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Harvard Business Review posted an article summing up some research by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, who run a leadership consultancy. They examined perceptions of the behaviors of 50,000 people in leadership positions, and came up with this collection of behaviors that lead to bad decision making. It’s not a surprising or counterintuitive list, and it’s highly generalizable. A few apply particularly well to fitness and nutrition.

Not anticipating unexpected events. Sure, the specific interruption is unexpected, but you don’t have to know exactly what could go wrong to know that something will, especially when it comes to plans that rely on carefully balanced hectic schedules. I call the workaround for this “disaster-proofing” (some say “always have a Plan B”). What it boils down to is knowing that plans get derailed, and thinking up front about ways to make sure that doesn’t throw all your healthy decisions out the window.

Remaining locked in the past. How many people do you know who are on one fad diet or another every year? Or who start every year with ascetic regimens based on cottage cheese and a gym schedule that breaks down by Valentine’s Day? I’ve heard people claim they do these things “because they work” — and indeed a major change in your eating and exercise habits can quickly “move the needle” (on the bathroom scale). But most of us want something that works sustainably, with long-term results, and that means doing something different — even if the first try or two doesn’t get you where you need to be.

Isolation. Changes to eating and exercise habits can be tough to make alone. A trainer can help, as can a workout partner. Even strangers can help.

Failure to communicate the what, where, when, and how associated with their decisions. One of the toughest parts of making a change to your eating habits in particular can be the people around you. Food has so many connections to socializing, even to love, that people may find it easy to criticize you for opting out of meals or dishes they still enjoy. Enlisting family members in small ways can help. Summer Tomato has a nice list of ways to talk about your health choices without putting other people on the spot, too.

Skills in awareness and deliberate action help to make decisions easier and easier to stick with. See the whole “Strengthening Self-Control” mind map at the Learning Fundamentals website.

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