Self-Control Saint: The Sloth

Imagining myself as a sloth might not be the best way to motivate myself to get up and do something, but when my goal is to not do something, a key solution for me has been to sloooooow dooooowwwwn.

…one way to immediately boost willpower: Slow your breathing down to… ten to fifteen seconds per breath…. A few minutes of this technique will make you feel calm, in control, and capable of handling cravings or challenges.

The Willpower Instinct (Kelly McGonigal, Ph. D.)

So here I am, picturing myself in the body of a sloth, hanging effortlessly and comfortably, literally gathering algae in my fur. Slow heart rate. Slow breathing.

Photo by Bruce Getty from Pexels

Slowing down has been a real game-changer for me. But I know from past attempts at reducing my sugar intake that if I don’t have a clear and strong reason to change my behaviour, I can and will find ways around this technique. I’ll get into that in a minute, but first, I want to go over how I’ve been doing since my last post.

Sugar Diary: Day 3

Overall, I’m happy with the way things have gone! I’ve eaten what I felt was a moderate amount of sweets each day, despite temptation to eat more. Three whoots for that! Here are the tools I’ve relied on:

  • Slowing down my breathing and reminding myself of my goal.
  • Having lots of easy-prep or no-prep, high-protein snacks on hand, such as cheddar slices on crackers, plain Greek yogurt, or butter on whole wheat toast. Mmmm… butter.

I feel I’m doing well, but I’m starting to wonder if I need to outline ways to get unstuck when I’m on the fence about what is “moderate”. I may need to update this as I go along but here’s my first crack at it:

  • Start small. If I’m on the fence about having one cookie or two, just have one.
  • If I still want more later, ask myself why. Often, I’m just feeling frustrated or worn-out and looking for a quick mood/energy boost. Instead of having a sugary snack, find a better solution to the problem. For example, if I’m…
    • stressed – sit down and breath deeply and slowly for a couple minutes, or do a 5-minute mindfulness exercise if I have time
    • tired – schedule in a nap, get off my feet for a quick break, or have some green tea if those aren’t viable options
    • hungry – find one of those quick, high-protein snacks I have on hand for just such an occasion
  • If I still want more and there isn’t really a deeper problem that I’m trying to find a quick solution to, ask myself: If I was to eat this amount of sweets every day, would my health suffer over time? If the answer is “yes”, then don’t eat it.

Another problem I’ve noticed is that I haven’t really been taking the time to fully enjoy the sweets I do eat. I’m usually sitting in front of a screen, focusing my attention on other stuff. Yesterday I got myself a cookie and curled up on the couch with a book during my daughter’s nap. That was pretty sweet.

Finding My Strongest Motivation

There’s a great section in The Willpower Instinct that helps the reader identify the motivation that “holds the most power” for them in the face of temptation. The author, Dr. Kelly McGonigal, also tells the story of a mother who struggled with loosing her temper with her twin, 2-year-old boys. She thought at first that her biggest motivation for keeping her cool was, “To be a better parent”. But eventually she realized that a stronger motivator was, “To enjoy being a parent“.

As for me, I want to try out a few ideas for my strongest motivation:

  1. To improve my physical and mental health. (I’ve found that even though sugar boosts my energy and my mood for a short time, the crash afterwards leaves me sluggish and anxious).
  2. To have a happy and healthy relationship with food. (To me that means truly enjoying food without the burden of guilt that so often weighs on me when I eat.)
  3. To model for my daughter how to have a happy and healthy relationship with food. (She’s at the age where she’s getting really good at imitating her dad and me. Wonderful and scary at the same time.)

I’ll be ruminating on these new ideas, and hopefully putting them into practice over the coming days. I’ll report back on Thursday. If you’re trying to break an old habit, like I am, all the best to you in your journey. I’d love to hear about your own strongest motivation. May you find your wise, algae-growing, inner sloth in the moments you need it most.

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