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Self-Efficacy and Success: Is There Any Relationship?

Self-Efficacy aiStock_000010304538Smallnd Personal Success

Most of us tend to question ourselves and our capabilities frequently. We often put too much emphasis on our weaknesses without having a good understanding of our strengths. I was watching a short video which asked 50 people one question: “If you could change one thing about your body, what would it be?” The question was simple, but the responses were interesting. The most astonishing thing was that the responses from children and adults differed from each other significantly. Here are some of the responses from adults: “Only one?”, “I would change my forehead, I have a really big forehead”, “I would like to have smaller ears.”, “Definitely, my skin, because I have lots of acne on my skin.”

Now, here are some of the children’s responses: “mmm”, “I could have wings to fly”, “I like my body, actually. I don’t want anything else.” Lots of questions came to my mind after watching the video: why do we as adults have become so picky of ourselves? , do we lose self-confidence as we grow older?, when was the last time that we felt really satisfied with our body, our mind, and enjoyed all the good things we have got in our life?

But, the most important question was that how this lack of self-confidence and self-efficacy can influence our lives. Self-efficacy is related to our judgment about ourselves and our ability to perform well in a particular area. It is a perception that we have about ourselves and what we can or cannot do. In a series of theoretical and empirical studies, Bandura and colleagues found a positive relationship between self-efficacy and performance accomplishment. In addition, they found that self-efficacy can play a significant role in long-term goal commitment and goal achievement: Self percepts of efficacy predict individual’s behavior, their thought patterns, and their emotional reactions in the long run and under taxing situations. People with high levels of self-efficacy exert more effort and persist longer in the face of difficulties. Therefore, they are more likely to surpass insurmountable barriers that occur in the way of their desired goals.

Considering the importance of self-efficacy in successful performance accomplishment, it is highly critical to find ways to boost one’s self-efficacy. However, too much self-efficacy can also backfire, especially if it is not based on actual personal capabilities. It can make us too confident about ourselves, so we stop expending effort towards building capabilities that are required for achieving our desired goals. In fact, high levels of self-efficacy during the goal planning phase will result in overconfidence bias. In this case,the individuals will allocate fewer resources towards the goal because they believe it can be achieved easily (e.g., requires few resources). In addition, overconfident people may expose themselves more to tempting situations that override their long-term goals (Nordgren et al., 2009). For example, they might choose to work with a television or take “a quick break” to have a drink with friends instead of focusing on their long-term goals. Thus, may be the first step for us is to find where on the self-efficacy continuum we are, before deciding whether we should increase or decrease our self-efficacy in order to realize our longed-for dreams!

If you are interested in this post and would like to check your level of self-efficacy, you can take our Self-efficacy Test and get immediate feedback about yourself.

Losing Weight Effortlessly With Visual Illusions

(Trick yourself into eating less by changing the color of your plates.)


We often procrastinate because outside distractions interfere with our long-term goals. We make plans to exercise or to diet but find our attention irresistibly drawn toward attractions like the television or the candy bowl. When temptation strikes, our willpower works overtime to try and drive the unhealthy / distracting cravings out of our head, or at least to stop us from acting on them. It doesn’t have to be this hard, though. In fact, it doesn’t have to be hard at all.


Outside distractions—what science calls environmental cues—activate our emotional limbic system, or System One. Since the time I started to write The Procrastination Equation, about a dozen other books have come out highlighting exactly this process, like Willpower by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney or Thinking Fast or Slow by Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman. As all these books confirm, environmental cues initiate mindless habits or distracting thoughts. The smell of popcorn as you enter a movie theatre, for example, is an olfactory cue that gets you to think about eating or initiates a well-rehearsed script that ends with you munching on a super-sized and superbly high-calorie bag of “buttery” kernels. Hopefully, however, your brain’s System Two, the seat of willpower, comes into play before you cede to temptation. Like a brake competing with an accelerator, we try to override our urges and stop obsessing, stop buying, or, failing that, stop consuming what we bought. Wouldn’t it be easier to stop the cues that started this all in the first place? You may not be able to control the cues in the movie theatre, but at home it is a different story.

I am a big fan of Dr. Brian Wansink, who runs the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University. He tracks the connection between environmental cues and the amount we eat. He has conducted a wide range of studies on this theme, and shown that what we put into our mouths is often completely mindless, ruled by external cues rather than internal desires. It is a great lesson in the power of stimulus control; if we can influence what we smell, touch, or hear (stimuli), we can control our deepest urges.

In my book, I described Dr. Wansink’s research on how plate size cues portion size. Whatever size of plate we choose, we tend to fill it. Consequently, if we shrink the diameters of our plates from 12 inches to 10 inches, we reduce the amount of food we eat by 22 percent. For most of us, this is all the reduction in eating we need to maintain or obtain a slender figure. And it can all be done effortlessly.

Recently, Dr. Wansink allied with Koert Van Ittersum to add another twist to his dishware detectivery. The two researchers explored the contrast effect. Dividing a group of eaters into two, they gave one section a white plate and the other a red plate. People from each section got to serve themselves a meal with red sauce or a white sauce, specifically pasta with either tomato or Alfredo sauce on top. When the plate contrasted with the food, a white plate with tomato sauce or a red plate with Alfredo sauce, the pasta was more visible—an environmental cue that made the hungry people aware of just how much they were piling on. As with smaller plates, the eaters served themselves and consumed 22 percent less food.

The optical illusion Wansink and Van Ittersum are exploiting is called the Delboeuf Illusion, after the Belgian scientist who discovered it 150 years ago, and their paper, published in the Journal of Consumer Research, is entitled “Plate Size and Color Suggestibility: The Delboeuf Illusion’s Bias on Serving and Eating Behavior.” It’s an appropriate name; Delboeuf is French for “Of the beef,” precisely the food we are looking to avoid if we want to reduce our meat intake to the recommended serving size of 3.3 ounces, about the size of a pack of cards.

And how can you make use of the Delboeuf illusion? Start by getting a few sets of dishes in the same color as the vegetables you tend to buy. Use the smaller plate for yourself and the smallest one for your kids. Taking a quick look online, you can get a four-piece dishware set in an array of vegetable colors for as little as $17 a set. For a family of four, you are looking at an investment of $68—get four sets in lettuce green and another four in carrot orange for a total of $136. You will naturally and effortlessly serve yourself more vegetables and eat less of food in other colors.

Amazingly simple and effective. Even better, the basic principles go far beyond just food. In my book, I’ve talked about how similar stimulus control techniques can do more than just help you lose weight but affect everything else, from getting to you to save money to buckle down to work. Given how powerful cues are, why aren’t they used more? Well they are actually, an incredible amount—just not by you. Every time you find yourself eating when you are already full, spending when you are already deeply in debt, and indulging in every vice the Internet can offer while your own life goals lay languishing, there is probably a manufactured cue involved. You are acting to an agenda, one designed by others. However, if you read this far, you know the secret. Just believe it yourself and tell others about it.

Now if I just had a cue to get you started.

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Da Vinci, Copernicus and the Astronomical Procrastination

From the beginning, science and procrastination have been intertwined. Consider Leonardo Da Vinci. Five hundred years ago, he designed or sketched the submarine, the helicopter, and the armored tank as well as more everyday inventions such as the alarm clock, the snorkel, and the robot. In science, he made significant contributions to dozens of fields, from astronomy to anatomy, and developed a rudimentary version of today’s basic scientific method. His artistic endeavors are equally as notable. His paintings are renowned for their intrigue and beauty, with The Last Supper and The Mona Lisa as two of the most recognizable works of art in the world.


Unfortunately, Da Vinci’s genius was tempered by procrastination. He never took the time to publish his findings. From the evidence of the notebooks that survive, if even a fraction of Da Vinci’s discoveries or insights had made it into the public domain when he was alive, science could have been advanced by an era (i.e., imagine if we had next century’s technology today). It was he who first surmised that “The earth is not in the centre of the Sun’s orbit nor at the centre of the universe.” As for his art, he only fully finished between five to ten paintings, often requiring a sharp threat by his patrons that they were about to withhold payment. The Mona Lisa took over 15 years for him to finish. Worse was The Virgin of the Rocks, commissioned by the Church of San Francesco Grande with a seven-month deadline. Da Vinci finished it 25 years later. Describing Da Vinci as a distractible, doodling scatterbrain, even Pope Leo X exclaimed “This man will never accomplish anything! He thinks of the end before the beginning.” However, the most damning condemnation comes from Da Vinci himself, who apologized on his deathbed “to God and Man for leaving so much undone.”

Now consider Leonardo Da Vinci’s contemporary, Nicolaus Copernicus, who together are attributed with laying the foundation for modern science and art. Like Da Vinci, Copernicus suffered from the same vice of procrastination. For a decade, Copernicus left unpublished his revolutionary book De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium, which formally placed the sun at the center of the solar system. If it wasn’t for an admiring mathematics professor, Georg Joachim Rheticus, who coaxed him to publish this masterpiece, his book on the sun may never have seen light.

Has anything changed over the better half of a millennia? I received this email from Marco Castellano, an Italian astronomer of the present day.

One of the main duties in our field is submitting “proposals for observations”, technical documents through which we ask for observing time at telescopes. Indeed, since telescopes and instruments are very expensive, they are not owned by one institution only but are shared among various universities, institutes etc.: to obtain observations (i.e. images of the sky at a given wavelength in most cases) we must submit proposals and wait for a panel to select the (few) best ones that will be carried out. Of course we have deadlines within which these proposals have to be submitted, e.g., the end of February for the Hubble Space Telescope, the end of March for the observatories of the European ESO consortium etc.

We all know that these deadlines are fixed and, in principle, we could start preparing proposals months ahead of time and submit them as soon as the “call for proposals” are issued by observatories (30 days before the usual deadline). However, it happens that most, if not all, the proposals are submitted in the last few hours or minutes before the deadline, and a lot of my colleagues spend the last nights at work to finish them! Sometimes proposals are even lost because the web traffic is so huge that we can’t submit them, thus losing days (and nights) of work. As an example, this paragraph is written in the last “call for proposals” document of the European Southern Observatory: “Plan ahead! Over past periods, congestion of the proposal submission system has repeatedly occurred in the last few hours before the proposal deadline, leading to delays in response time that occasionally exceeded 1 hour. Try to submit proposals at least one day before the deadline and avoid last-minute stress.”

I would venture that it is no different than in any other scientific field. This month, I submitted to the Academy of Management conference a few papers on national culture and national happiness (exciting stuff I hope to share with you soon). Knowing human nature, I stayed up late the night before to get one final paper submitted. Others who waited the day of submission were not so lucky. The crush of last minute applications melted down the conference servers and we will never know what they intended to share. Apparently, studying human nature doesn’t necessarily mean rising above it, just as heart surgeons can still have heart attacks.

Finally, if you start assessing the level of procrastination by scholarly profession, which I did, you find that while Economists procrastinate less than Clinical Psychologists, who are in turn better than Sociologists, none of us are that good at being on time. Indeed, the majority of academic colleagues are beyond late in writing their own research papers, included a few of them who are, now more in theory than practice, my co-authors. We have even done research directly upon selves, asking how we can get stuff done, such as Boice’s “Procrastination, busyness and bingeing,” which was attempt to help new faculty members actually write.

In all, it means that science is progressing somewhat slower than you would expect. For example, the 1982 classic Blade Runner, voted favorite SciFi film by scientists, has genetically engineered organic robots filling the streets by 2019. I don’t think it’s going to happen on schedule and procrastination is probably to blame. However, there may be a happy ending to all this. Despite centuries of delay, we now do have a solid scientific of why we procrastinate and what to do about it. As these ideas and self-control techniques eventually spread (all handily available in book form), we might get our army of replicants after all. Or, at the very least, perhaps Off-World colonies, attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion, and C-beams glittering in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate.

Want to learn more about yourself? Take one of our online surveys on different aspects of your pesronality and get immediate feedback about yourself.

  • Adler, R. (2002). Science firsts: From the creation of science to the science of creation. New York: Wiley.
  • Boice, R. (1989). Procrastination, busyness and bingeing. Behaviour Research & Therapy, 27(6), 605-611.
  • Pannapacker, W. A. (2009). How to procrastinate like Leonardo Da Vinci. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 55(24), B4.

If you met all your goals today, this article is not for you


When I started to study procrastination, my family thought it was too appropriate and yet not appropriate at all. I was famous for leaving every task under the sun until the seconds before they were due, so doing research on productivity was seen as akin to having serial killers work on crime prevention. In the end, it was transformational. Science gave me a venue and the tools to change my procrastination habit and release a more productive side that I previously thought was beyond me. It changed my life but to explain in all the ways would require me to recount my successes, which I won’t because when anyone does this it becomes indistinguishable from bragging and self-promotion. However, you can figure it out by just thinking how much your life would change if you consistently started doing what you intended to do, finished tasks ahead of time, and starting showing the world your best.

To share what I’ve learned, I have published a swath of scientific articles on procrastination but not many have access to them or inclination to read academia. I then translated that into a popular non-fiction book, The Procrastination Equation, which expanded who I could reach, but not everyone is a book reader. I then moved into more into blog forms, writing my own and providing the material for others, but it still didn’t quite have the impact I wanted. There are lot of articles, a lot of books, and a lot of blogs to compete with and whatever I message I wanted to get out, gets drowned out.

Many years later, but only recently from today, I took on a new graduate student, Chris Morin, who shared an insight with me. Try one more form of communication, something a little more modern. We worked together to create an online app, a goal trainer, that teaches people in real-time and at their convenience, how to make goals that maximizes their motivational value. We bake into this attempt dozens of scientific principles that you won’t see combined anywhere else. This is his story of our attempt and product and perhaps the something you have been looking for.

A Study in Procrastination (By Chris Morin)

Two years ago, I began studying motivation as a grad student. To let you in on the joke that my friends and family enjoy, I was an uninspired undergraduate who muddled through to a directionless career. My school days were spent procrastinating, punctuated by frantic all-nighters. If I had plans after graduation, they fell through. I held a series of jobs motivated by convenience rather than any long-term career plan. Those experiences were ironically instructive and when I was finally exposed to the science of motivation I had an intuitive understanding of the principles of the science. Really, no one is better at benefitting from these than those who already intimate with procrastination in the first place.

The Procrastination Intervention

My thesis project was to develop a cure for procrastination. To get my degree, I reviewed motivation research and created an online program to help people set better goals. For those of you who like to see the actual science up front and personal, with all the citations exposed and in proper APA style, you can find if you dig around at this very research webpage ( If you just want the finished product, you can try the goal trainer at this link:

What I learned is that there are some universal principles everyone can apply, based on some of the most consistently supported theories of motivation science. Despite this commonality, there is a fundamental level where goal-setting and goal-striving are intensely personal activities. People need to think about what they want to strive for, and what works best to get them there.

Below are explanations of some of the theories and principles that informed the goal trainer. They begin with some of the universal principles, and end with principles that require some self-reflection and exploration for what strategies work best for you.

Approach versus Avoidance – “Don’t think of a white bear.”

A goal worded as an approach toward a positive outcome is more effective than one worded as avoidance of a negative outcome. As a thought exercise, try not to think about polar bears for 30 seconds. For most, it cannot be done. Even tremendous self-control creates the impression of a “polar bear-shaped hole.” Smokers and dieters who try to change their behavior with thought-suppression encounter similar difficulties. By not thinking about smoking or snacking, a person is effectively thinking about it. For students, this principle is the difference between “I want to ace all my courses,” and “I don’t want to fail my course.” Thinking about failure is flirting with failure. An avoidance focus evokes fear, anxiety, and self-doubt. Success becomes defined as “anything but this.” A positive focus creates a definite direction to work toward. The difference between approach and avoidance goals are “potentially thriving, or merely surviving.”

Challenging and Specific Goals

One of the most consistent findings of motivation science is the high performance associated with challenging and specific goals versus vague or “do your best” goals. Similar to the way a positive goal provides a specific outcome to strive towards; challenging goals demand more from us. If you set the bar too low, effort stops too early, just as they way every runner stops running once they cross the finish line. If you aim higher, you go farther.

In fact, it is not just specific goals that lead to performance. Specific plans-of-action lead to higher performance. Setting a challenging goal to be done “later” isn’t good enough. “Get a good job after graduation” clearly wasn’t specific enough for me. A specific, challenging goal may have been “manage a small department within five years.” I can do better. What, exactly, do I mean by small? Five employees? Twenty employees? More importantly, what department? What industry? What company? These are important questions because qualifications matter. What qualifications do I need? How do I get them? What kind of grades will I need to get started?

This last point is worth reflecting a little further on. While challenging goals inspire higher performance, there is clearly a “sweet spot.” Goals that seem impossible are more likely to be abandoned. A goal should be challenging, but “do-able.” A five-year goal is a long time frame, and you can accomplish a lot, but be careful of doing more than you need to. Education for education’s sake is just spinning your wheels. Accepting a promotion that takes you further away from your goals should be considered carefully. Maybe it is an opportunity you had not considered before, but you may also find yourself pigeon-holed into a role you don’t want to keep. Know where you are going so you know when to start, but equally important is to know when to stop!

On Commitment

The previous points are all considered universal. The question remains: what are your goals? The answers are intensely personal. People do things for all sorts of reasons. Your pay-check is an obvious reason to keep going to work. Sometimes, the pay-offs are intangible and distant, like in the cases of getting an education or visiting the gym. Sometimes we do things to make others happy. Sometimes, we do things to make ourselves happy. Goal-setting theory takes the view that no one does anything “for no reason,” or “just because.” Even when we seem to be “doing nothing,” watching TV, playing games, staring out a window, we are drawing some sort of personal benefit from that activity. As John Lennon said, “time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.”

As you may have noticed, motivation fluctuates from day-to-day. New Year resolutions rarely last through February. Even when we want to achieve a goal more than any other, no one can maintain that drive all day, every day. The research in this area, self-regulation and energy levels, touches on the age-old philosophies of choice and free-will. Modern models of motivation describe it as a single, psychic, but limited energy source. The longer you maintain effort on one task (be it physical, like sprinting, mental, like solving puzzles or even suppressing thoughts and feelings), the sooner you will quit the next task. Motivation is consumable but rechargeable. When asked, “how do you maintain your energy?” people responded with every conceivable pastime from prayer, solitude, and music to shopping, drinking and parties. At least one current study showed that energy sources are whatever you believe them to be. Wherever you draw your “inner-strength” from is true for you. Conversely, if you believe it is OK to quit, or your source of strength is gone for whatever reason, you will be quicker to quit.

Pre-Commitment: Bondage, Satiation, and Poison

As I said, there are universal rules of effective goal setting, but commitment to a goal is intensely personal. Without commitment there is no performance. If you are worried that your commitment will wane, you can “pre-commit.” This is more than a “pep-talk” or daily affirmation. I mean lock-away distractions and throw away the key. I have one colleague who found he spent too much time playing a particular video game and his responsibilities suffered. He asked a friend to hide the disk, to be returned at the end of the school year. It motivates him to promptly return the final grades to his students. This is an example of bondage pre-commitment. It puts your distractions out of reach.

I have heard stories of people who wish to drop bad habits or addictions and give money to a friend in trust. The friend is instructed to donate the money to a despised political cause the first time the addict slips into old habits. This is poisoned pre-commitment: building punishments into actions we wish to avoid.

I happen to respond well to satiation. When I have work to do, I will take a leisurely morning, meet friends for coffee, and enjoy the weather (a benefit of academia). I don’t get started until after noon, but I’ve already had a good day. The late start motivates me to (finally) get to work, and my relaxing morning means that those working hours are generally more productive. If you find that distractions pull you away from your work, you may benefit from satisfying those distractions first so you can focus on work.

I want to highlight that while many of these principles are personal, they work best when they are also social. Share your goals with friends. Ask them to check-in on your progress. Get them involved with commitments and rewards. It is similar to having a gym partner. It keeps you honest. It gives you the push you need to follow through, and it makes everything more fun.

Practice Makes Perfect

The procrastination intervention I developed during my Master’s thesis is available on line at Work through the exercises and get some practice setting effective goals. Work through the exercise a few times and you will find that the principles of effective goal-setting become second nature. Before long, you won’t need the exercise. You will be setting better goals and accomplishing more in less time.

If you like, or hate it, or want it changed, come back here and let us know. If anything’s confusing or ineffective or just especially wonderful, let us know. Odds are, we will be able to make it better with your help.

Would you like to know more about yourself? Take one of our surveys at Procrastination and Science Website Survey Center:

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Looking for a fun book that informs? Take a peek at The Procrastination Equation. It is the perfect gift for last Christmas. Check out the reviews.

Procrastination: Is It Hereditary or a Product of Environment?

geneProcrastination has been mostly oversimplified as laziness. But there’s more to it than poor time management. It is a psychologically complex phenomenon that can affect all aspects of our everyday life, including our health, relationship, and work. In fact, most of the time, we procrastinate in order to temporarily elevate our mood. When we procrastinate, we get a short-term good feeling just because we think we can do the task tomorrow.

There has been a long debate regarding the source of procrastination: Is procrastination a fault of our environment? Or is it a built-in trait?

Some researchers argue that procrastination is not hereditary, but a by-product of our environment and the way we have grown up: For example, we never got rewarded for doing our homework early in school. There’s no incentive for doing tasks ahead of time.

However, my research on procrastination and later research in this area have shown that we can inherit procrastination. In other words, genetics can play an important role in our procrastination habits. Delaying things may be a product of our own evolution. Our willpower never had to resist environmental temptations for such a long period of time.

Living in the present had an evolutionary advantage. It enabled us to do the required tasks urgently. Our ancestors used to fight, flee, feed or mate when they felt the urge. It was the best strategy to react impulsively instead of making long-term plans.

Procrastination is a struggle between two parts of our brain: The prefrontal cortex, the region that controls planning and problem solving, and the limbic system, our “inner child” that wants immediate gratification. As a deadline approaches, urgency eventually persuades the limbic system to cooperate with the prefrontal cortex, and we get to work.

But in today’s world, self-control is more useful than impulsiveness. Conscientiousness, a basic personality trait that governs our self-control and motivation, can win the war between the prefrontal cortex and the limbic system.

In one study, a team of researchers in the University of Colorado, Boulder examined the genetic roots of procrastination, impulsiveness, and goal-setting. They found that genetics played a sizable role in procrastination, even when controlling for environmental factors like growing up in the same household. Based on this study, the overall variation in procrastination among people is around 50 percent due to their genetic influences, and 50 percent due to environmental influences. In addition, the results showed that procrastination and impulsivity are linked primarily through genetic influences on goal setting and prioritizing goals to effectively regulate actions.

The results of this research are published in the Journal of Psychological Science. However, the type of genes that are responsible for these traits is still unknown, and should be further studied.

Even if procrastinating is in your DNA, it’s possible to decrease the habit. However, it takes time and practice. Precommitting to goals, like automatically deducting from your paycheck to a savings account, can help. You can also schedule your hardest tasks for the time of day when you have the most energy.

Blocking out distractions is another important strategy. By removing the audio alert of a new message, you can substantially reduce the number of visits to email, Twitter, or Facebook. While these techniques can help us in getting tasks done on-time, we will still put things off occasionally.The above-mentioned studies showed that procrastination can be hereditary. But, don’t get frustrated and give up on your efforts to get your tasks done, blaming it on your genes.

As a person with procrastination-prone genes and frequent internet distractions, I have been able to defeat my genes by meeting my deadlines! So, hopefully you will be able to do it as well.


Gustavson, D. E., Miyake, A., Hewitt, J. K., & Friedman, N. P. (2014). Genetic Relations Among Procrastination, Impulsivity, and Goal-Management Ability Implications for the Evolutionary Origin of Procrastination. Psychological science, 0956797614526260.

Would you like to know more about yourself? Take one of our surveys at Procrastination and Science Website Survey Center:

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Looking for a fun book that informs? Take a peek at The Procrastination Equation. It is the perfect gift for last Christmas. Check out the reviews.

Thought for Food: How to Scientifically Think Yourself Thin

food for thought

So how is your diet going? Chances are you are on one or that there is a diet in your future. The majority of Americans think about dieting all year round, with as many as 41 percent on a diet at any given time, in an attempt to lose an average of thirty-seven pounds. Britons aren’t far behind: about a third are constantly on a diet. The statistics for the rest of Europe, even France, are similar. We all seem to have a few pounds or kilograms to lose and have trouble doing it.

Let me see if I can pique your interest in a helpful idea. Right now, we all know what we need to do to shed the weight: eat less and exercise more. No mystery here. The problem, then, isn’t with our knowledge but our ability to put this knowledge into action. We try to eat less, to get to the gym, but we can’t find the motivation to follow through. Resigning ourselves to our predicament, we end up looking for the easy but probably ineffective, like the fad diets from dubious Internet advertisements. This makes it a mental issue, not a physical one, and since the source of our problems are in our minds, so will be the solution.

Everything is created twice, first mentally and then physically. First comes belief and then comes action.  However, if the belief isn’t nurtured, and more importantly, shaped in a very particular fashion, the actions won’t follow. There are two mental tricks that you need to master. These techniques require precision. Get the details wrong, and they will backfire and actually work against you.

The mind’s imagination can play two roles. One is a call to action, to change belief into reality. The other is fantasy, to allow us to gain satisfaction and enjoyment from afar by simply imagining what it would be like. The first helps with getting stuff done. The second replaces getting stuff done. We will need to use both in our efforts to lose weight.

The first method, the call to action, I’ve written about before in “The Motivational Wisdom of Lady Gaga versus The Secret.” To acquire the motivation to act, you mentally contrast where you are right now after first imagining where you want to be. Note the order of that, first you fantasize about being the ideal weight and then you reflect on the weight you are now. Here’s a walkthrough from my book The Procrastination Equation:

Mentally capture that feeling of vigor that will infuse your body and all the activities you’ll engage in with friends and family, once you’re in shape. As a parent, for example, it might be playing with your kids again. Now contrast that with where you are now. You are tired and rubbery, spending far too much time in front of the TV. Doesn’t feel good, does it? But it does make you want to do something about it.

So first you think about the positives and how virtuous you are going to feel from working out, how slender and enviable you are going to look by eating smaller portions and exercising more. Then you will contrast that feeling with the guilt and frustration you feel by doing nothing. Do just the positive fantasizing and often that’s all what you end up doing.

The second method is from a recent Science article by Morewedge, Huh, and Vosgerau, titled “Thought for food: Imagine consumption reduces actual consumption.” In a productive way, they exploit the fact that fantasy can take the place of action. Instead of having people fantasize about having lost weight, which would ultimately hurt their dieting efforts, they had them vividly imagine themselves eating a bowl of chocolate M&M’s, thirty of them to be precise. As per their title, imagining consuming a treat can take the place of the treat itself. Those who took the time to fantasize about a chocolate indulgence actually ate fewer M&M’s when a real bowl was presented to them. The trick here is to pay attention to the degree of fantasy. You didn’t get the effect when people imagined eating only three M&Ms; it wasn’t enough to satiate. You had to imagine all thirty of them.

So the next time you have a main course to order, imagine how great you will feel by choosing the healthy option. Then follow that up with reflecting on how lousy you will feel if you went with the high-fat status quo. And for dessert, imagine eating it, mouthful by mouthful, taking the time to visualize each bite. For a cheesecake or an ice cream parfait, that’s 15 to 20 loving spoonfuls. With the right degree of fantasy, you are on your way to be at the weight you always wanted for yourself.

Morewedge, C. K., Huh, Y. E., & Vosgerau, J. (2011). Thought for food: Imagine consumption reduces actual consumption. Science, 330, `530-1533.

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