Willpower and Biscuits

Three days a week I go into a shared workspace to get some writing done. On Tuesdays at 4pm, there is a coffee break where the various members of the space get together and chat. At these little meetups coffee, tea and biscuits are provided. Nice biscuits.

I would slump on the couch nearest the coffee table with a plate of biscuits within easy reach. Normally I don’t eat many biscuits and I watch my diet but at those coffee breaks, I could not seem to stop myself having just one more. Week after week, I would sit down and despite every effort to stop on my part I would find myself digging in. I’ll just have one or two, I thought, but somehow one or two became six or seven or more. I tried to stop but I could not.

I beat myself up. I cursed my lack of willpower which is an odd thing since it (or its close relative stubborness) is the one thing most people who know me assume I possess in shedloads. I mean I quit smoking 60 cigarettes a day. How hard could giving up a few biscuits once a week be?

The answer was plenty hard enough for me.

A few weeks ago, somebody was sitting in my usual place on the couch so I took another seat, one away from the table. In order to reach the biscuits, I had to get up, stretch out over the table and a couple of pots containing hot beverages. At the end of the coffee break I realised I had not eaten a single biscuit.

The next week, I took the same chair. Same thing happened. And the next week. It took no effort on my part. What seemed like an uncontrollable addiction to chocolate biscuits had vanished.

Since then I’ve been brooding on this. Was it the small inconvenience of the new chair’s position that caused me to stop grabbing the biscuits? Was munching my way through a plate of them simply a habit associated with the my old place sprawled out on the couch?

The truth is that it does not matter. What matters is that a problem I had failed to tackle with self-restraint was easily solved by changing where I sit. It was not a matter of willpower but of location. I had been beating myself up about the wrong thing.

There’s no huge lesson to be drawn from this. I just thought I would pass it on in the hopes it might be useful to someone else.


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Comments

  1. I lost 130 pounds a couple of years ago, and I found that location was indeed a big factor. The willpower came with not buying the chips or cookies in the first place. Once they got into the apartment, alas, I was lost (and so were the chips and cookies in short order). Which is what makes social gatherings tricky for controlling food intake – you can’t control what people bring, and it’s just rude not to have a slice of pie. Or two… :)

    Also, I quite liked OCEAN OF FEAR. Reading it by the waterfront just added extra verisimilitude. :)

    • 130 pounds– man, that’s a huge change. Congratulations! How did you manage it? I’ve lost about 60 pounds in the seven years since I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and I thought I was doing well.

      The diabetes is the reason I think its best to not start with the chips and cookies at all and I am pretty good at that most of the time. This particular situation was always a failure for me though until the chair incident. It made me think that there must be many other times in which a similar small change might make a huge difference if only I stumbled on to it.

      Glad you liked Ocean of Fear :).

      • Thanks! It was diet and exercise – I use a website called FitDay to keep track of every single thing I eat, since the potential for both deliberate and inadvertent self-deception in this area is substantial. For exercise I run 5k and lift weights several times a week. But monitoring food intake is the key thing. If I slack off on that, the weight doesn’t so much come creeping back as it stampedes.

        I used to joke that losing the weight through diet and exercise was still easier than dealing with traditional publishers. :)

        • That’s a pretty impressive schedule there, Jonathan. I may have to take a look at that site. I came across a good quote on Nerd Fitness (I think it was): you can’t outrun your mouth. Which is to say its virtually impossible to do enough exercise to burn off the calories when you overeat. I have found this to be true myself.

          The older I get, the more I think that staying reasonably healthy and fit is an essential part of a writer’s job. It’s a pity I have been so dreadful at it :).

  2. Fascinating observation.

    On a mildly voyeuristic tangent…

    “On Tuesdays at 4pm, there is a coffee break where the various members of the space get together and chat.”

    What nationalities are your cohabitants and what language(s) do you chat in?

    • Czech, American, Ukrainian, Russian, Swiss, Norwegian, Scottish (me) and a few others I may have missed. Language is mostly in English and occasionally Pirate (seriously, arghhhh!).

  3. Tony Graham says:

    Inspiration works in mysterious ways, my friend. Embrace the muse!

    The Vale of Lost Will
    Investigating a mysterious famine that has struck the Taurean countryside, the Guardian of the Dawn discovers a blighted vale and finds himself immersed in a devastating battle between two Old Ones, Glutt’Ony and I’Nertia.

    Alt titles:
    People of the Black Couch
    Ill Met in Snackmar
    Hrolf McVities’ Saga
    Chocolate of Strife
    Reflections for the Winter of My Waistline
    Stormbiscuit
    Dietslayer

    Apologies, I seem to have over-caffeinated this morning. Perhaps a biscuit would help…

    • Tony Graham says:

      Seriously, I get it. I’ve been fighting the diet battle for several years now. I’m definitely a distracted eater, it’s a subconscious impulse. I concentrate on never putting any food easily at hand while working, gaming or watching movies, and always reseal containers of food as soon as I take some out. Leaving any cookies, chips, nuts, etc. laying open is an invitation to disaster. So far, that strategy is working for me.
      Making a habit of exercise is the current obstacle I’m trying to overcome.

    • I laughed at those titles, mate. I started the 5/2 diet today. I just realised that the fact I am on 600 calories today may explain my choice of topic for this blog post and my current food obsession. It may also explain why my typing is so bad.

      • Tony Graham says:

        Hang in there! I’ve heard good things about the 5/2, including being more productive in work once you’ve settled into the pattern.

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