This column will change your life: Multiple choice

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Our impulses are often contradictory – the shopaholic versus the wise spender, the exercise fiend versus the couch potato – but we can control which one prevails

Not long ago, I was persuaded to sign up for a weekly exercise class that met in my local park at 6.30am. It was marketed, militaristically, as a “bootcamp”, a phrase now in common usage in the fitness industry, apparently in the belief that people, especially male ones, will find it less embarrassing to do star jumps in public if they think of it as preparation for hypothetically killing people later. But I realised it was just an exercise class. What I did not realise was how sharply it would bring into focus the multiple personalities I seem to possess. The me who signed up was full of happy resolve; the me who went to bed early the night before was slightly downcast. But the me who stumbled into the morning dark was entirely different: he wasn’t just groggy and annoyed, he was utterly baffled that someone occupying the same body could ever have thought this a good idea.

For all my grumbling, though, it was a success: the person who wanted to get fitter had triumphed over the one whose 6am impulse would never be to do so. A more familiar outcome is immortalised in Jerry Seinfeld’s routine about how he’s both “morning guy” and “night guy”: “Night Guy wants to stay up late. ‘What about getting up after five hours’ sleep?’ Oh, that’s Morning Guy’s problem!... I’m Night Guy. I stay up as late as I want.” Yet hiding inside this frustrating Jekyll-and-Hydeness is an encouraging truth about personal change. Contrary to the exhortations of mainstream self-help, you don’t have to transform yourself into someone who consistently loves exercise, works hard, spends wisely or pursues horizon-widening adventures. You just have to find tricks to ensure that the version of you that wants those things gets the edge on the one that doesn’t — and numerous authors and bloggers are on hand with suggestions:

Control impulse spending with a “30-day list” The bloggers Leo Babauta, at zenhabits.net, and JD Roth, at getrichslowly.org, both recommend keeping a dated note of non-essential stuff you want to buy, and resolving to wait 30 days. The rule “works especially well because you aren’t denying yourself”, just postponing the pleasure, says Roth – except that half those must-haves seem nowhere near so desirable a month later. (Some fans of the technique even say the act of writing acts as a substitute satisfaction.)

Beat procrastination by scheduling in advance We have quite enough rigid scheduling in our lives, you may feel, without adding more. Yet the truth is that it’s far less intimidating to decide on Monday to begin a daunting project on Thursday than it is to try to decide on Thursday. Crucially, this also co-opts inertia to your cause: by Thursday, with luck, the project will have become the default that you do semi-automatically anyway.

Never reply to work requests immediately, if you can help it This will annoy my editors, but “you never want to get to the point where people feel they can get hold of you and get an immediate response”, writes Kyle James at doteduguru.com. This, of course, is a traditional way of forestalling rash responses (“Count to 10”), and some say it’s an inviolable principle of dating (“Make them think you’re busy!”). More generally, the resulting buffer zone works as an antidote to the tendency to say “yes” (or, for that matter, “no”) too easily. Face it: you’re impulsive, inconsistent and frequently irrational. You just have to be a bit clever about it.

baffled: bezradny, zdumiony

bootcamp: obóz dla rekrutów

buffer zone: strefa buforowa

contradictory: sprzeczny

co-opt: kooptować, dołączać

couch potato: leń, obibok

daunting: zrażający

default: rzecz domyślna, zobowiązanie

downcast: przygnębiony

exercise fiend: fanatyk ćwiczeń  

exhortation: nawoływanie

forestall: uprzedzać

get the edge on: mieć przewagę nad

groggy: ledwo trzymający się na nogach

grumbling: narzekanie

horizon-widening: poszerzający horyzonty

inconsistent: niespójny, niekonsekwentny, sprzeczny

inertia: inercja, bezwład

intimidating: zastraszający

inviolable: nienaruszalny

postpone: odkładać na później

prevail: przeważać, zwyciężać

pursue: ścigać, podążać za

rash: nierozważny, pochopny

resolve: decyzja

resolve: postanowić

rigid: sztywny

stumble: zataczać się

utterly: całkowicie, kompletnie

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