For the better part of the last decade and a half, I’ve spent my work days representing a company that takes what you see on the screen and puts it on paper. I won’t bore you with the science behind the complex translation from the computer to the printer, however, it holds the key to something I think we all need when it comes to making sustainable habit change.
Computers are blank screens that come to life by being filled with colors in what is called an additive color process.
Conversely, printer paper are white spaces that become filled with color in what is referred to as a subtractive color process.
To the layperson, they seem to be the same thing, but in reality are completely different.
The colors that your monitor uses to create an image are Red, Blue and Green - what many of us learned to be primary colors. However, the colors that your printer uses to create an image are Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black.
What does it matter?
My supposition is that the way we talk about food and nutrition is much the same way. There is a difference between telling yourself what you can’t do (subtractive) versus telling yourself what you can do (additive).
It seems like saying “I don’t eat animals” is the same as saying “I eat primarily plants”. However, the psychology behind each is vastly different and in some cases, so are the results.
Our brains are wired to perform both processes. You can learn to DO something or NOT to do something. However, there is often a complex translation in your mind to get to the desired result. How many of us, when told we can’t do something, are driven to do just that thing? Ever had someone tell you, ‘Don’t touch this’ or ‘Don’t look at your brother’ or ‘Don’t laugh’ or even ‘Don’t think about purple elephants’?
What about when you’re given a medicine or have a test that requires you fast all day or give up caffeine? I sometimes find myself only able to think of that cup of coffee or tea I want to enjoy while slowly warming up to the day.
In fact, in my own journey towards plant-based, which was the result of me being a smart aleck and challenging a friend when I simply said, ‘I’m going to eat everything that you eat.’ While that meant no dairy, beef, chicken, lamb or pork and only limited seafood, I never thought about it that way. Instead, I thought about eating fruits, vegetables, grains and fish that swim (as opposed to shellfish, which generally crawl or walk). It was a surprisingly easy adjustment to make, despite the fact that I was traveling for 10 of the 14 days of our “challenge”. I took pictures of all my food to prove my adherence to the plan and I enjoyed it so much, I decided to just keep going for at least the next 6 months.
What I’ve discovered along the way is that how we talk to ourselves matters a great deal. If you say ‘’ don’t’ or ‘I can’t’, odds are that you’ll start feeling deprived and whatever change you’re making will not be a lasting one for your lifestyle. However, when we think about and speak in terms of ‘I will’ or ‘I can’ or ‘I do’, that intentional, positive, internal dialogue has a lasting impact on our ability to tackle the things that are important to us.
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