Defending yourself against decision overload

It’s 2011, and a new year for the ongoing onslaught of infomercials, internet promises and magazine gimmicks competing for your attention.

A friend of mine once told me, “The most expensive clothes you’ll ever buy are the ones you never wear.” The same goes for diet programs, online e-books, and new (or just re-branded) products. Most people don’t buy new clothes thinking they’ll never wear them. Likewise, most people don’t buy new fitness products thinking they’ll never use them.

In the spirit of the new year, here are my tips for deciding whether to sink your hard earned money and your even-more-valuable time into something new.

1) Take stock of where you are:
I think before being mesmerized by images and promises, it’s important to think and reflect on your strengths, from both a mental and physical point of view. What have you already got? What parts of your life are already “handled”? For instance, do you already have a pretty consistent schedule in your life? Have you already gotten rid of those foods in your house that shouldn’t really be there? Were you born with one particularly well-developed body part that essentially doesn’t need to be worked? Decide on what metric is important to you. For most people, this is actually NOT weight, but actual circumference measurements. But, if weight IS important to you (for whatever reasons), then make that decision.

2) Take stock of where you want to go:
This one is trickier because most people don’t know how to measure where they want to go. I don’t normally promote products on my blog, but I have found the approach from the Adonis Index and Venus Index to be very pragmatic and takes the guesswork out of coming up with a goal. You basically need to hit the waist circumference for your height and then go from there. Forget the rest. I can’t think of anyone who, after losing 10 pounds without making much change to their body shape, says to themselves, “I lost 10 pounds. I’m done.” Maybe your goal isn’t making a body-shape, but is performance related, in which case, you’re the best judge of what relevant to you.

As a side note, you should try to avoid making goals that can fail based on factors you can’t control. “Placing in the top ten at X competition,” while a worthy goal to have, is one that can leave you feeling unfulfilled after X, because you can’t control your competitors (or the weather, or any number of other things that have absolutely nothing to do with you).

3) Simplify what you have:
Before you take on a new gimmick/behaviour, simplify what you already have. So before you take on a new diet approach, take a look at the one you already use before you start adding new rules. Take a look at the food choices already in your home and simplify your choices. You cannot eat what isn’t there. Once you have a simplified menu, you can start to thoughtfully add choices to it to avoid being overwhelmed by options and rules. This step-wise approach allows you to also evaluate whether the individual changes in your life are effective, as opposed to trying to sort out a bundle of changes when things aren’t going quite as planned.

4) Fill in the gaps:
Now you’ve reached the point where you can start to add things, IF there’s anything even missing in the first place. When you’re filling in perceived gaps, the rule is to add things in one at a time, then evaluate before adding something else new. It can be, and should be exciting to try something new. This approach also allows you to dole out that excitement a bit over time as you figure out what does and doesn’t work for you or your life.

5) Measure your progress:
You should be taking regular measurements to assess your progress. This can be as simple as measuring how compliant you with your own plan on a daily basis (you either followed your plan that day, or you didn’t) and measuring the things you identified in steps 1 and 2 on a regularly scheduled basis. This is only way to decide whether something is working or not. Your emotions and feelings are fluid. The tape measure doesn’t share that fluidity.

6) Abandon what isn’t working:
If you find your progress isn’t going in the right direction, then you need to make a decision whether to keep the new thing or to ditch it. Looking at your compliance may reveal that despite regular measurements, you’re not actually meeting your behavioural goals, in which case, you can either re-commit to those goals, or perhaps discover that what you’re doing isn’t realistic for you and re-adjust those goals. If you’re sticking to your new thing about 90% of the time and your progress isn’t going in the right direction, it’s time to jump ship. And you should jump fast.

The bottom line however, is that you should be wary of the wave of new products making their way to your brain in the coming new year. You probably already have all the tools you need to get where you want to go. The next new thing is just a way to distract you from the task at hand. If something truly revolutionary comes along, you’ll hear about it everywhere, including here. So don’t worry, you haven’t missed anything important yet.

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