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 user ((Is that even the right word? Can you be a “diet user”? An adherent? A fan?)) of Tim Ferriss’ diet – or any diet, really, apart from using common sense ((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.)) – but there’s one thing to it: Cheat days!

It goes like this: Ferriss recommends a specific and pretty strict diet ((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!)) – 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 change ((From all I know, quitting a decade-old smoking habit could be quite hard if you allow yourself a cheat day…)), but it will certainly work for many. ((I personally plan to use this trick when improving my GTD review habit.))

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