Closure is an important part of any unit of work we do, let it be projects, relationships, school year, family life. Nevertheless, the closing part is often the most difficult part. Somehow, we tend to close things that should stay open, and eventually we struggle to move on with things that we wish it would be over. It is no different in healthy lifestyle development.
What’s behind this “closing-topic”, what’s going on?
How can we use closing to our advantage in healthy living?
When we don’t close, the “energy” tends to stay high in that cycle of a unit of work, and we have much less energy and focus available for other things. By energy, I mean mental energy, focus, attention, remembering. When we close, then we move on, and the energy related to that topic goes low.
This is a well-known phenomenon, called Zeigarnick-effect, and states that people remember uncompleted or interrupted tasks better than completed tasks. In self-development, the idea is to use these phenomena to help people close the unclosed cycles, like after a relationship is ended (break up, divorce, death, travel), when emotions are still present in a vivid way. In entertainment and learning, usually the idea is not to close the cycle, to keep the attention open, like series episodes end with a cliffhanger (everybody knows this), or to stop before the last page of the study book, to remember better topics at the exam (I guess you never tried this one).
How to use the Zeigarnick-effect phenomena to our advantage in developing healthy lifestyle?
My experience is that we tend to do it just the other way around as it would be the most useful for healthy living. We tend to close cycles that are more helpful to stay open, and leave cycles open that are better to be closed.
A typical cycle that is often closed, however, should be left open, is about reaching a weight goal. As soon as we reach the weight goal, we close that unit of work, our attention, focus, energy goes to other directions, and instead of staying healthy, and continuing with our efforts that helped lose weight, our focus shifts away. We sometimes feel that the heavy burden has finally lifted, and we can “get back to normal“, and slowly we start again doing the things that made us overweight.
A typical cycle that should be treated as a unit of work, and should be intentionally closed, is the process of trying out new activities, like diets, exercise and recovery activities. Most of the people I know think about these as a “for ever after” change, and they get tired just even thinking about it. “Converting to a vegetarian diet? Yes, it’s interesting, but I’m not sure I would do it really for my whole life from this point on. Running? Yes, I should run, I can squeeze in some time this week, but I’m not even sure I like running at all.”
So how to improve on this?
What needs the “never-ending story” approach: Your big goal.
I suggest to choose your main goal about healthy living in a way that keeps you on track for a long time, instead of aiming to reach an arbitrary target weight this year (which would result in shifting your focus away when reached). This should be a goal that can be reached only in a couple of years, or by definition, it keeps your focus on living healthy.
- aim to complete an iron-man;
- change your job to a profession that is about healthy living;
- buy 20 books about healthy eating and set a goal to read them all.
What needs a “do it and forget about it” approach: experimenting with new habits.
I suggest to define a 30-day period to see if you like running, whether a new diet is good for you, or to see the benefits of sleeping 8-9 hours every night. You start on a given date; you finish on a given date; and the knowledge that it will finish soon makes your resistance immediately lower.
- make a 30-day trial to run every day 10 minutes;
- target to eat 5 pieces of fruit every day for 30 days;
- meditate for 7 minutes every morning for the next 30 days.