Time for my hit.
…and I was determined that this time nobody – not least myself – was going to stop me.
Where was I? At my dealer’s squat, itching for my next dose of crack?
Nope. Aisle 3 of my local supermarket.
The dessert aisle.
I stretched my hand out towards the junk, fuelled by that joyous spike of freedom that every food rebel knows so well. I was on the point of sabotaging six weeks without sugar. Six weeks that had changed my life.
In that moment, those 42 days meant nothing to me. The break from self-loathing. The increase in my energy. The freedom from mood swings. The comments about how clear my skin was now looking. The realisation that I had unlocked the secret to liking myself.
All of this was meaningless in the face of the multicoloured family size packs that were magnetically drawing me to them like a moth to a pre-diabetic flame.
I reached out my hand. It was less a question of Should I do this? than Which one should I choose? The relief of imminent self-sabotage washed over me.
Then a very unexpected thing happened.
My feet turned and started to walk away from aisle three.
Now here’s a curious thing. When your feet turn and walk in a different direction to the rest of your body, you can command them to stay put.
Unless, of course, you are so surprised that you follow them.
…Which is exactly what I did.
How did my feet develop a mind of their own?
How did a part of my body not usually known for its motivational abilities suddenly turn into Anthony Robbins and lead me away from the scene of the crime before I’d even committed it?
It all came down to three aspects of my sugar-free experience of the previous six weeks.
Five Minute Willpower
Food rebels don’t do rules very well. But you can negotiate with your inner food rebel. We often hear that commitment is a good thing; but sometimes lack of commitment is even better. During the previous six weeks, whenever I had a craving I would ask of myself only five minutes delay before I gave in and binged.
What actually happened when I made good on this 5-minute promise to myself was amazing. The feeling of empowerment and satisfaction from just walking away was so strong that I shifted my sense of self from binge-eater-sugar-addict-failure to someone capable of change.
Five Minute Willpower was not enough on its own. Nature abhors a vacuum, and my inner food rebel was definitely not going to put up with using that chronically overrated tool willpower, or a visualisation of a wave crashing onto the seashore, as has been suggested by some psychologists.
No, what I needed was a replacement action to do with my hands instead of reach for the junk. This kind of action I call a Cravings Buster.
The Pauly Principle
The Pauly Principle states that if you consistently repeat an action enough times, it will become automatic and effortless.
In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg describes the fascinating case of Eugene Pauly. He was in his eighties when he suffered brain damage from encephalitis in 1993. With no more ability to manage his life than a toddler, he was cared for full time by his wife, Beverly. One day she was horrified to discover him missing when she came into the living room to get him ready for his regular daily walk around the local area. Terrified for his safety, she combed the surrounding streets…before returning to see him placidly watching the history channel. Beside him were some pine cones he had collected while out.
The Pauly Principle is a term I coined to demonstrate the amazing power of repetition. A man who could not tell the kitchen door from the bedroom door in his own home was nevertheless able to take himself for a walk. The mental map of the route had embedded itself into his severely damaged brain.
Putting it all together
What I experienced the day when my feet acted seemingly of their own volition was actually my subconscious instructing me to take an action that I had embedded via repetition.
That action was of course a Cravings Buster.
The sequence I had developed went as follows:
#1 Get a craving
#2 Tell myself I only have to hold off for five minutes
#3 Respond with a Cravings Buster
#4 Turn and walk away from the junk
However on that day – the day when my inner food rebel surfaced – I refused to use that Cravings Buster.
And here is the truly amazing thing about this whole episode:
Even though I deliberately missed out steps #2 and #3, my subconscious automatically skipped to step #4.
This incident was the nearest I ever got to sabotaging my freedom from the dessert aisle. That was 2012, and I have never gone back.
Would you like your feet to have a mind of their own when you most need them to? When you combine the power of repetition with a replacement action and low commitment, what feels like magic can take place.
Only it’s not magic – it’s a power that is open to every human being on this planet.
So why not you?