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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