It’s time to get Neo on your health: 5 ways to Hack your Health and Screw the System

Neo, The Matrix
This is Neo from the film the Matrix.
(Google says I can use this picture for reuse with modification, so nobody sue me please.
Full credit: it’s a great film.)

I’m going to make the mother of all assumptions here and suggest that most of us know, deep down, the basics of healthy living. A balance of movement, a good night’s sleep, stressing less, feeding your mind and your body with the “good” stuff. See, it’s simple!

Luckily for this article, there’s a bit more to it than that…because although it can be simple, it’s not easy. And, to be clear, when I say “it’s simple” I am not saying we can all rush out and get ourselves a PhD in nutrition science because of course, the science of how the body works is mind-bendingly complicated. What I mean to say is that intuitively, we kinda know that a share bag of cheese puffs ain’t gonna stack up against an apple with some nut butter, in the nutrition stakes.

But then, it’s not our fault that packaging is deliberately designed to deceive the general population into believing that the contents MUST be good for us because after all, there’s a picture of nuts and it says “protein” in big letters and it’s in the “Healthy” aisle of the supermarket, and maybe it even has some rugged outdoor mountains on the wrapper, giving it a sense of outdoorsy-healthy-goodnessy-stuff.

And yet, rather than check out the stats. and ingredients on the other side of the package, we can all just suspend our belief for a bit and pretend it’s an ideal snack because actually it’s 4pm and it’s there and it doesn’t really count because, well, there’s a mountain on it after all.

But we know really, don’t we? We know we’re allowing ourselves to be hood-winked by those cunning marketers because it suits our brain’s relentless pursuit of the easy option.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that the Mountain Goodness bar is “bad”. Lord NO! I’d be skewered on social media for saying food is “good’ or “bad”. We don’t judge food people…and while we’re here, we don’t judge people either, people. No judging.

Back to the brain, who I shall now write about as if it had a mind of its own and make it into a proper noun: Brain loves safe, easy, routine, habit. This is Brain’s happy place. Consider this scenario: you take the same route home every working day. This is the route you know; it’s the route you’ve always taken. It takes you from A to B. You probably don’t even think about it. In fact, there are many, many, many things you do every day on autopilot. Now, imagine in the moment, on your way home, you consider “Hmmm, I wonder where that road goes? Should I…?” Analyse your immediate reaction to this wild question…

Kicked out of semi-consciousness mode, Brain will immediately draw up a list of pros and cons for you which will involve calculations of safety, time, the weather, what shoes you have on, how hungry or thirsty you are, how tired you are and very, very likely come up with something along the lines of: “Na, let’s just get you home. We can look that up on Google Maps satellite view from the comfort of the sofa…we don’t need to go down there now. Maybe another day. Yeah, let’s do that another day.”

Oddly, once you recognise that this is what your brain is doing, you start to want to get control back. Sometimes, I go a different way home, or buy a different brand, or force myself into a different carriage in the train, or whatever, just to let Brain know who is in control here! I know. I’m wild. W-I-L-D.

Now, I am hoping you’re a little like me here and occasionally like to stubbornly spite the system because now I’m going to tell you 5 ways the world conspires against your health, and maybe, just maybe, this will be enough for you to consider how those clever behaviour scientists are using the brain’s love of easy, to make money out of you whilst possibly over-riding your good intentions:

  1. Amazon and the 1-click ordering

When Amazon introduced 1 click-ordering their revenue shot up. It alleviated the problem of the near 70% shopping basket abandonment rate noted in several studies. They also patented it so nobody else could replicate it! Mean. So just stop to think, is this purchase a NEED or a WANT? Does it drive you closer to your money saving goal or further away?

  1. Netflix and the next episode

Netflix made it harder for us stop watching the next episode than to watch it. The next episode will start in 5,4,3,2, 1 aaaannnnnd I’m hooked. Binge watching nailed. I heard it said that Netflix’s direct competitor is sleep. Don’t let Netflix ruin your intentions for a good night’s sleep!

  1. Did somebody say Just Eat?

Seriously, you don’t even have to get your coat on, get in the car, drive to the nearest McDonald’s and order any more. Junk food delivered to your door. It’s every hangover’s dream come true. More on this later…

  1. The Aisle of Torture

No self-respecting retail outfit is without the aisle of torture and as it happens, while you’re queuing in a big long snake, there just happens to be a load of cheap items that you NEED (want), NeeeeeD just at eye and hand height.  Note how the stuff that will appeal to toddlers is at toddler height. Evil.

  1. The Pricing Decoy

The medium latte costs £2:50 but..hang on! For just £50p more, I can get a LARGE! Errr, no brainer. You do the maths you donut! Oooh, donutttt. Seriously though, you just got done. That medium latte is a decoy directing you to the pricier product. Cunning…and now you’ve spent more, inhaled more caffeine and a few extra calories you may not have intended to have.

Look around, you’ll begin to see loads more examples of how we are being played by clever people who KNOW that your brain is all about easy and convenient. I heard this phrase once “Don’t take convenience over your intentions.” It really stuck with me. Easy isn’t always helpful and can sometimes thwart our goals.

Here’s the big moment though everyone…what if, we used this voodoo behaviour science stuff for good, instead of evil? What if we planned little hacks to make our intentions easy to follow?

  1. Increase fruit and vegetable consumption

You get up, you go downstairs to put the kettle on and make the coffee. It’s the way it’s always been done. You could do it in your sleep, if it wasn’t for the fact that you always do it after you’ve woken up. Add a little extra habit to this routine….chop up fruit and veg and leave it on the counter. Or, if you’re in a hot country, leave it right there at eye-level in your fridge. Guaranteed, that fruit and veg is getting eaten. As an extra freebie, if you put out veggies while you’re cooking dinner, the kids WILL eat it, simply because it’s there. No more “eat the vegetables” speech because, guess what, you just hacked your kids and they ate their veg quota before they even looked at a fish finger! Boom, that just happened.

  1. Buy the small packs of crisps

Avoid family-size sharing bags of crisps. I defy anyone to stop after you popped. Ahhhh! Yes, brazen; Pringles knew it and even made a little slogan to TELL YOU there is no hope of you not finishing a whole pipe of pringles. Add beer to that and you’re putty in their hands. I know what you’re thinking, the big bags are “better value”. Really? They just made heart disease cheaper…that’s it.  Same goes for those small bottles of wine. Do that. No more “oh well, it’s gotta get drunk somehow.”

  1. If however, you DID go large on the vino…

Look, I’m human too okay. There are times, even now, in my 40’s (early 40’s), that I drink more than is sensible for someone who suffers 3-day hangovers at anything over a sniff of half a bottle. What’s even more tragic is that my carefree days of – hey, let’s just go out and have a looong lunch, are OVER. Spontaneity is a rare beast these days….despite what I said earlier about spiting my very safe brain, buying a different brand of softener is pretty much my limit. What I’m saying is, I often KNOW when I’m going to end up having more than 1 glass of wine of an evening…despite the team talk I like to give myself beforehand…I am weak in the face of friendship, French wine and Friday nights when I’m not on childcare; add in fromage and it’s game over. I also know that the next day, tiredness and my body’s desire for unadulterated doughy pizza is hard to resist. What I have learnt to do though, is hack the hangover and make my own fresh pizza with a base involving strong brown flour and toppings heavy on the veg and lighter on the cheese BEFORE I pop the cork. It’s easier for me to eat my healthier version of pizza than it is to order one.

  1. Flip your fridge

Put the fruit, vegetables, nutrient dense foods at eye level. Banish the foods that do not match your nutrition goals to those drawers at the bottom. There’s a reason behind the inevitable rotting soggy cucumber at the back of those drawers. While you’re at it, there’s no reason not to completely Marie Kondo the kitchen. Put the pipe of pringles way up high, out of sight, requiring a step ladder to reach. Put the natural nut and seed mix up front and central. Banish the soda and put the fizzy water in an easy to reach position, positioned nicely next to your favourite water glass.

  1. Failing to plan is planning to fail

You know the scenario… there ain’t no staff room in the country that isn’t powered by custard creams, bourbons and Maryland cookies (on special from Asda). We celebrate with food, we commiserate with food, we release stress with food, we breakup with ice-cream (American import), but whatever else we do…we do not do meetings without biscuits, Heroes or Celebrations. There’s a way round this. It’s what all the best athletes use and you too can use the power of visualisation.

Prior to the meeting, when your intentions are up front and central, visualise the meeting and decide what you will say when the biscuits get handed round. Go for a power move…I don’t wanna hear anything in the region of “Urghhh, they look so good, but I’m trying not to eat biscuits at the moment. I’m on a health kick. *eye-roll/sad face of deprivation*” You do not need to apologise for not having a biscuit. It goes like this “No thanks.” And pass the packet on. Nobody needs a long-winded explanation as to the whys and wherefores of you shunning the biscuit ritual. Just a polite “No thanks.” THAT’S IT. Now visualise you reaching into your bag and getting out your satsuma. Do not apologise for the satsuma. Make no remark about the satsuma. Just eat and enjoy the satsuma. At some point someone will remark on your lack of biscuit ritual involvement. Be ready with your reply…visualise it…”Dunno Dave, I just fancied a satsuma.” Really, there’s no comeback to that is there?

The point is, prepare your plan and be ready to execute. Be unwavering. It’s like a script…don’t give the brain anytime to think about it…just let your pre-designed words fall out your mouth.  No thought process needed…absolutely no need for your brain to kick in with the pros or cons of biscuits. Not happening brain – focus on the company’s new health and safety manifesto instead. Nothing to see here, move along.

I hope the take away is this….simply, you KNOW how to achieve a healthier way of life and now you know some ways to make it easier for it to happen. Get your brain on board and the body will follow!