Cheat Days

This is my first Moderate Proposal for Daunting, Delightful and Dilettantish Deeds to Pursue in 2014. See the introduction.

I’m not a user1 of Tim Ferriss’ diet – or any diet, really, apart from using common sense2 – but there’s one thing to it: Cheat days!

It goes like this: Ferriss recommends a specific and pretty strict diet3 – but for one day a week, you’re allowed to eat anything you want. You’ll spend six days a week eating spinach, black beans and grass-fed beef, but on the seventh day you “go nuts” and have all the pizza, pasta, ice-cream and candy that you want.

I like that idea.

Now, I can already hear you laughing at the guy who rejects the diet in favor of a life full of cheat days.

But that’s not what I mean.

Instead of limiting cheat days to your diet, I’d suggest to introduce them to other lifestyle and habit changes you might want to tackle.

Cheat Days Everywhere

To give you an example: A few years ago, I adopted the boring-but-useful habit of flossing: Low daily investment, large long haul return. What annoyed me, though, was the idea that I’d have to floss my teeth every night. I mean, what if I’m really tired or drunk or feeling that I’d rather not be bothered? Should I have to force myself to do it, somehow magically overcoming my already depleted ego?

Here’s what I did: Instead of starting to floss every night, I allowed myself to take a day off each week.

Basically, I introduced a cheat day.

The result?

I’m a happy flosser, and the habit doesn’t really cost me willpower anymore – but taking it up was much easier knowing that I could skip a day whenever I wanted. Knowing that I wouldn’t have to floss every single night for the rest of my life made a larger difference than I would have expected. By now, I tend to skip less than a day a week, but being able to do so without feeling guilty still matters.

To look at a more relevant example, Michael Nobbs recently talked about a similar observation he made when recording his One Thing Today podcast. At the beginning, he planned to record them every single day of the week. But even though he enjoyed doing them, recording every single day felt like an overly daunting task.

Michael changed this by introducing cheat days, and allowing himself to take the weekends off. Apparently, this has worked out quite nicely, as he’s running the show until today (and has reached episode 646 as we speak!).

Moderate Proposal #1

If you want to make a daunting lifestyle change or pick up a new habit, make it easier for yourself by introducing cheat days. This might not work for every change4, but it will certainly work for many.5

  1. Is that even the right word? Can you be a “diet user”? An adherent? A fan? []
  2. What’s common sense? A little bit of everything, not too much of anything, especially not too much processed foods, sugar and probably some other stuff your body doesn’t like, even when it may be just fine for the other 7 billion people around you. If you spend your whole life eating cheetos and factory poultry you’re being cruel both to yourself and to animals, so it’s no wonder you’re not happy with your diet. Disclaimer: I’m not a nutrition and could die of a horrible, slow and painful death next week after a delicious continental breakfast. I like to experiment with different foods for culinary reasons as well as to investigate my own well-being, and I encourage you to do the same. []
  3. He calls it slow carb, and while it’s probably effective, I certainly find it to be boring, especially rule #2: Eat the same few meals over and over again. As long as I can avoid that, I will! []
  4. From all I know, quitting a decade-old smoking habit could be quite hard if you allow yourself a cheat day… []
  5. I personally plan to use this trick when improving my GTD review habit. []

Comments 13

  1. Kait February 12, 2014

    I like the idea of cheat days for many aspects of daily life. I get frozen in revolt of doing anything every day for the rest of my life… (The Sandlot “FOR-E-VER” comes to mind… No thank you.)

    Also, you may just find this exceedingly strange, but I inexplicably felt compelled to floss (an activity I hate, mind you) while I was reading this post. And seriously, I busted it out of my purse and flossed right then and there.

    • Fabian February 12, 2014

      Haha, glad to read the post was floss-inspiring, Kait! :)
      I’m totally with you concerning the for-e-ver mentality!

  2. Radhika February 12, 2014

    Awesome, Fabian. It seems so obvious when you think about it. When you pick up a new habit, the next 30 days seem so daunting. But if you mess up, you don’t have to start all over. It’s just a cheat day.

    • Fabian February 12, 2014

      Thanks Radhika! Of course we have to watch out that we don’t exaggerate the cheat days… and, also, that there are some changes/habits that might need a “real” 30 day challenges without exceptions – in order to see how well they serve us. (Example: Cutting wheat from your meals. *If* that makes a difference for your body, you’re more likely to notice it if you give yourself a month completely off.)

  3. Clara February 14, 2014

    Ah, yes – excellent idea. I think I should incorporate a cheat day into my new workout routine. I missed two days and now I feel like a failure. Let’s start over with a cheat day already planned for!

  4. Pingback: Travel Reconsidered

  5. Kevin Walrath March 12, 2014

    Ah, the good ol’ cheat day! Isn’t this a concept rooted in the 90’s or early 2000’s in America? I vaguely recall campaigns focused on improving corporate health once everyone became aware of how bad and over-consumed everything is in this country, starting with getting on a diet (or other goal of sorts) and allowing one’s self to one cheat day a week in an attempt to retain sanity throughout. I for one definitely feel this is necessary if one has been so consumed in a bad habit or lifestyle for so long. It’s a positive thing to be realistic, and everyone’s gotta start somewhere right? I love the energy of this article, and you certainly put your own unique little twist on a rather useful concept!

    • Fabian March 15, 2014

      Thanks for chiming in Kevin! I really didn’t know this idea was that old. Surprising it didn’t catch on, at least here on this part of the globe (Central Europe). I definitely feel it’s helpful. ;)

      • Karen J April 24, 2014

        Greetings, Fabian! Happy to have found you – will be reading around here more!

        Actually, I think “cheat days” – as a concept, if not by that name – is as old as history… “God” rested on the seventh day, and so Sunday (used to be, anyway) is an automatic “day off”… social structures get turned up-side down on at least one holiday a year, depending on the culture (Saturnalia, what we now call April Fool’s Day, Guy Fawkes Day come easily to mind…).

        • Fabian April 25, 2014

          Hey Karen, happy to have you here! :)

          Good perspective on cheat days. What seems important for me, though, is that – opposed to holidays, carnivals, et cetera – I get to decide when to take one. So maybe this is the difference: Some popular cheat days got institutionalized, but there’s also a beauty in taking them independently!

        • Karen J April 25, 2014

          “there’s [also] a beauty in taking them independently”
          ~ You’re absolutely right – yeah, there is a serious qualitative difference in being able to easily “take a (guilt-free!) break” whenever *you* feel the need or desire! Live Sovereign, indeed!

          Bright Blessings ~

  6. Pingback: I failed. – Radhika Morabia

Comments are closed.