Like two birds of a feather, orderliness and self-discipline flock closely together. Yes, it’s true, research has confirmed that orderly habits—like keeping the dishes washed, brushing your teeth regularly, being able to view the floorboard of your car—influence willpower. One study reported that people sitting in a messy lab scored lower in self-control on many measures. When offered snacks and drinks, people in the neat lab chose healthier options compared to the candy and sugary colas their peers in the pigsty chose. The ancient Zen notions of order and harmony appear to be playing out in modern-day laboratories.
I’ve suspected this link for a while because being in disorderly surroundings makes me nervous and ill at ease, and eating, like smoking, is a very effective—albeit side-effect laden—de-stressor.
Take a look around you. If you’re at a desk, are pens neatly stowed, papers neatly stacked? Is the smooth surface of your desk visible to the naked eye, or would it take a matter-defying neutrino to be able to burrow through the stacks of unread books, unpaid bills, and unwashed coffee mugs?
Disorder Leads to Disharmony Leads to. . .
Discomfort. Even if you aren’t consciously aware of the discomfort caused by messy surroundings, disorder is covertly at work, chipping away at your peace of mind and your willpower. Certainly, surrounding yourself with disarray isn’t the only cause of unhealthy eating, but it can play a role. In my ten years of helping people permanently adopt a nutrient-rich diet, I’ve noticed that the clients with the most ordered lives are the most successful in changing their eating for good. On the other hand, those who insist on spontaneity as their top priority and continue to maintain a blithe attitude when it comes to neatness—well, they tend to remain loose and carefree about their eating, too, believing that someday, their food choices will magically morph from highly-refined and animal-based to unrefined and plant-strong without any effort on their part. Unfortunately, a visit to your local cardiac intensive care unit will introduce you to numerous people who once thought the same.
There are two ways upholding tidiness in your vicinity can motivate you to eat healthfully. One has already been mentioned—that order creates a space for harmony, which translates to less angst within you. Secondly, when you yourself are the purveyor of that order (as opposed to hiring a cleaning service)—especially if you maintain a regular cleaning schedule—you build self-discipline.
I advocate applying multiple strategies to this challenge of sticking to a plant-rich diet in our plant-poor culture, but in this post, the focus is on one tactic in particular—that of maintaining order in the non-food areas of your life. So your assignment is this: pick an area of your house (or your life if you already keep an organized, clean house)—one that could use some regular TLC—and spruce it up and keep it that way. Over time, the willpower you build and the inner harmony you inspire will pay off as more veggies consumed!
Caroline’s Crash Your Diet 10-week Willpower Boot Camp helps people adopt a nutrient-rich diet by teaching them the psychology of permanent weight loss.