the power of the next “no”

A Simple Plan

I started a relatively basic but drastic life hack last week. I call it “no obvious sugars”, and basically the idea is to cut out the blatant sweets in my diet. Things like donuts, candy, cookies, cereal, I’m even going so far as to eliminate things like ketchup or soda with high-fructose corn syrup. I am not eliminating all sugars; aside from how hard that would be (I’m old, my eyes can’t read those ingredient labels like they used to) I also have a hard time believing that fruit and a bit of honey in rolled oats is causing the kind of blood-sugar spike that doctors warn of.

That’s the motivation behind it, you see. If you want specifics, take a gander at this video:

Now, I’m not actually all that concerned with occasional spikes. What I’m concerned about is the idea of being dependent on the sugar. Of needing it, rather than simply enjoying it. Honestly, it’s less about health and more about some issues of control, but hey, if we can channel the latter into the former, it’s all good.

Curbed Custard

I should add, I live in Wisconsin. Land of frozen custard, the best donuts in the Northern Hemisphere, truffles and chocolates and more. I was raised within a reward system where the Ultimate Reward (and symbol of adulthood) was a Hot Fudge Brownie Sundae. My devotion to the art of the pancake is literally internationally known. My partners, my kids, even my co-workers know that I have a sweet tooth.

So cutting out sweets, even only five days a week, represented a pretty major lifehack. It’s not as easy as just dumping all the sweets in the house – after all, on the weekends, I plan to indulge. I’m not forcing my partner Natasha to do it along with me, so the temptations still abound – especially in a home office environment, where for hours there is nobody here but me and that bag of Twix bars…


A little wear, but runs great!
A little wear, but runs great!

Yet it’s really not been that difficult to do. I’ve been astonished, in fact, at just how easy it has been. At the risk of jinxing myself I will tell you my strategy.

I deliberately did not focus on the long-term benefits. I have a sneaky suspicion I’m losing weight, but that’s a side effect. I know that my mood has been very down lately, which would suck if it wasn’t an indication that this was a good idea in the first place. I’d rather have my mood not altered by my sugar intake; not that other things like body chemistry wouldn’t affect it, but somehow it feels more authentic.

I just focus on one thing: the next “No.” That is, in a few minutes when I go in to refresh my coffee, that cookie will be sitting there on the counter saying “C’mon. Eat me! I taste gooooooood…” And I reach into my metaphorical mental pocket and pull out the “No” that I’ve kept there, and I move on.

The great thing about the Metaphorical Mental Pocket is that it spontaneously generates the next “No” for me, without even being asked. So when lunch comes around and I have something savory and delicious and the server asks “Would you like some dessert?” I can reach in and pull out the slightly ornamented “No, thank you.

See, I don’t have to worry about going without sweets for the next week, or month, or whatever. I just have to be ready for the next time that sweet comes around, and already have my decision ready.


It’s a way to get past the dangers of ego-depletion (great podcast about that on the latest You Are Not So Smart, by the way). So I invite you to try it out this week, for something that you might want to change. You don’t have to make all the right decisions. You just have to make the next one.

Now: what do you want to change?

2 thoughts on “the power of the next “no””

  1. I started on a similar path this month with going cold turkey on soda (diet and regular) this month. Water Joe and unsweetened tea have helped with that.

    Next month I’m stopping restaurant fast food with the exceptions of geek nights and social outings. That would seem easier, but I really enjoy hitting drive-thous during lunch. I’ve already resolved to miss meals I don’t pre-eat/pack, so hopefully hunger will help shape the habit.

    Month after that, processed foods with sugar as a first or second ingredient.

    After that, reevaluate to see where I am.

    I did soda first because I’ve done it a few times for camping events and such, and I knew having alt-sources of caffeine would help.

    Good luck!

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