these programs or diets that I was also researching others at the same time. As I read the claims of each one I felt elated! Wow…I am on my way to sexiness I would say.
Only to tell myself a few days into the program: I wonder if I had tried the Jay Cutler program instead if my results would have been better? Or if I have tried the Arnold Series maybe I would have gotten that 24 inch biceps in 2 weeks.
And then I would stop taking action….again.
I was always coming back and asking myself ‘but what if I had done that other program instead?’ In effect I was reversing the choice I had made when I decided to follow the particular program.
Too much choice would always make me think about what results the other diet or workout plan could have given me.
The result: reverting to my default mode which was poor diet habits and no exercise.
In the words of Schwartz ‘even if we do make a choice we end up less satisfied with the result of that choice than we would be if we had fewer options to choose from’.
How to Combat the Decision Paradox (7 Easy Ways!)
Obviously we can’t close our eyes and ears to what goes on around us.
We would always be bombarded by choices on the TV or magazines, social media, friends and family.
However I have found that these strategies to be helpful:
Follow the diet and training of someone you want to look like in terms of fitness by asking them how they eat and how they train.
That way all choice is eliminated! Full stop.
I wanted to have a physique like Bollywood actor Hrithik Roshan. So I researched him and found out that he hired a trainer by the name of Kris Gethin when he was preparing for one of his blockbuster movies.
Kris Gethin has his full transformation programs online, so I narrowed my training and diet by just choosing his programs and not Men’s Health or Vince Delmont’s.
And I stuck to it unlike the other times!
Choose based your core values.
Personally I prefer hardcore weight lifting and eating clean.
This resonates with my core values. It even dictates how I dress at the gym and what kind of gym I go to (flashiness is not my thing…hard rusty iron and old squeaky ripped up machines are).
It helps me narrow my choices when I am deciding what type of training or dieting to pursue.
Yoga or cycling may resonate better with your core values. Then go that route.
Take it a step further and see which yoga philosophy or yoga guru resonates with your values. Then choose based on that.
Darren Hardy the author of The Compound Effect says that when your actions conflict with your core values then you end up frustrated and unhappy.
Tell me to go to a dietitian and eat 1000 calories a day with no carbs and walk for 20 minutes on a treadmill and I honestly would have preferred to remain fat because that sort of dieting doesn’t align with my core values.
Script the critical moves.
Every healthy diet plan has two or three things that are universally common. Most would tell you eat whole foods, avoid refined carbohydrates and sugars and stay away from processed foods.
I like to call these common themes the critical moves. I got this term from the book Switch by Chip and Dan Heath. The critical moves are just the 2-3 things that you focus on.
No matter which dietary philosophy you decide to follow be it high protein or low carb dieting the’ critical moves’ in most of these diets would always be the same:
- Eat Whole Foods and Whole Grains and vegetables
- Eat only complex and unrefined carbs and include fruit daily
- Eliminate sugars & unhealthy fats
Instead of trying to choose among a hundred different diets you can focus these three critical moves. And bingo! You just eliminated hundreds of choices making it easier for the brain to handle.
Use Implementation Intentions to stick to whatever diet or workout you do choose.
If you cannot find someone you want to be like or cannot identify with any particular core value as it pertains to fitness then whatever diet and fitness plan you choose then use an implementation intention and immediately lock the behavior in.
All you do is write down: ‘ I have chosen the Cutler program or Asthanga Yoga program and every Monday, Tuesday and Thursday at 6:00 am after I have eaten breakfast I am going to train and follow Day 1 of (the program name)’. Be specific with time and place.
Basically you are giving the choice a time and place to breathe and take a life of its own. I have a full article on implementation intentions coming up soon.
It’s better to write it down and not just say in your head. Writing it down makes it seems real.
Set false time constraints.
The brain loves immediate gratification. When you do make a choice tell yourself that you are only going to try this workout or diet for a week.
What you are trying to do here is making the choice seem appealing to the brain so it doesn’t want to reverse the decision.
If it’s for a short time frame the brain would be more inclined to want to stick with the particular choice as it sees an end point that is close.
Of course the hope is that once you start and build momentum you may stick to the program. After week 1 or Day 1 or whatever period you had set as your false time constraint then set another one for an equal time frame and keep repeating the cycle.
Take one small IMMEDIATE step towards your choice.
Let’s say that you decide that your workout of choice is Yoga by Ric Flair. Then IMMEDIATELY book the yoga class as soon as you have made your choice. Literally within seconds or minutes.
Call up Ric Flair and say ‘hey dude. I commit to month 1 of your awesome Yoga program. Here is my credit card digits. Sign me up…WOOOOO’.
Make sure you say ‘WOOOOO’ for a discount.(Ric Flair was a WWF champion wrestler in the 80s and 90s known for saying ‘WOOOOO’ at least 20 times in a 2 minute conversation. So saying ‘WOOOO’ is bound to impress him).
Or ask your boss for time off to stand on your head immediately or you can go to the mall during your lunch break and buy a yoga mat.
What you are doing is taking one small action or step towards the choice you have made….AS SOON AS YOU HAVE MADE THAT CHOICE.
I repeat: AS SOON AS YOU HAVE MADE THAT CHOICE
That way your brain would think ‘Ok choice already made and one step also made. Let’s see how we can now just move with it. I can’t look at other choices now’.
Action builds motivation. Once you take that first small step it would snowball and you wouldn’t look back at what choices you should or should have not made.
When I decided that I was going to follow Kris Gethin I immediately went online and ordered his recommended supplement stack…although I started the program 2 weeks after. I took small actions like buying food bowls, water bottles for the gym etc. throughout that 2 weeks.
Tell a friend as soon as you make your choice.
When I made up my mind to be fit I immediately called up some of my buddies telling them that I am going to leap from fat to sexy in 3 months following this awesome program. I told them the name of the program and when I was going to start.
One of my friends who I had told, immediately decided to do the program with me.
That way there was no changing my mind about programs anymore as I built both pre-commitment and social pressure to follow the choice made. If I had decided to change my program of choice then I would have been letting down my buddy.
If you have experienced the effects of too much choice please leave a comment. Also please let us know how you got around it.
Oops I forgot…I listed 7 strategies….was that too much choice? I hope not .WOOOOO!