This last Monday was national cotton candy day.
That’s right, that’s actually a thing. Go figure. I guess the cotton candy lobby is a powerful force indeed.
But it reminded me of something in my own life: my sugar addiction.
I was crazy for sugar. And let me tell you, access to large amounts of refined sugar is a pretty modern and recent thing. Even regular old white table sugar wasn’t something widely available until the second half of the nineteenth century.
Our bodies haven’t had a whole lot of time to adapt to it, and we’re naturally “wired” to seek it out and get as much of it as we can at once.
That’s because for most of human history, sugar’s been something that’s nutritionally dense, especially in calories — which you need when you have to walk everywhere, you probably do physical labor every day, and food is something you have to actively seek out.
Load up on seasonally available fruits while you have them, before winter sets in.
So you’ll naturally snack on sugar whenever you have the chance. It’s rewarding on a really basic instinctual level.
But it’s not natural, when it comes down to it.
Tons of people struggle with a sugar addiction. I’ll go ahead and clarify that I don’t mean “addiction” as in a seriously debilitating dependency. That can happen, sure, but most of us just get hooked on sugar without realizing it.
I had to break my own sugar addiction, which is what I wanted to talk about today.
I’m not talking about some magical miracle cure. That isn’t a thing. There’s no pill you can take that will suddenly make sugary snacks revolting and nauseating to you.
You have to address your own habits and change your behavior if you want to curb your sugar addiction. It’s not necessarily easy, but your teeth and your waistline will thank you.
A lot of us have tried to do this with something in our lives. Maybe it’s sugar, maybe it’s smoking, maybe it’s procrastination.
But it’s easy to fall back on old habits. You make a change, and make some progress… then something happens, and you fall back into that original pattern you tried so hard to break.
You spent all that work, and it seems like it was for nothing.
Part of the problem, I think, is an awareness issue. We don’t consciously realize it when we slip back into those old patterns, because they’re so deeply ingrained into our behavior.
And one of the biggest catalysts is stress. You try to cut back on sugar — or whatever other relatively non-life-destroying but bothersome vice you’re dealing with — and you’re in some stress-prone situation.
Like you’re without an insurer.
Then some stressful event brings that to a head, and the mud hits the fan, and you go, okay, forget it, I’ll just have one.
And you skip your afternoon run, or you go buy a bag of Dove bars, or whatever. You justify it because you’re stressed, and a lot of vices — especially sugar — are comforting. They release serotonin in your brain and help counteract anxiety.
But you just end up feeling bad. And your “clean streak” is ruined, and you think, gosh, I’ve failed. I lost. I might as well give up.
You shouldn’t, but you feel that way when you “break your streak,” and it makes you feel like you’ve ruined everything and might as well not even try. (In reality, you could just go back to the changes in your behavior. One bad meal won’t ruin your diet, just like one good meal won’t fix your weight problem.)
This happens in business too. You try to do something, to make a change, to break away from a habit that’s holding you back. Maybe it’s procrastination. Maybe it’s being cheap when you shouldn’t. It can be all kinds of things.
Whether it’s a professional issue or a personal one, like my sugar problem was, you have to change the offending pattern of behavior, for the long term. That’s what it comes down to.
You have to do this *actively*. If you’re not conscious of your behavior, and don’t actively go against the grain, you’ll fall back into a “homeostasis,” because the patterns are ingrained.
You go back to a “set point,” to what’s comfortable.
You have to change that set point. You have to make the new behavior pattern your new default.
My friend Ben Ahrens, who has a great podcast, is writing a book right now on “set point theory.”
And the thing is, it works best if you change that set point by changing your behavior gradually, and consistently. You’re working towards a “new normal.”
Will you stress eat a bag of Doritos again at some point in your life? Sure.
But that isn’t a failure. It’s just a stumble.
You did what you did. Fine. Go back to the new pattern. Eat clean again tomorrow, and every day again after that.
You’ll trip and fall. It happens. But you have to get back up. Don’t just sit there on the floor and mope.
Now, this doesn’t always work in every single case. I’m talking about confronting habits like procrastination, or poor eating habits, or lack of exercise, or too much sugar. This isn’t for substance addiction or anything super serious like that, and I do want to make that much clear.
But over time, when you have more good days than bad, and keep moving forward more than you trip and fall over, you can gradually shift that “set point.”
You create a new normal for yourself. Your old normal was eating too much on a daily basis.
Your new normal is a healthy, balanced, calorically sensible diet with just a tiny bit of sugar every now and again.
Will you eat a pint of ice cream while sobbing and binge watching Netflix a year from now after a bad breakup?
Yeah. Stuff happens. That’s okay. The point is, that isn’t your normal anymore.
Shift your set point, and create a new normal for yourself. That’s the real solution for behavioral change — whether you’re fighting a bad habit in your personal life, or trying to change a problem you’re having in your business.