Rationalization

I don’t always do what I should. It’s not that I don’t know the correct decision to make; I do. I just rationalize. I make an excuse that’s compelling in the moment, even though deep down I know it isn’t genuine.

If you’ve ever snoozed your alarm, you can relate. The night before: “I’ll wake up at 7am to work out.” The morning of: “Actually, I’ll just go tomorrow.” But tomorrow never comes. All you’re doing is hitting the snooze button on life.

It’s true for bigger decisions, too. “I’ll quit my job this year.” Then half a decade passes and you’re still there. You always find a reason to stay - you’re due for a promotion, about to get your bonus, assigned an interesting project. It never ends. Trust me, I know.

Fool Me Once

Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

How do you stop rationalizing? The answer is in this popular advice: don’t go grocery shopping while hungry.

When you’re in an altered state, your judgment is askew and willpower is weak. You are susceptible to your cravings. As a result, you forgo long-term results for instant gratification. For example, you’ll load up on junk food at the grocery store only to regret it later.

There’s a silver lining: this state change is predictable. Sure, it may catch you off guard the first time. Soon, however, you begin to notice the pattern. With this newfound understanding, you can neutralize the threat - anticipate your excuses and preempt them. In the grocery shopping example, you can eat a snack or make a list before you go.

Anticipate Your Future State

This situation presents itself in my life constantly. A prime example is running. If I get tired midway, I’m tempted to turn back. So begins the internal monologue to convince me to stop. “It’s ok, at least you ran this much.” “You could use the time for work.” “Do an extra mile later in the week.”

I’ve run enough times to know how this plays out. If I stop, it feels great. But only for a moment. After that, there’s a sinking feeling of guilt for having given up. If I push through, the temporary pain is overpowered by a great sense of achievement.

However, I also know that pain clouds your judgment. When you’re tired, you can’t see past the fatigue. You’re so focused on it that you forget about the feeling of accomplishment within hand’s reach. You’re not level-headed - if you make a game-time decision then, you’re likely to give up.

My solution is simple. Before I start running, I declare (to myself) the distance. That way, when I decide to turn back prematurely I’m not just opting for a shorter run - I’m going against my word. I effectively raised the stakes.

Being accountable to yourself isn’t enough? Introduce external accountability by giving your word to someone else. It’s incredibly powerful.

This is the reason I schedule runs with my friends. Not only is it a wholesome way to connect, but we also hype each other up - we don’t give up early. If anything, we push each other to do more.

I’ll Be Back!

Running isn’t the only place in my life where I use this approach - this blog and my business too. Here’s another example: I’m going on vacation today, so I’m skipping publishing for a week.

I may be tempted to extend that break under the guide of “getting settled back in”. Right now, I know that’s baloney. In the moment though, it might be more convincing. To nip it in the bud, I’ll pronounce it here: I’ll be back with a new post on Nov 14.

See you in 2 weeks!

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