In comments to the post about delayed gratification, Christy P writes something worth highlighting.
I think you got it there - you redefined your goals, and therefore success, into ones that were quantifiable and achievable not just on a daily basis but multiple times each day. Rather than focusing on a primary goal that seems so far away "Lose 40 pounds", you kept that as not just a secondary but even a tertiary or quaternary goal. The primaries were "Eat an appropriate amount at this opportunity", "Exercise today", "Let myself feel hungry for two hours from 10AM to noon". Each time you achieved one of these goals, it made you into an achiever, and if you didn't at one meal, then you weren't a complete failure, because you had a string of successes in your back pocket. It is really like the idea of intentional living. Making choices with thought behind them instead of reflexive action.
We talk about small goals in other parts of life, but I think the concept gets neglected with good eating and physical activity. Those lifestyle choices are seen as such an all or nothing prospect that people lose perspective.
I hadn't really thought about it, but she's right -- if anything, we undermine short-term health goals. You're supposed to exercise so many minutes PER WEEK, for example. Doesn't that make it sound like a long-term commitment? Oh, and by the way, you should get checked by your doctor before starting! God forbid you should decide to take a walk around the block TODAY!
But another question -- how can a person create that motivation within herself, the motivation to seek the behavior change for its own sake and not just for the long term results? I didn't really realize what I was doing at the time.
There is some precedent for this in mainstream weight loss advice. Haven't you seen recommendations to get exercise for its own sake? To find a physical activity that you enjoy, whatever it is, and then get out and do it regularly? What you don't see is a recommendation to learn to prefer eating less. It's generally assumed that eating less always feels yucky and is only chosen in order to lose weight. (You do see a recommendation to develop a taste for healthy food instead of unhealthy food, but that's a little different.)
I don't really know how I started to desire to eat less. I do know some of the mental images I cultivate to maintain that desire.
---I think about the evenings, Mark out of town, when I would order pizza for myself and the kids, and eat an entire medium pizza by myself while surfing the web. (plus a 20-ounce Coke and a big salad) This image horrifies me now, even though once upon a time I used to sort of look forward to it.
---I think about my lapses in and out of bulimia in my younger days. That's pretty disgusting.
---And -- I'm not really sure if doing this is good for my attitude towards my fellow human being, but I'll throw it out there anyway -- I go to restaurants with buffets or salad bars, I sit near the buffet, and I watch people and their plates. I find a fat person and I look at his plate and see what he eats. I wish I could tell you that often the fat person I see has filled her plate with fresh greens and a reasonable portion of healthful entrees. Haven't ever seen it in months of peoplewatching. I watch them and they pile the plates high and go back for seconds, thirds, fourths, then desserts. I watch the fat people eat and eat and eat -- I watch them get breadstick appetizers before their pizzas, and dessert pizzas after their pizzas -- I watch them supersize their fries and I say to myself: "Self: That was you, and that could be you again if you don't watch it."
I had to be grossed out by the behavior, not just by the results of the behavior.
Is it possible to MAKE yourself change that attitude? Is it possible to MAKE yourself be motivated by the short-term reality instead of the long-term dream? If so, how do you make yourself feel that way? I don't know because I've never tried to do it on purpose, I've only discovered it by accident.