2007-11-30 5:18 PM

Necessary Conditions

Do you know how the food you eat influences you? Do you even recognize that the food you eat influences your feelings? Your mood? Your energy?

I have paid enough attention in the past to realize that my digestion is better when it is not loaded down by red meat. With this knowledge in mind I can make a conscious decision to skip the beef or deal with the slower digestion.

The self-reflection that generated this awareness was prompted by an external source. A similar comment recently has me running another experiment around refined flours and sugars. (Eben equated the reaction to processed, white “foods” with that of a crack addict.)

A good way to sabotage any change is to rely on the power of my will in the moment. It is way too late if the Zinger snack cake is in my hand and I attempt to break the eating pattern between bites. A much more successful strategy involves removing willpower from the equation. What needs to change ahead of time to prevent the Zinger from being in my mouth?

One method is to analyze the pattern for the necessary conditions required for the behavior to occur. In this example there needs to be Zingers available and I need to be in a semi-automatic, mindless mode when some sort of prompting directs me towards food. I decided to start with the availability since I can’t fully control the stimuli that might prompt a hunger reaction. Plus, removing the automatic response of eating the Zinger allows me to stop and pay attention to what my body is telling me (do I really need food or just water, is it time for a break, etc).

Then I did the same analysis of what the necessary conditions are for Zingers being available. The obvious place to start was that I had to buy the Zingers and put them in my desk. If either of those conditions were unmet I wouldn’t be eating Zingers that day. If I were to go back one step and not put them in my desk they would still be around somewhere and I would eat them eventually. This suggests that I go back as far as possible in the process to minimize Zinger availability.

Stepping back and analyzing the point-of-purchase brings us back to another battle with willpower — which I was avoiding in the first place. The advantage of backtracking through necessary conditions is that the willpower needed at the store is much lower than what is needed when the Zinger is in my hand. I can (more or less) rationally recognize how gross I’ll feel if I eat the box of Zingers. I also have immediate access to more healthful alternates such as carrots or tangerines. Not to mention all the opportunities between picking up the box and paying during which I can become aware and put them back.

The other non-obvious trick I use is that I allow myself one concession. Today it was chocolate covered raisins. Once I had my raisins it was much easier to pass the pop-tarts and Zingers because I had filled my quota of transgressions. (The next level involves putting the concession item back just before checking out!)

So, we’ve taken the situation of mindlessly eating Zingers at my desk and traced necessary conditions back to the initial purchase where the willpower needed is minimal and the time to reflect is maximal. The other missing piece in making this change is the intent. Next we’ll look at ways to word your intentions and desires that tunes your awareness. (For when you’re driving your shopping cart past the snack aisle!)

What “automatic” reaction will you prevent today by removing a necessary condition?

Posted by Wayne Buckhanan 3 Comments »

3 Comments on “Necessary Conditions”

  1. Life, Love, & Learning - Adding or Subtracting Habits Says:

    […] Necessary Conditions 2007-12-02 1:58 […]

  2. Life, Love, & Learning - Bypass Motivation Says:

    […] then set up situations and systems that make them as close to automatic as possible. (This is where necessary conditions and forcing functions can be invaluable.) This formula applies whether the tasks are done by […]

  3. Life, Love, & Learning - Are You Still Stuck? (I Am.) Says:

    […] automatic) and other states that make it much less likely (or impossible). In much the same way as necessary conditions and forcing functions work externally we can use preferred and prohibitive states […]

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