Recently a woman posted in a private Facebook group I’m a part of asking for advice on cutting sugar out of her diet. A variety of tips and tricks were proffered: supplements, diets, essential oils, juicing, upping her fat intake, bee pollen, xylitol…
I’m not against any of these tips – without investigation them further, any one of them sound plausible for helping you cut down on sugar. But the advice I offered wasn’t specific to sugar. It was for the entire category of self improvement:
I used to be a sugar monster. It took years, but now I’m to the point where most of the time (not all the time!) but most of the time I look at something sweet and my script is, “I’m not the kind of person who eats that.” Not “I shouldn’t eat that.” Or “That is bad for me even though it tastes good!” But “I don’t eat those sorts of things.” Just think of yourself as the kind of person who does or does not do things. Now I have this visceral reaction to cupcakes where I imagine myself in opposition to the Midwestern tourist stampeding Magnolia’s to get her paws in a Sex and the City-endorsed, hyper-sweet, butter-and-sugar cupcake. No, I’m one of those successful, healthy New Yorkers always running around in yoga clothes to her next high-powered meeting, noshing on quinoa and kale salads. Not really an accurate picture, but whatever works.
The thing is, I’ve always been Alden. My personality has been constant. But the person I present to the world, the outer trappings, has drastically changed over the past seven years. I used to chew gum, drink Diet Coke, microwave myself frozen dinners (“organic,” but still), shop at TopShop and Zara, and a long list of other unhealthy, polluting, and exploiting vices that I’m probably blocking out of my memory. Oh wait, here’s another one: I would occasionally smoke in college. Just socially, of course.
When I think of my New Year’s resolutions, I feel like they have always failed. And yet, when I look back to my 22-year-old self, it’s clear I’ve improved on so many measures. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished! I’m healthier, happier, with more nourishing relationships, and more successful. Why? How?
Well, I’ve definitely matured. I can’t discount the power of a fully developed prefrontal cortex to help you make forward-thinking decisions. But I think, more importantly, that my concept of who I am changed. I stopped being a southern sorority girl who struggled constantly with my weight and deeply cared about what boys thought about me, and started thinking of myself as a grownup, a New Yorker, an environmental advocate, a journalist, a feminist, and – finally – a green blogger. As that conception of myself seeped into my soul, my habits and wants and needs began to evolve organically. Would a boss lady chew gum? Would an environmental advocate drink Diet Coke? Would a supporter of sustainable agriculture buy frozen dinners? Would a green blogger shop at Zara? Would a feminist base her self worth on designer labels, or let a guy treat her that way? No, of course not.
In fact, having a strong conception of myself as healthy and compassionate toward people and the planet is the thing that helped me stop my biggest bad habit forever.
Some background: If you often go out in New York City, you’ll be offered cocaine. It’s a fact of the nightlife. It followed me from college through several different friend groups. I was offered cocaine at least once a week as a means of bonding, of staying up longer, of flirting, of feeling powerful and sexy and part of the cool crowd. I knew intellectually all the reasons why I shouldn’t do it: It’s addictive; it’s often adulterated with other crazy drugs; it’s bad for your heart; buying it funds violence and crime, etc. But it was my developing a public persona as an environmentalist that nailed the coffin lid shut on that vice.
At first I just had a conversation with my boyfriend at the time. “I can’t do this anymore. It’s not something I believe in,” I said. I eased up on it in a big way, but it still showed up often, and every once in awhile I would relent and say yes.
Then I started taking my blog seriously (the blog before this one), and that was the final thing I needed to stop it completely and forever. “No thank you,” I would wave the person off with a friendly smile. “I’m a sustainable blogger and it’s sort of the opposite of fair trade.” Sometimes I would make a joke. “If you find me organic, fair trade cocaine, then let me know.” Eventually, the offers from acquaintances petered out. I think other people, when they met me, also knew I’m not the type of person to do cocaine. Once every few months I still get offered a bump from strangers, but it’s not hard for me to say no. I’m just not the kind of person who does cocaine.
It’s not like I judge people who do it. How could I, when I used to? It’s more like someone who does it, and who offers it to me, has different goals than I do, different values, and a different lifestyle. We’re different people. I have as much in common with that person as someone who eats McDonald’s, or spends all her disposable income on designer purses emblazoned with logos. I’ve built a conception of myself that includes things I do, and things I don’t do. And I try to be consistent in my actions and believes, as consistent as I can possibly be.
This is not to say I’m a perfect human being. I don’t eat exclusively organic. I am low-, not zero-, waste. Just out of curiosity, I dug through my budget for the year, and it looks like on average I take a cab once a week, which is far more than I would like to admit. But I’m heartened by the fact that one of my heroes, Michael Pollan, never advocated for perfection either. He advocates striving for a higher standard of nutrition. So yes, I ate the Reese’s peanut butter cups I found in my stocking for Christmas. But when my mom accidentally put sugar in my tea, thinking it was hers, I wrinkled my nose in distaste at the sweet taste. I don’t put sugar in my tea. I dumped it out and started over.
Speaking of, I would like to dump 2016 out and start fresh for 2017. Wouldn’t you?
I Am Versus I Will
Turns out, this strategy that I intuited is actually backed up by research. A 2012 study showed that saying “I don’t” is more effective than saying “I can’t” when trying to avoid temptation and reach your goals.
That’s why I feel like my resolutions have always failed. They’re based on “I won’t” or “I can’t” when they should be based on saying “I do” or “I don’t.” You have to believe that you are the kind of person who doesn’t eat sugar, who avoids toxic behavior, who eats healthfully. When you say, “I can’t eat that slice of cake,” a tone of regret is worked in. It implies usually you totally would, but your better self is fighting your true self for supremacy and temporarily winning. It implies regression. It implies failure. It implies, “Ask me again and I might say yes.” Saying “I will” is implying that somewhere down the road, you will hopefully make that switch even though you aren’t doing it right now. It implies tomorrow, then the next day, and the next is when you’ll do it.
But saying “I don’t eat cupcakes” or “I exercise every day” implies mastery, self awareness, and success. It implies that you’ve have, you are, and you will be living healthfully. It implies, “If you ask me again if I will give you a withering look. Didn’t you hear me the first time?”
The Kind of Person I Am
Knowing this, I am reformulating my resolutions this year into what I will call affirmations for 2017. I will build on my many small successes in the past seven years in my ongoing project of being the best Alden I can be.
So without further ado, here are my 2017 affirmations:
1. I don’t eat sweets.
(This has been one of my resolutions for years. I haven’t been able to go cold turkey, but have gotten much better. Maybe if I reformulate it, I can finally go all the way!)
Things with added sugar taste way too sweet to me, and make me feel sick. I only buy nut milks that are unsweetened. I hate cupcakes. Ice cream doesn’t call my name. I don’t eat Reese’s anymore, even though I used to love them. In fact, I don’t eat any candy anymore. The most I’ll do is a little bit of dark chocolate. After a good meal, I like having some fresh fruit instead of a traditional dessert.
I’m not the kind of person who eats sweets.
2. I don’t waste time on social media.
I don’t have time for the empty calories of social media. I’m just too busy! Plus, I’m happier without it. I don’t have the Facebook app on my phone, and I have Timeline Eradicator so when I use my laptop to go on Facebook for work-related purposes, I don’t get sucked in. I allocate a certain portion of my day to dealing with social media tasks for my blog, but that is work, not pleasure. I efficiently work at my desk without checking my phone until such time that I have a meeting, make myself a healthy lunch, or need to take a refreshing walk around the block. And at the end of the day, I turn off all my screens and read a magazine or book, meet up with a friend, have a date with my dude, clean the apartment, or attend an event. I’m not the kind of person who you see sitting next to my boo, ignoring him, flicking my finger up on my phone with a zombie facial expression. I don’t check my phone first thing in the morning when I wake up. I focus on the real, present world, and allow myself time to be bored and have free ranging thoughts, without giving myself the dopamine hit of digital likes.
I’m not the kind of person who wastes time on social media.
3. I have a morning routine that I never miss.
I am a morning person. And I never miss my morning routine. I engage in some sort of exercise (either at the gym or at the apartment with some quick exercises from an app on my phone), take a quick shower, make myself tea, water the plants, meditate, practice my Spanish, and eat a healthy breakfast. If I don’t, I feel off for the rest of the day! So I always do it. In order to accomplish this before email snags my attention, I go to bed on the early side, and get up at 6:30 am every day.
I’m the kind of person who has a morning routine.
Does this strategy ring true to you? What kind of person are you going to be in 2017? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!