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The 1 Bias You Need Control for a Better Holiday Season!

As the famous song goes, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!”  But for many of us, our dark horses* also thrive at the end of the year as we give them a green light to overindulge. We eat and drink more than we need to, spend more money than we should, and ultimately let our dark horses go astray, even when it goes against our best interests. 

First, let me say that I’m not being judgmental.  If you need to let your dark horse loose after having kept it under control all these months, then by all means reward yourself and let it run wild!  If, on the other hand, you could benefit from taming your dark horse on these festive days, there’s one bias you need to understand - the restraint bias.

As explained in my book Tamed, restraint bias is our tendency to overestimate our ability to control impulsive behavior. After all, it’s easier to pass on sugar cookies or a piece of pie when they aren’t around, but it’s much more difficult during the holidays when these foods are easily within reach. To help mitigate this bias, here are 5 of my favorite tips:

1. Mental contrasting is the exercise of visualizing the future you want and contrasting it with your current and upcoming reality.  It’s about anticipating the future and preparing for it - What types of cravings do you have and when are you most vulnerable to them? You know yourself (and your dark horse) best, so anticipate what is to come and be honest about your ability to control your dark horse under those circumstances. 

2. In conjunction with mental contrasting, develop implementation intentions in the form of ‘if, then’ strategies. For every challenge you have anticipated, develop a script on how to manage it.  For example, if I have two glasses of wine, then afterwards I’ll have water instead. Remember that substitution is more effective than deprivation - if I’m offered the third piece of pumpkin pie, then I’ll opt for fresh fruit instead. 

3. Anticipate tomorrow from a value framework- how will you feel the day after if you break all mental contracts between you and yourself? How does overindulging and over spending fit with my values? What sacred value will I be breaking if break my own rules?

4. Set limits. Before a feast, program yourself to eat one portion of turkey, one slice of ham, and if you drink alcohol, a safe and reasonable amount.  As you go shopping, set a budget for each gift. 

5. Shield the dark horse by removing it from indulgence inducing situations. This is quite hard given the inherently social nature of the holidays, but it doesn’t hurt to try. For instance, do you really need to attend every office party?  Prioritize participation if you can. And if the pumpkin pie is in the kitchen, sit in the living room! 

If all fails, there’s always that evening when all dreams are possible, when all failures reset - New Year’s Eve. 

Happy Holidays!

Before I go, here is today’s Trance (one of my favorites):

Song Title: Zocalo; Artist: Armin Van Buuren Featuring Gabriel & Dresden; Album: Shivers;

*the impulsive and indulgent side of the self

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