The telescopic view on willpower

Lately I’ve been working on what I like to think of as my “long view lens.” It’s a mental tool — a “visualization” in self-help speak — and basically it’s an imaginary lens that I slide into an imaginary slot behind my eyeballs to take me out of the moment so that I can (ideally)  make decisions based on the long term and not just whatever’s assaulting my senses at any particular moment.

For example, last summer I was at a baseball game in Geneva, a small town in Adams County, when my dad happened to mention that the local Marathon station was a good place to get what he calls “hard” ice cream. (Which is to say, the opposite of a soft-serve cone, not ice cream containing alcohol).

I tend to think of myself as a culinary conquestrian (kind of like a foodie except with much lower standards), and so naturally I have trouble resisting a new food or establishment, even a dive like a glorified gas station. But as we sat there watching the game, it occurred to me that we’d be returning to this same little burg a few days later for a follow-up game — and because that just happened to be right after my regular weigh-in, that would be a much better time for an ice cream cone.

Grandpa and the grandkids did get a cone after that first game, but with my long-view lens in place it was easy to resist, knowing the cone I’d order the following Monday would be much more satisfying since it would actually fit into my diet instead of putting me over my daily limit.

Now if I’d happened to discuss my decision-making process on this with my dad, he probably would’ve rolled his eyes at all the rigamarole I go through just to say “no” to food once in a while. And I’ll be the first to admit there’s nothing magical going on here. Just common sense.

But because neither common sense nor will power comes easily for me, I have to construct these imaginary gizmos — er, visualizations — to give me something tangible I can fall back on when doing the obvious thing just doesn’t work.

And just because I successfully use my long-view lens once doesn’t mean I‘ve got the problem solved. Half the time I forget it’s there, and even when I do remember, it’s often a close thing as to whether I can get it in place before I’m overwhelmed by temptation.

Because I can’t just stick it in there and say something generic like, “I’ll feel better later if I don’t screw this up now.” It needs to be anchored to some tangible benefit. And that takes time, especially if I haven’t used it in a while.

Like everything else, regular practice makes this process work more smoothly. This week I took my long-view lens out to help me stay focused during a period of several days when I’m trying to avoid sugar. I’m eating 1-2 of those flaxseed muffins I wrote about the other day to help satisfy my desire for “baked goods,” and training my telescopic viewfinder on Thanksgiving, when I’ll let myself indulge.

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