How To Optimise Your Decisions For Easier, Faster Results
How would you feel if you could stick to your training programme and see the progress you want, without feeling like you have to force yourself?
How about being able to stick to your diet without agonising over every little decision whilst still being able to eat the things you like?
What would you give to be able to do this?
Today I want to share with you a method for doing this.
You see, there’s something I’ve noticed over the course of my life so far that I’ve neglected to truly explore.
I’ve always put it down as a quirk, something interesting to me but otherwise largely inconsequential, however on closer inspection I realise my ‘quirk’ holds the key to revolutionising fitness for you.
I’m going to be honest with you here, even if it does make me sound like a bit of geek.
I love travelling.
I’m obsessed with the journeys.
I know this in and of itself doesn’t sound too weird, you’re probably thinking “hey, who doesn’t love to travel” and you’d be right, I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t like to explore somewhere new.
However, I’m not talking about travelling and journeys in respect of their destination I’m talking about the physical act of moving from one place to another.
I enjoy the long rides, the globe spanning flights and the endless train journeys.
I’ve come to understand that the reason for this is that I enjoy the routine and process of it.
These journeys are pretty much automatic, you don’t really need to think, you hardly need to do.
Instead, you follow the steps and the rest just happens, you start in one place and then arrive at your destination however many minutes, hours or even days later.
Start to finish with very little conscious effort on your behalf.
I mean once you’ve decided to go somewhere, bought the tickets and packed a bag, that’s it, the rest runs almost in the background and the more I explore this the more I realise that this routine or process exists in other parts of my life too.
There are things I do like clockwork I rarely need to think about them, they just get done.
All they require is for me to make decisions at specific points;
Choosing a destination
Buying a ticket
Packing a bag
Then from that point on, things run smoothly.
Fitness is one of those things for me, I’ve built myself a system whereby fitness is mostly automatic.
I rarely ever miss a workout or mess up my diet and it’s not just because I’m committed to and enjoy the process, but it’s because I don’t have to think, decide or make any sort of decision.
I know what I need to do, how to do it and where to do it…all I need to do is get on with it.
Wondering how this works?
Consider These 2 Scenarios
Bradley and Tim are best friends, they’re both interested in working out with the goal of building a bit of muscle before losing some fat to reveal that muscle.
However, their day to day routines are not the same;
#1 – Bradley
Bradley is always rushing around in the morning and often grabs breakfast on the go as he’s running late.
It’s not uncommon for him to forget his gym kit altogether or to remember it only to realise he’s forgotten to replace the gym shorts he put in the wash the day before.
He goes through periods of working out consistently but if he’s had a tough day he’ll usually skip his workout to relax at home or go out with friends and blow off steam.
As a result, his training routine is inconsistent.
Due to the part-time nature of his workouts, his time in the gym is often free form with Bradley programming hopping and not following a set training programme.
He has a rough idea of what he wants to achieve, build muscle and lose fat, but he hasn’t written it down, planned it out or full committed to the process.
As far as his diet goes, his mood often dictates what he eats, and he rarely plans or shops in advance.
At the end of the week he’ll often drink with his work colleagues, getting takeaway food for dinner. This behaviour often leads to a weekend hangover with more junk food to ease the pain of a throbbing headache.
This gives him a false perception of dietary freedom.
Bradley often wonders why he’s not seeing the results he wants.
#2 – Tim
Tim gets up at the same time every day during the week, give or take 15 mins or so. This means he has time to make his own breakfast that fits his calories and macros.
Also, to save himself some time he packs his gym back the night before and leaves it downstairs by the door to help remind him to take it on his way out.
Tim prefers to train before work so he doesn’t have to worry about having to skip a workout if he has a tough day, needs to work late or is invited out by friends.
As a result, Tim trains consistently all year round (barring injury, illness and time off).
This allows Tim to follow a set routine and track his progress as he goes, because of this he makes consistent gains in the gym as the weeks and months pass by.
He knows what he wants to achieve, sets himself goals and closely tracks his progress to make sure he gets there.
As for his diet, Tim makes a habit of planning his meals before using his Sunday morning downtime to shop for and prepare them (he usually only prepares his lunches, he makes dinner when he gets back from work).
This helps him stay on track and minimises the chances he’ll mess up his diet.
Tim also likes to go for after work drinks on Friday nights and to eat out with friends on Saturdays, but he makes space for these indulgences in his daily calories and continues to make progress.
This gives him true dietary freedom.
Tim loves the changes he’s seeing in his body.
Who Do You Think Sees Better Results?
Clearly, it’s Tim.
Not only has he set specific goals, but he follows a routine;
He wakes up at the same time every weekday by charging his phone across the room so he has to get up if he wants to turn the alarm off. This is enough to get him up and out of bed on time each day.
He trains in the morning every time he needs to train. This frees up time later in the day and removes the pressure of still needing to train if something else comes up.
He follows a set training routine. Using a training diary each time he trains means that he knows exactly what needs to be done and it what work. It also gives him a clear picture of his progression.
He always shops and prepares his food on Sundays, by blocking out his Sunday morning to shop and cook means he always gets it done.
He eats according to his goals making sure he hits his calorie and macro goals.
By making these habits/actions part of his routine he vastly increases the ease of following through which in turn means it’s 10x easier to stick to his plan.
You could say he has optimised his decisions to give himself the greatest chance of success. He’s done this by minimising the number of choices he has to make in order to get the outcome he desires.
Incorporating this into your own life is vital if you want to stick to your diet and training plan.
How this might work?
How I Used Decision Optimisation To Drink Less Fizzy Drink
I recently used this method of decision optimisation to cut down the amount of diet coke that I drunk.
Better than this I used this method to not only drink less diet coke but to actually drink more water.
I did this in two primary ways;
#1 – Removal
The first thing I did was to remove all diet coke from the house.
This meant even if I wanted to drink it, I couldn’t, I cut that choice out entirely.
However, this in itself didn’t necessarily mean that I’d drink more water.
This is where step 2 comes in.
#2 – Substitution
To encourage myself to drink more water in place of diet coke I made a substitution.
I started keeping a big glass of water, within reach, on my desk.
I consistently drank more water.
At first this wasn’t because I didn’t want my diet coke but simply because I didn’t have any and because there was a glass of water on my desk and in reach.
I had purposely made it the easy and logical choice.
Over time I adjusted to drinking water as my drink of choice, saving diet coke for times I was eating out or at a friend’s house.
The behind this decision optimisation is to ease your path to the correct decisions, remove the ‘noise’ of competing choices and keep it as simple as possible.
This is how you optimise your daily decisions, you make your default decision the one you want it to be.
How To Optimise Your Decisions
To optimise your decisions and in turn automate your fitness you need to reduce the effort of making numerous daily choices by removing choice overload.
This will allow you to consistently perform the desired outcome.
There are 3 key things you need to do to make this work:
Make decisions upfront
Front load the work
Identify potential barriers and find solutions
Make Decisions Upfront
You want to make all your decisions up front, before you take any action. For example;
What training plan will you follow?
What nutrition plan will you use?
Will you work out at the gym or at home?
How many meals will you eat each day?
What time of day will you train?
This will eliminate having to make decisions further down the line and give you the clarity you need to take meaningful action.
More importantly, doing this allows you to avoid decision fatigue, the term used to describe the phenomenon whereby the more decisions you make the harder it gets to make them.
To show how decision fatigue can impact your ability to make clear, well thought out choices, we can turn to the results of a fascinating study (1) that measured the factors determining whether or not a judge would grant criminals parole at their parole hearings.
If you’re anything like me then you’re thinking “why judges?”, don’t they make their decisions using feedback from a complex series of findings based on numerous factors related to each individual case.
I’m sure in most cases they do…
However, after looking at over 1,000 rulings spanning a 10-month period researchers found that one of the biggest influences on the judge’s decision was time of day.
The judge was most likely to rule favourably first thing in the morning with the chance of a favourable ruling steadily declining towards zero as the hours passed.
The same thing would then happen after the judge’s lunch break, rulings would start out favourable before the chances of a positive ruling again decreased as the hours passed by.
The researchers concluded that the reason for this decline was due to decision fatigue.
This means as the judge continued to examine complex case after complex case the stress and fatigue of difficult decision making continued to build up until it was easier to just say no than engage the necessary brain power to make an informed decision.
It’s comparable to doing a set of challenging squats in the gym; with each consecutive squat the movement becomes more and more taxing until you can’t squat anymore and have to stop.
This also what happens in your life every day and is made worse when you have a particularly stressful or taxing day.
By making key decisions upfront you decrease the chances of suffering from decision fatigue and opting to take the easy path.
Front Load The Work
Once you’ve made all the decisions it’s now time to get down to work.
The idea is to do the bulk of the work now, so things can run smoothly in the background.
This will ensure you can optimise as much as possible and might include doing things like;
Preparing your lunches for the week
Packing your gym gear the night before
Writing a shopping list and shopping in advance
Keeping a training journal to show you what to do in each workout
Setting clear and defined goals
Tracking your food intake so you can identify any problems
The more you can do upfront the easier things will be for further down the line and by front loading as much of the work as you can you’re essentially clearing your path of obstacles and making your journey to success that much easier.
Identify Potential Barriers & Find Solutions
Now you’ve made you decisions and front loaded as much of the work as possible you want to spend some time looking at any potential barriers that may come up.
Potential barriers could be;
Overeating and messing up your diet
Missing a gym session
Being invited out for drinks
Going out to dinner
Getting ill or injured
Travelling or being in unfamiliar circumstances
Once you’ve identified any potential barriers the next step is finding solutions to minimise the chances of going off track.
Using the examples above, corresponding solutions could be;
Do a fast, reduce calories or get right back on track the next day
Realise it won’t make a difference in the long run or make up the session if you can
Learn which drinks are low in calories and/or eat less at dinner to make room for them
If you know it advance eat less to allow for a bigger evening meal and/or opt for healthier options i.e. skip the starters/dessert
Take the time to rest and recovery fully then get right back to it, depending on your injury or illness maybe you’ll continue to train using a modified routine
Have a few backup body weight workouts for when you’re on the road, aim to hit your protein goal as a priority then your calorie goal this will help you stay on track and minimise any potential diet mess ups when you’re on the go
The idea is to account for any changes in routine so when it happens you know what to do to adapt and are not left scrabbling around or going too far off track.
This might mean keeping track of any social engagements in a calendar to see which days you might either not have time to work out or have less control over what you eat.
By doing this you can see in advance where you might need to adapt your current routine.
By optimising your daily decisions to promote the choices you want to take you can boost your adherence to your diet and training schedule without it interrupting your lifestyle or being a constant drain on your energy.
The keys to successfully implementing these methods is to:
Make key decisions up front
Front load the work
Identify potential barriers and solutions
Doing this will make eating well and training consistently a natural part of your routine by removing the need to constantly make decisions about what to do or how to do.
With a lot of the work being done upfront you’ll be able to get on with your day without worrying about having to buy or make food.
You’ll also know how to react when you encounter the typical barriers to success which will in turn make it easier for you to stick to the plan.
Now all you have to do are the fun parts, training and eating.