The Path of Least Resistance - How To Make Healthy Choices Easy
Author - Stephen Griffith C.S.C.S. Pn1
Much like a river, our decisions flow according to the path of least resistance. Change the resistance and you can change the decisions that a person will make.
In business, this resistance is called friction, and it refers to anything that slows the flow of a potential lead to paying customer.
It is the reason Amazon has been so successful. At every step of the transaction they make it easier and easier from 1 click checkout to next day delivery.
Just as a business will make it easier for you to make the choices they want, they will make it harder to make the choices they don’t want. This is why it can be such a hassle to cancel memberships, return items, or resolve customer service issues.
Increase friction - the harder a task becomes the less likely you will be to do it.
Decrease friction - the easier a task becomes the more likely you will be to do it.
Understand how to manipulate friction in your life and you’ll have the power to change the decisions you make.
It’s for this reason why given the choice, I prefer my pistachios shelled rather than unshelled.
I know myself. I’m a snacker who is prone to mindless eating. If left to my devices, I would eat the entire bag of unshelled pistachios in one sitting.
Shelled pistachios are a different story. They require physically opening the shell to get the nut. The shell slows me down and make me work for my meal. Eventually, I tire of deshelling pistachios and stop eating.
Shells provide friction to the act of eating pistachios. That bit of resistance is enough to save me from overeating on hundreds of calories.
To much friction can also dissuade you from making healthy decisions as well.
Now consider breakfast where friction leads us to making unhealthy choices.
Sources of friction can include a lack of time to cook, a lack of ingredients to cook with, a lack of energy from a poor night’s sleep, or dirty dishes you would have to clean first before you start cooking.
When there is too much resistance we will just choose the easier -and often less healthy - option such as throwing an Eggo waffle in the microwave and heading on our way.
This is why willpower is an unsustainable way to make a change. Willpower is a limited resource we use whenever we forgo the easy way and/or resist temptation.
When our willpower reserve is exhausted we will simply do what is most convenient.
At Fitness Made Clear, we believe that eating healthy and exercising will only persevere when it becomes easier than being unhealthy.
The reason our clients see such great and long-lasting results are because we teach them how to tip the decision making scales in their favor.
We do this is by
Making it easier to make healthy choices (reduce friction)
Making it harder to make unhealthy choices (increase friction)
When done well, being healthy stops feeling like work and instead becomes a routine part of life.
Below in this article, I will share a few methods you can use to help shift the balance into your favor.
Making it easier to make healthy choices (reduce friction)
Habits are automatic behaviors formed through repetition. The more you do it the less mental energy is needed to make it happen.
Much as you don’t will yourself to brush your teeth every morning, fit people don’t will themselves into the gym or eating healthy. It’s just habits.
They say a habit takes about 21 days to form but this can vary based on the task. What’s important is to consistently repeat the behavior.
To make it to this milestone it is important for you to plan in advance and make the task as easy as possible to achieve. You don’t want to be in decision mode where you have to figure out what to cook that night. Rather you will want to plan it in advance and then just be in execution mode.
To help, use a habit tracker. A daily log that you check off each day or time you complete the intended behavior.
Eat the same meals
Why should you repeat meals? Because it makes life simpler. The fewer decisions you have to make the better. It’s why Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs wore the same outfits to work every day. The fewer decisions you make the fewer poor decisions you‘ll make.
My suggestion - Pick 2 healthy breakfast, 2 healthy lunches and 2-3 dinners you can eat.
Tada, this is the menu for your week.
It may sound boring to repeat the same meals but I’m willing to bet you already do. How many different breakfasts have you had this past week?
After you get into a routine, you may add new meals each week to your repertoire.
Quick and easy healthy meals
The reason fast food and processed junk food is so attractive is that it’s quick and easy. When picking your meals, make sure you have a handful of quick and easy healthy meals you can make when needed.
Fortunately, healthy meals can be just as quick and easy. Consider Greek yogurt with a little granola and some fruit. Quick, easy, and healthy.
Microwave veggies and proteins
Everyone should have a bag of microwavable veggies in their freezer.
Given the choice, I prefer fresh in-season fruits and veggies, but after a long day of work, I don’t want to cook. This is when having a few options that you can microwave for a healthy meal comes in handy.
I always have a bag of frozen mixed veggies and grilled chicken strips in my freezer for times of need.
Sometimes we get hungry during the day and need something to tide us over till our next meal. It’s at these moments when it’s easy to walk to a vending machine or convenience store and grab a candy bar or a bag of chips.
Instead, make it a priority to have a healthy snack option available.
Examples might include carrots and hummus, nuts and seeds, or fruit such as apples, oranges, berries or bananas.
Work, school, kids, friends, hobbies, sleep and life are constantly putting demands on your time and energy.
Finding energy to the shop, cook, let alone eat is difficult. It’s much easier to order out, grab something on the way home, or pop a TV dinner in the microwave.
The key to getting around this and making sure you get healthy meals in even when your time is most strained is by meal prepping.
Make time each week to cook. Cook in bunches to save times and then package or freeze your meals for the upcoming week. This way when you're short on time or energy your meal is already ready.
A Gym close by/ Home gym.
Convenience is key for hitting the gym consistency. If you're going to a gym, then make sure it’s close by. The closer it is to work or home the more likely you will be to make it.
To really up your chances of working out get a few pieces of equipment for your home. This way you always have an option.
If a home gym means you get one workout, you normally wouldn't have a week that would mean 52 workouts over the course of a year. That’s a big difference!
Have a workout plan
Don’t be in decision mode, be in execution mode. Decisions take effort and provide opportunities for you to make poor decisions. Having a plan before you go to the gym saves your time, energy, and allows you to get a better workout. Instead of wondering what exercise you should do and how many reps or sets over and over again having a plan allows you to know exactly what to do. All you have to do is just execute the plan and leave.
Bike To Work
People who bike to work are significantly happier than those who drive. Fresh air and exercise can’t be beaten. If you live close enough, then get a bike and take it to work or to the store for errands.
This way, exercise just becomes a part of life.
Get a dog
Dogs are great. Besides being cute, furry, and full of unconditional love they can help you be healthier. Having a dog gives you a reason to get up take a walk. Those walks add up and can make a big difference in your health.
Make it harder to make unhealthy choices
Our bodies adapted over hundreds of thousands of years for a life of movement. Since the industrial revolution a 150 years ago life has changed drastically. Year after year machines and automation allow us to move less and live more comfortable lives. This comfort has come at the expense of our health.
Not having snacks in the house
If it’s in the house, someone will eat it. The best way to stop snacking is to remove trouble foods from your home. There will be times where you’ll want a treat but if the junk isn’t around, it will force you to go with a healthier option.
Or it’ll push you to get dressed and go to the store, for which I say - if your craving was that strong then maybe you needed it.
Placing trouble foods out of sight
Let’s say you can't remove all the trouble foods from your home. At the least move them out of sight. Place them up in the cabinets and out of the way. Remove the temptations.
Get up for seconds
Use a smaller plate to serve yourself. If you decide you want to get more, you must get up and serve yourself seconds instead of having it all on one plate.
Just this small change is enough to allow you time to consider how you feel and decide if you really need that second serving.
Taking the stairs and parking farther away from work
If you don’t use it you lose. Take the opportunity and get a little more activity in during your day. When given the choice, take the stairs. When you can walk to the store instead of drive, do so. If you must drive then park farther away from the entrance. These moments add up.
Friends keeping you accountable / social pressures.
Have you ever noticed in a group that people eat less? No one wants to be the person who takes more than their share.
Social pressure can be very strong in influencing behaviors. One of the best things you can do is find friends who have healthy habits and will put you into healthy situations. Here a little peer pressure is good.
If you can‘t find a healthy friend network, then find a friend and have them hold you accountable. Make it so you have to text them when you go to the gym.
Being healthy and fit is a lifestyle. The key to success is to make living a healthy lifestyle as easy or easier than living an unhealthy one. It’s difficult, but by implementing some strategies above you can tip the scales in your favor.
Once you tip the scales, living healthy ceases to feel like work. It just is.