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Why Cheat Days Never Work and How to Create Real Change

cheat-day

“Cheat days” don’t work.

Because “cheat days” fly directly in the face of what actually creates sustainable behavior change.

The concept of a “cheat day” is that you “reward” yourself for one day as the result of “depriving” yourself for all the other days.

But cheat days don’t reward you; they ruin you.

Not only is it just a waste to undo all of your progress you’ve made the rest of the time, the worst part is the thinking behind a cheat day is completely destructive.

You can’t create sustainable self discipline and behavioral change through the strategy of self-denial.

Self-denial doesn’t tackle the root of the problem.

Self-denial is convincing yourself to use willpower to give up something that you have convinced yourself that you really want.

There are 2 problems with that strategy:

  1. At some point your will power is likely to run out because you’ll be tired, or sick, or convince yourself that you’ve done something that makes you “deserve” the thing you’re trying to keep yourself from.
  2. As long as you’re convinced you really want it, you’re brain will constantly unconsciously be looking for ways for you to get it – even if you are consciously trying to avoid it.

So how do you create real, meaningful, sustainable and lasting behavior change?

It’s simple.

You don’t “deny” yourself.

You “re-program” yourself.

You have to convince yourself that you don’t really want it… now or ever.

You have to change the way you think about the thing that you currently want.

You have to literally form new neural pathways in your brain that tell you what to think (and feel) whenever you think about that thing.

The number one first step to doing that is to change your self talk about that thing.

You stop saying “if I’m good about not having ___ now, then I can indulge and have it later.”

You start saying “I don’t even like _____ because it has ______ and _____ negative affects on my life.”

You retrain your brain. You use what we at Southwestern would refer to as “Self-Talk.”

You keep repeating it over and over until one day you “actually” really don’t want the thing that you used to.

Similar to forming a new path in the wild woods, it’s hard and slow at first, but the more you work at it, the more clearly the path forms. Until one day the new path becomes so ingrained and automatic that you forget the old path was ever even there.

Is this hard? Yes.

Does this take work? Yes.

Does it require intention? Yes.

But so does exercising short term will power.

The only difference is that this is actually sustainable for the long run.

This strategy will actually change your life.

Because it starts by changing the way you think about a thing, but that then quickly adapts to influencing your actual physiological attraction to the thing.

The first time I said I no longer liked fast food, it seemed like a terrible thing to say! I didn’t believe it. I knew I was “lying” to myself.

But your brain is a funny thing in that it doesn’t believe what is true or false; your brain simply believes whatever you tell it most often.

So after you say it over and over again you eventually start to believe it. Until one day, your desire for that thing has truly disappeared.

That’s when everything changes.

Because you don’t have to “deny” yourself anything anymore. Because at that point you really don’t want it! You don’t spend any time thinking about having it. You don’t feel like you’re missing out on it. And you really, truly, are more aware of the negative impacts of the thing than you are about whatever short term part you used to like about it.

Plus, while it’s nearly impossible to deny yourself of something that you know you really want; it’s nearly inevitable that you’ll automatically stay away from things you really don’t want.

The thing doesn’t change. It’s your mindset about the thing that changes. And once your mind about the thing changes, you’ll see that your body’s response to the thing will also change.

And trying to temporarily increase your willpower will never be as effective as permanently changing your taste buds.

So don’t deny yourself and find yourself in a constant never ending battle to find willpower.

Instead, reprogram yourself to make a permanent and proactive change into becoming the person you truly want to deign yourself to be.

Change your thinking about something and you will change your life.