When a coach uses a cue it is a shorthand way of getting the athlete to change their behavior. “Chest up!” is a way of getting the athlete to engage their back muscles harder to lift their chest and put them in a better position. What you say is almost irrelevant as long as the athlete understands the appropriate response. That means there has to be some common understanding of what follows from that short phrase. I might yell at an athlete to “Stop sipping tea!” which without some context means nothing. But if I previously chastised them that when they hold a barbell with a loose grip and their pinky fingers extended it looks like they’re sipping tea, then that cue can have an effect.
It turns out we are slaves to cues whether we know it or not. Studies have shown that people eat more popcorn when it is served in a bigger container regardless of their hunger and regardless of how good the popcorn is. We subconsciously eat until the food is gone. We take an empty plate or an empty bucket as a cue to stop eating. When I prepare food, I try to portion it out and store it in plastic take out containers. That way when I eat, I know exactly how much I am getting and do not keep putting food on my plate until it overflows.
There are many ways to use cues to ingrain habits. I know people that put their workout clothes right next to their bed before they go to sleep. That way they can’t talk themselves out of walking across the room when it’s cold and they don’t want to get out of bed. Putting the clothes on is another cue that it is time to work out. I know some people that take a pre workout drink just because it signals them that the next thing that follows is the workout. My post workout shake is a reminder to me that I should take my vitamins and fish oil.
While living our lives on auto-pilot is not ideal. We should use the power of the unconscious cue to help us complete the tasks that need doing. Using cues to create positive habits is a recipe for success. Similarly, identifying other negative cues that lead us to sabotage our efforts is just as important. Whenever I drink alcohol, I tend to always follow it with eating pizza, ramen or ice cream. It makes me very cautious of drinking now especially when I am trying to adhere to my diet. The next step is to disassociate those things so that I can drink without compounding the negative effects with junk food.
Currently, I have been using the Macros+ app on my iPhone and because I check it before and after I eat and when I wake up and before I go to bed it has become helpful in tracking how much I eat. When I am really good, I plan all my meals for the next day and then I don’t have to think about what I’m eating. More importantly, I don’t take any other cues for how much food I should be putting on my plate. The menu is set and I don’t have other options that I have to consider. It might sound small but it really helps tremendously, because if I enter the refrigerator hungry and without a plan anything can happen.
Try planning some things the night before. Perhaps setting some alarms in your phone for when you need to workout. Or placing some post-it notes on your computer to remind you to run an errand. Put your running clothes next to your bed. Write out a menu for tomorrow and tape it to the outside of the refrigerator. Start eating off smaller plates.
The point is to free up mental energy by creating a domino effect. Start with the smallest thing to tackle and once that is done, the next domino should fall a little easier. We have all seen the way dominoes fall when lined up. but did you know that each falling domino could knock down another domino that was 50 percent bigger.