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Systematize Before Optimize

In session this week with my client Tara, we discussed the trouble she was having staying in control on weekends. Now that Tara and most of her friends are vaccinated, she’s been able to safely start to socialize with friends again. While this is wonderful, resuming eating at restaurants and at friends’ houses has caused her a significant amount of trouble reining in her food and alcohol intake.

In session, Tara told me about a dinner she went to at a friend’s house this past weekend. Her plan was to stick to one glass of wine, have no appetizers, eat her main course, and have half a dessert. Instead, she wound up having three glasses of wine, plenty of appetizers, and a full dessert. I first gave Tara a lot of credit for even making a plan! That’s an important first step. I then discussed with her that while that plan might have been optimal in terms of curbing her caloric intake, right now while she’s still working on getting stronger in social situations, it probably wasn’t realistic (yet).woman writing notes

I told Tara about a concept I read about in the book Atomic Habits by James Clear. When you’re trying to establish a habit, you have to systematize it first, and then you can optimize it. After all, you can’t optimize a habit that isn’t in place. Tara and I decided that right now we need to first work on establishing the habit of sticking to her plan in social situations. Even if that plan right now includes more alcohol and food than she would ideally like to consume in the future, we have to get the “sticking to my plan” habit established first. Then, we can work on optimizing what the plan actually entails.

Tara and I discussed her social events this coming weekend and made plans for all of them. Because these plans weren’t overly limiting, Tara felt confident that she could stick to them. I had Tara write down the plans, and we made a Response Card about why it was worth it to her to stick to them. Tara agreed that she would read her plan and her cards right before leaving the house and bring them with her to reread if she started to lose focus while she was out.