What Paying Taxes Can Teach Us About Fat Loss

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DATE › April 17, 2017
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Taxes are due tomorrow, and you should know that the American tax system is by and large the most painful, inefficient, and confusing way to pay taxes in the industrialized world. Most everybody hates Tax Day in America, because paying taxes is time-consuming (and costs you money, if you pay a tax professional to help you).

In Estonia, Japan, the UK, Spain, Denmark, and in many other countries, by comparison, paying taxes is a breeze, and might take as little as 3 minutes. If you lived in those countries, you might not even see a tax return, as the government figures out your taxes automatically and adjusts each paycheck. In the US, on the other hand, we spend an average of 8-24 hours filing taxes, depending on whether you own a business or not.

I’m not bitter or anything.

But all this raging over taxes made me think about how we can apply some basic lessons to the way we approach our health and fat loss goals.

Basic lessons

  1. Incentivize good behavior by making it easy to do. Disincentivize bad behavior by making it difficult.
    Many people procrastinate until the last day to pay taxes, because it’s very unpleasant.
    Along the same lines, if you want to eat less junk food, keep it out of your house.
    You want to eat ice cream? Get in your car and drive to the nearest ice cream parlor and have ice cream. Don’t keep ice cream in your freezer.
    If this advice will lead to mutiny in your home, consider putting sweets and other junk food in difficult-to-reach places, like the top shelf of a pantry, instead of at eye level.
    Keep healthy snacks (such as apples, carrots, jerky) in easy-to-reach places, and making unhealthy foods difficult to get to (out of your house) is a great way to systematically nudge your behavior in the directions that you want.
  2. Make accountability a big part of your fat loss system.
    About 17% of people cheat on their taxes, according to the IRS. That figure was lower than I expected, actually. But imagine how many people would cheat if they knew that there was a 100% chance that they would get audited immediately after submitting their taxes. Close to zero, right?
    Accountability is huge when it comes to behavior change. I recently had a client tell me that she wanted to stop drinking so much alcohol. Left to her own devices, she said she would probably have four drinks that night. We agreed that she would limit herself to one or two drinks that night (not permanently, just a one-time experiment). Her accountability? I would text her the next day and ask her how many drinks she’d had. She proudly replied that she hadn’t had any drinks that night.
    I had another client who was having a hard time making it to the gym consistently. He agreed to write me a check for $100 to his least favorite politician’s campaign fund. If he failed to show up to the gym twice a week for the next four weeks, I was supposed to send off the check. Guess what? He showed up twice a week for the next four weeks, like clockwork.
    So if you are having trouble with getting to the gym, cooking meals at home, or changing other behaviors that are related to your health or fat-loss goals, get an accountability partner of some sort. Your coaches at IFAST are happy to come up with solutions for you (and hold on to your checks).
  3. Set a deadline for your goals, with an emotionally significant consequence attached.
    You can procrastinate all you want, but taxes are due when they’re due. Even if you leave them until the last minute, they will get done eventually, because they have to get done, or you’ll face penalties.
    Fat loss and health goals are like this, too. They tend to get done if you set a deadline. That’s why “I will lose 10 lbs. by July 1” is a better goal than “I will lose 10 lbs.”
    “I’ll lose 10 lbs. by July 1, or I’ll donate $100 to the Ku Klux Klan’s pension fund” is an even better goal (see how I incorporated lesson #2?).

Recap

Make good behavior easy, and bad behavior difficult.

Find an auditor (an accountability partner) who will keep you honest.

Set a deadline for your goals!