Why going “cold turkey” works better than an incremental approach to change
When it comes to change, several systems will tell you, “Don’t go cold turkey, don’t go massive. Take baby steps.” However, there are several reasons to think otherwise. In last week’s blog post, I referenced the article, “Change or Die,” that posed the question:
“If a trusted medical authority told you that you would die unless you made a radical shift in at least one of three areas, such as diet, exercise, or stress, would you make the change?”
Remarkably, over 90 percent of those studied would rather die than change. (The participants were coronary bypass patients.) However, there was one doctor whose results went against the norm. Rather than accepting death over change, his patients had an almost eight‐fold improvement rate! A staggering 77 percent of his patients successfully changed their lifestyle even though their peers failed. So, what was he doing differently?
Only one thing. Instead of asking his patients to change in increments, he taught them to make massive, radical actions to transform their lives.
So, why did his approach work? Let me use an analogy to make it a little easier to understand. I call this my “15 Twinkie Theory.”
Let’s say you’ve been eating 15 Twinkies every day for as long as you can remember, but one day, your doctor tells you, “If you don’t cut back on Twinkies, you are going to die. Every week, I want to you cut a Twinkie out of your diet until they are no longer a problem.”
Now, let’s go deeper into the mind of an individual who’s faced with death, threatened by their mortality, and forced to eat only 14 Twinkies instead of 15.
The irony is they don’t even really think about the joy of eating 14 entire Twinkies. Instead, these sugar addicts obsess about the one Twinkie they didn’t get.
They’ll think to themselves, “Oh, my God, this is so hard. This is really tough. How am I going to make it through this diet? Life is so hard when I don’t get to eat 15 Twinkies.”
Then, during the second week, when they have to cut out two Twinkies, it’s not just twice as difficult for them—it’s five times as difficult! They’ll say, “Oh, my Gosh! Two Twinkies gone? This is insanity. This is driving me crazy. This is so hard.”
By week three, when they must cut out three Twinkies, it’s absolutely the end of the world for these people! Worse, when they get on a scale to see the results from all their “hard work,” what do you think they see? Negligible results, obviously. They’ve only cut out a few Twinkies each day, which is not enough to make a difference.
When push comes to shove, baby steps will only give you baby results.
The mounting psychological damage and stress behind an “incremental” diet will drive you crazy. If you are like 90 percent of the population on this type of diet, as soon as you have the opportunity, you will conclude the diet isn’t worth it and start wolfing down Twinkies like there’s no tomorrow.
The consequential aftermath of this decision will further your downward spiral. You’ll binge at a party or late at night by yourself and wake up the next morning feeling terrible. You’ll say to yourself, “You know what? I can’t do this. It’s too hard. If I’m going to die, I might as well die fat and happy.” And with that, you go back to eating 15 Twinkies a day.
Ever been there?
This is why over 90 percent of those faced with death versus changing their daily habits would rather just stick with their addiction than prolong life as highlighted in the “Change or Die” article.
Interestingly, the psychological challenge of cutting out all 15 Twinkies actually creates the same level of anxiety as only cutting out one.
First, when you get on the scale to see the results of all of your hard work, you see massive results right away and feel really good about it.
Second, if you fall back and occasionally gave in to your Twinkie temptation, you do not need as much sugar to enjoy the experience. Eating only one Twinkie is sufficient.
In fact, eating any more than two or three Twinkies doesn’t even taste good. When your body is clean from sugar for three weeks, a little bit of sugar will taste great, but having more will not be enjoyable.
When traditional psychology tells you to “take baby steps” in order to change, it is setting you up to fail. I know this is counterintuitive. You’ve been told your whole life that quitting cold turkey is really hard, but I’m here to tell you—it’s not.
So, for whatever you are trying to change in your life, don’t just take baby steps, okay? Go for massive, radical change!