Engaging in “flow” activities feeds a basic human need for challenge and creativity. You don’t need as much willpower when you’re meeting this foundational requirement, because you’re fulfilled in an almost primal way.
In the HD program we learn that there are lots of ways to keep the well of energy called willpower as full as possible. We want adequate raw willpower.
Another key approach to staying on plan is to reduce the need for willpower in the first place. We do this by feeding the real need (the thing that’s driving you to the fridge or cupboard). It might be loneliness, upset, or fatigue; often it’s just simple boredom. Engaging in a flow activity can be a solution for many of these needs.
When I’m following my personal nutrition plan closely, which still seems to be about 90% of the time to maintain my weight, I run into situations where it’s really hard to make the “on plan” choice.
Saying no to treats can make you feel sorry for yourself, and eventually the brain signals, “You deserve that!” For people who are working to change their diet and relationship with food, discovering flow activities and experiencing them can reveal that this is what they REALLY deserved all along.
Being in flow is a delicious treat that life can give you if you look for it.
Since the 1970s, professor and scholar Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Ph.D. has driven research into an altered state of being that he calls “flow.” He has written extensively on the topic, but I still recommend his seminal book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience to understand it well.
What is flow? How do I find MY flow?
Think of something you enjoy doing that is also thoroughly engaging. It requires focus and has challenges. When you do this thing, time flies and you’re totally into it. The outside world kind of fades a bit.
That’s being in flow.
For some it’s creating art or music, for others it’s a physical endeavor or even just focused thinking about some conundrum or opportunity. I am actually related to people who say doing math problems puts them in this zone. So, what is dull to one might well be flow for another.
While time does fly when you’re watching TV or a movie, it is very passive and unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to bring the benefits of flow. Which isn’t to say you shouldn’t enjoy movies and TV, it’s just that passive activities probably won’t make it easier to say no to that cookie, while flow activities likely will.
Today we race around and everyone makes their lives so busy, we aren’t experiencing this fundamental joy in personal creativity and challenge. This drive is what brought humanity to the level of cultural sophistication we enjoy today. It is primal, you deserve to fulfill this desire.
Give yourself the gift of time to do something that turns you on. It may be something you haven’t done in years, or something you always wanted to learn how to do. Or even something you just want to do and learn more about.
You’ll completely forget about food when you’re in flow, that’s reason enough. And because you’re feeding this primal need, it may be easier to say no later as well.