In Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus is warned about the dangers he will face at sea. One of these is the Sirens. “The Sirens were magical sea creatures that looked like mermaids and had beautiful singing voices. The music they made was so hypnotic that sailors stopped sailing their ships, to listen – - with no one in charge, the ships crashed into land, killing everyone on board. When Odysseus heard the beautiful music, he was suspicious immediately. To be extra safe, he stuffed his crewmen’s ears so they could not hear the music. He tied himself to the ship’s mast. That way, in case the gods decided to be helpful, he wanted to be able to hear them. But, since he was tied tightly, he would not be able to jump off the ship or swim to shore, or to do anything else that might endanger himself or his crew, when he heard the magical music. It worked! Odysseus is still the only man who ever heard the Sirens sing and lived to tell about it!”
Well, if I’m Odysseus, my Siren is Chocolate. And instead of using it in my ears, I should have jammed the wax in my mouth. For the first time in memory, I made it through the holidays being “flat” on the scale. Zero weight gain. Not one pound. How? Exercise daily. Modest intake of junk food and candy and cookies despite it being available everywhere. Then for some strange reason, the Sirens started calling on January 2nd. CHOCOLATE. One piece one day. Leading to 3 larger pieces each day for 3 days. Then I graduated to 2 candy bars a day. My weight exploded. What a WEAK man. What a woeful shortage of willpower and discipline.
I didn’t need the NY Times or anyone else to tell me that I needed to cut the calories, remove the candy from the house and get this situation back under control. Yet this article and its reference to “Willpower” and Odysseus (which jogged my memory of Greek Mythology in college) resonated with me. I have the 7 tips from this article hanging next to my desk. Enjoy some of my favorite excerpts…
New York Times
BE IT RESOLVED: New Year’s Resolutions Stick When Willpower Is Reinforced
SET A SINGLE CLEAR GOAL: Set a specific goal — say, lose a pound a week. And limit yourself to one big resolution at a time. If you’re trying to quit smoking or save money, don’t bother counting how many calories you consume or burn up. With a finite supply of willpower, it’s tough enough to keep one resolution, as John C. Norcross and others after having tracked people for six months after New Year’s. By the end of January, 36 percent of them had broken their resolutions. After that, the failures happened more slowly. Half were still keeping their resolutions in March, and by July the success rate was still 44 percent — less than half, admittedly, but still impressive compared with a control group of people who had the same goals (like losing weight) but didn’t make formal resolutions. Only 4 percent of the control group made progress. “Contrary to widespread public opinion, a considerable proportion of New Year resolvers do succeed…and “You are 10 times more likely to change by making a New Year’s resolution compared to non-resolvers with the identical goals and comparable motivation to change.”
PRECOMMIT: Odysseus’ classic strategy, having himself tied to the mast, still works against modern sirens. Besides the simple things you do yourself — plan meals in advance, keep junk food out of the kitchen, schedule workouts with friends, go to the store without a credit card — you can further bind yourself by e-mailing your goal to friends or posting it on Facebook.
OUTSOURCE: You can outsource self-control by sharing your progress with friends through Twitter posts about your weight or your workouts, or by making a formal contract at Web sites like stickK.com…you set the goal and have the option of naming a referee to enforce it. You also set the penalty. It might be just an e-mailed announcement to a list of friends…you can also put money on the line. You can precommit to paying the penalty to anyone you designate, including an “anti-charity,” which for a Democrat could be the George W. Bush library. (The Clinton library is available for Republicans). The more you precommit, the better you do, according to stickK’s analysis of 125,000 contracts over the past three years. The success rate for people who don’t name a referee or set financial stakes is only 29 percent, but it rises to 59 percent when there’s a referee and to 71.5 percent when there’s money at stake. And when a contract includes a referee and financial stakes, the success rate is nearly 80 percent.
KEEP TRACK: Nutritionists used to advise people not to weigh themselves more than once a week — supposedly so as not to get discouraged by fluctuations — but recent research has shown that daily weigh-ins work better. Self-monitoring is vital to any kind of resolution, and new tools will do the grunt work for you. Scales like one made by Withings will log your weight on your computer and notify your friends (if you want). Gizmos like the BodyMedia Fit armband and the FitBit clip can estimate how many calories you’ve burned by keeping track of your movements all day long. You can let all your financial transactions be automatically categorized byMint.com. After analyzing 2 billion transactions by 3 million users, Mint’s analysts confirmed the benefits of monitoring: once people started tracking where their money went, they tempered their spending.
DON’T OVERREACT TO A LAPSE: One reason dieters fail is a phenomenon formally known as “counterregulatory eating” — and informally as the “what the hell effect.” Once they lapse, they figure the day’s diet is blown anyway, so they go on to finish the whole carton of ice cream, thereby doing far more damage than the original lapse.
TOMORROW IS ANOTHER TASTE: One of the cheeriest new findings from diet research comes from an experiment in which people had to resist a bowl of M&M’s. The ones who told themselves they could have the candy later had a much easier time than the ones who swore off M&M’s permanently. So when the dessert cart arrives, promise yourself that you’ll sample each of the treats, but just not tonight.
REWARD OFTEN: If you use willpower only to deny yourself pleasures, it becomes a grim, thankless form of defense. But when you use it to gain something, you can wring pleasure out of the dreariest tasks. Young people who seem hopelessly undisciplined in school or on the job will concentrate for hour after hour on video games because there’s a steady series of prizes. That’s the feeling to aim for in the real world. If you quit smoking, earmark some of the savings for expensive meals. If your waistline shrinks, splurge on new clothes. One new exercise monitor, the Striiv, will make donations to charity based on how many steps you take. Other gadgets and apps will award points or trophies. Even the tiniest and silliest rewards can make a difference. If you want your willpower to last all year, every little bit helps.