In the exercise that goes with this post, we ask you to involve one or two persons from your surroundings in achieving your goal. From previous studies we know that certainly not everyone likes to share thoughts and feelings on this subject with others. It goes without saying that everyone should feel free to speak or not speak to others regarding the subject of weight loss. Although there are indeed advantages to involving your surroundings in your quest for the goal, provided this feels safe and trusted to you. Below we will describe the source of these advantages.
By involving multiple persons, you actually organise your own success. It makes the things you do and how you do them less random or mindless. This is to do with the properties of the limbic system, to a great extent.
The limbic system is a network that is sensitive to social interaction and feedback from friends. It is also involved in the creation of habits, traditions, routines and memories. This may be on a personal level, but also within the context of a family, or even a village or community. This is how the people in the UK get a certain feeling when concepts such as ‘Trooping the Colour’ or ‘Bonfire Night’ are mentioned.
These types of images, emotions and traditions exist all over the world, and there are quite a few that are to do with food.
A selection of traditions and their dishes
An English Christmas would not be complete without the traditional Christmas Pudding, with its filling of almonds, candied fruits, apples and brandy. In The Netherlands they eat oliebollen, a kind of fried doughnut balls with raisins, on New Years Eve. The traditional Sunday meal in Flanders consists of steak or mussels with fries, and in the Dutch province of Brabant they eat worstenbroodjes, sausage rolls, for Christmas and Carnival. In Germany, Italy, France and England, among other countries, they eat leg of lamb at Easter. During the Jewish Chanuka feast they fry the dishes in oil. And after Ramadan has finished, Muslims celebrate the Sugar Feast with lots of sweets and pastries.
Traditions can provide guidance and clarity. They can enhance the feeling of togetherness, of belonging. Besides, customs and habits can make life easier, because they are ingrained in a certain way. If these traditions, customs or habits are actually desirable, everything is fine. For example, they may be good for your health, or supportive of your aim to lose weight sustainably.
Apart from its involvement in creating habits and memories, the limbic system is also sensitive to social interaction, as mentioned above, and to compliments and peer pressure. Although not every form of social interaction is desirable, and peer pressure is surely not always positive.
Which social circle can help you? Are they family members, friends, colleagues, your boss or your doctor? Let them help you draw up a plan. Let them help you assess your progress. Get them to help in reminding you of your goal. Let them participate in celebrating your success. Try to find the exact amount of peer pressure that works for you. Does sharing your achievements on social media cheer you up? Then do it. But you better keep away from them if it only makes you feel insecure.
Celebrating your success helps you feel good about your trajectory. It helps you to have something to look forward to, in more difficult times. It also helps to ingrain new routines that are pleasant and positive. In order to celebrate success, you need to achieve your goals. That is why you should define realistic goals that can be attained. Make sure the slowly descending curve of your weight always has a positive effect on your feelings. Involve the people around you in your celebrations. This is another way of organising your success. The people in your life will tend to support you more, encourage you and give positive feedback. Perhaps others will join you. In this way the entire journey might become a habit and maybe even a routine.
‘Apart from its involvement in creating customs and memories, the limbic system, as mentioned above, is also sensitive to social interaction, rewards and compliments’
In the book Nudge (in the right direction) by Nobel Prize winner Richard Thaler and his friend and colleague Cass Sunstein, you can even find many lively examples of informal bets, where people stimulate each other to improve their own behaviour or habits.
For example, one of the writer’s employees had to hand in his thesis at a certain point. It took this boy, David, an endless amount of time to do this and is seemed as if the project would never finish, even though he knew he would be promoted and get a higher salary once he had finished his thesis. Apparently, this incentive did not suffice. Thaler made a deal with him: David wrote a large number of checks of 100 dollars each and gave them to Thaler. Each month that he did not hand in a certain part of his work would cost him a check. And there was more. Thaler had assured the boy that he would throw a party with all the money, and invite all his colleagues, except David himself. This incentive did work, since David did not want to miss a great party. You can make these bets yourself as well. Examples are known of people who have to stand by and watch the money they could possibly lose be transferred to their opponents’ supporters club. Just keep that in mind if you are a passionate fan of Arsenal or Manchester United. As long as it works and helps you achieve your goal!
But once again, it should feel good and safe for you to involve your environment. If this is not (yet) the case, don’t do it! You should not feel any pressure to do this. If you decide to keep your programme to yourself, you could try to find a way to consult with yourself, as it were. Maybe it helps to write down things in a notebook (or in the notebook app on your mobile phone).