Love. Life. Practice.

Personal Development with Gray Miller

Archive for the tag “words”

why cheat when you can win

“If you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin’!”

That sentiment, from one of my favorite close-combat instructors, is an incredibly useful mantra when in a struggle. It’s a reminder that in some situations, the only rules that matter are the ones that matter to you – and that playing by your opponent’s rules is giving them a pretty hefty advantage.

What about when your opponent is yourself, though? What if the battle you are fighting is the battle against binge eating, for example, or simply the struggle to eat more healthy in a world full of bad influences and temptations? In that situation, where you’re your own enemy, does cheating work?


At least it’s not broccoli (shudder!)

Many diets think so. Several years ago I went on the Abs Diet, pretty strictly for several months. Aside from a particular weight/situp regimen, it also has very specific low-carb diet suggestions – some of which have stuck with me (still love snacking on almonds and cranberries!). It also had a “cheat” meal – a meal once a week where you could eat anything you want. I remember planning that meal around my social schedule: “We’re going to have barbecue with Karl thursday night, that’ll be my cheat meal.” I remember looking forward to blissing out on ice cream sundaes on those meals, before grimly resuming my exercise and diet the next day. Tim Ferriss’ 4-Hour Body has a similar timed “cheat” day, and so do many others.

Which is why articles such as this one by Dick Talens (via Maneesh Sethi) exist: The Ultimate Guide to Cheating: Planning to Fail. Don’t worry, you don’t have to read it if you don’t want to, I’ll get to the point.

WORDS. They Have Meaning.

The gist of the article is the idea, backed up by scientific evidence, that two people who “break” their diets in exactly the same way will have entirely different results based on their mindset.

 If you “plan to fail” then you lose anywhere from 1-3 days of progress; however, you eliminate the risk of failing epically.

Failing epically.” Is it just me, or is the hyperbole rising in here? Here’s my question: if these diets are so difficult to maintain that you have to break them on occasion in order not lose them entirely…then is the problem actually with the people on the diet or with the diet itself?

Or, to put it another way: if, in order for the diet to succeed, you have to ignore it every once in a while…why is that cheating? How is that failing?

Or, to actually get to my point: why do we use words like “cheating” and “failing” to describe it? Words are powerful things; if the system is set up so that the only way to “win” is cheating, then there is something wrong with the system. I suppose there could be an argument that there is a mischievous joy in “getting away with it” when you break the rules of the diet – but if we’re trying to play with our brains in that kind of way, why stop at some negative feeling?

“…And therefore those skilled in war bring the enemy to the field of battle and are not brought there by him.” – Sun Tzu

If you choose a route that requires you to cheat, to break, to “plan to fail”, I suppose that can work. Personally, I’d rather look at it as winning. I’m not breaking my diet – I’m planning on celebrating my hard work and discipline in the time-honored human fashion of a feast! Having rewarded my body all week long with healthy eating, I am now going to reward my tongue and every delicious bite of ice-cream-hot-fudge-skittle-truffle-banana-lava-cake will be a reinforcement of just how awesome I am at my diet!

Of course, a truly Enlightened soul wouldn’t be “fighting” the battle at all – which is most of what Sun Tzu actually talked about in The Art of War. But for those of us who still need the illusion of struggle to trick ourselves into right action, I think it’s time to stop playing other people’s games.

Who needs to cheat, when you can just win?

Word Up

Photo CC Licensed: JulieJordanScott via Flickr

“Words! Words! Words! I’m so sick of words! I get words all day through; first from him, now from you!” – Eliza Doolittle, My Fair Lady

Yesterday I got an email from Chris Brogan. He reminded me (ok, and about a zillion other email list subscribers) that the time has come for the Three Words. Roughly speaking, they are supposed to be the words that describe the themes you want to focus on for the upcoming year. He’s been doing this for years, and occasionally I’ve tried it as well – “Beauty. Grace. Passion.” was a pretty interesting year, for example. And as you’ll see from the title of this blog, I’m a big fan of the triplet.

I was extra excited when I saw that one of his words for 2012 is going to be Practice. Hey, Chris, have I got a blog for you! He’s written a lot of neat posts about the idea, but in this case he says “And by that, I mean to honor this sentiment: “the practice is the reward.” He has some interesting ideas on how to do that, with weekly, monthly, and yearly challenges and goals.


The problem with coming up with three words to try and sum up your principles and direction for the entire next year is one of accuracy. For example, one of the words I thought of using was “money“. That’s kind of a shallow goal, though, right? Besides, I really don’t have any problem making money; it’s my general relationship with it, one of antagonism and scarcity, that is the problem. After some thought, I decided that “abundance” would be a better word.

Abundance? If you’re like me, hearing that word set off the WooWoo alarms in your head. What does that even mean? It’s slapped on so many different things these days that it can mean everything from the plushiness of toilet paper to the divine grace of the Lord and Savior. If money is too broad, then abundance is too…abundant. Amorphous. Imprecise.

And if I’m having that much trouble with one word, how the hell am I supposed to come up with three? That will last the whole year?

Letting It Be OK

The answer is to remember one of the wisest things a friend ever said to me: you can change your mind. It’s ok to use the word “abundance” as long as I know what I mean by it, because this is my guiding word. I’m the only one who needs to understand it. If I find a better word later on that better expresses my intention, I can use it. If I find that my pursuit of abundance is not working well for me (hey, it could happen) I can always decide on something less , like monster trucks.

I think some of the time we avoid these kinds of exercises – goalsetting, guiding words, any kind of long-term planning – simply because we worry about failure. We worry about letting ourselves down, about saying to a friend “I’m going to lose weight!” and then feeling like we’ve let them down when we’re sharing their birthday cake. For some reason, we seem to think we can foresee what is going to come in the next year, what we and those we love are going to need.

Guess what? We can’t. It’s like telling an early explorer “Hey – draw me a map of that place you’re heading towards. I want to know what’s there, so I know what to expect.” How accurate is that going to be? What you can do is look at where you’ve been, look at where you might go, and express an intention. I intend to cultivate an attitude of abundance – the idea that there are plenty of resources available to me to live a wonderful life. I may do that in ways that look goofy, like throwing my pocket change on the floor, but that’s ok: this is my life, I get to do goofy things with it. So do you.

In case you’re wondering, I’m considering music and practice as my other two (the one because it’s been conspicuously absent in the past year and the other just as a reminder).

What words speak to you?

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