While shrinking the commitment is primarily used to start good habits, it can also be used to break bad ones. To help us break a bad habit, we use it as a delaying strategy. We can, for example, avoid overeating by delaying the reward. When you are tempted to eat more than you planned, you can say to yourself, “I am going to drink a glass of water and wait for 5-minutes. If I am still hungry, I can have a little more food”. Psychologically, it is much easier to convince yourself to wait for 5-minutes, than it is to deny the craving with an uncompromising NO. When we give our Elephant a hard NO, it will fixate on what is being denied. The Elephant will struggle against the Rider to reassert its autonomy. More often than not, it will be the Elephant that wins any tug-of-war between our goals and desires. Our goals reside in our easily exhausted prefrontal cortex, while our desires reside in our more resilient primitive brain. Even if your Rider manages to win, it will be left depleted and more vulnerable to the next temptation. (Learn more about the Elephant & the RIder Analogy)

We avoid this exhausting struggle by asking the Elephant to wait instead. Our reward system is biased towards immediate gratification. This bias is responsible for our proclivity to sacrifice what we want MOST for what we want NOW. We compromise our long-term goals in exchange for short-term gains. Once you delay gratification, it is easier to sustain it because our mind begins to discount the value of the reward.

Glass of water2

Image by Enid Martindale

After five minutes, our Rider will have a much better chance of convincing our Elephant to pass on the food altogether. When we say no to temptation, our mind fixates on the reward.  When we delay the reward, our mind discounts its value. It takes the immediate out of immediate gratification. Eating slowly and utilizing the 5-minute delay improves the Rider’s chance of persuading the Elephant to stay the course long enough for the temptation to pass. Physiologically, you are giving your body more time to register that it is full and hydrated.

Appetite is often stimulated by dehydration or a delay in satiation after eating, which takes 20 to 30 minutes. For this reason, I suggest you eat your meals slowly. Taking a sip of water between bites and savoring each mouthful. A 2008 study published in The Journal of the American Dietetic Association, found that when subjects consumed their meals slowly, they ate significantly fewer calories, felt fuller, and drank significantly more water than when they ate at a faster rate.[i] Even if you decide to give in to the temptation at the end of the five minutes, you have strengthened your willpower and increased your awareness of the behavior. Both benefits will improve your odds of success when the next temptation arises. The worst thing we can do is become overly critical of ourselves because that will lead to stress eating,

[i] Ana M. Andrade,, Andrade, Geoffrey W. Greene, PhD, RD, Kathleen J. Melanson, PhD, RD, Eating Slowly Led to Decreases in Energy Intake within Meals in Healthy Women, American Dietetic Association, July 2008Volume 108, Issue 7, Pages 1186–1191.

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