Congruence is key in any nutrition-based endeavor; we always want to make the best decisions possible in the scenarios that are put in front of us, whether it is a busy weekend schedule or a food-packed holiday gathering. This approach makes it much easier to keep the daily promises we make to ourselves, but it is not possible without self-discipline.

However, the word “self-discipline” has come to hold a strict and cold connotation in many training circles — the idea that one must be militant in all their nutritional choices if they hope to experience success. This notion is not necessarily the case; self-discipline, while definitely synonymous with restraint, can be broken down to a few simple changes in our thinking, our assessment of eating situations, and our method for weighing losses and wins on a weekly basis.

Always choose the best option

It can be easy to stay on plan during the week or an extended period of consistent daily activity. After all, a sense of routine is instrumental in facilitating habitual good decisions. However, a break from this routine can spell disaster and lead to quick losses, and this notion alone can be a major source of pressure — which is a pathway in itself to declines in motivation and confidence. You can mitigate these setbacks by getting into a habit of choosing the best option for any nutritional scenario, on plan or off.

That said, “choosing the best option” can be interpreted several ways; it could refer to simply making the best of a scenario that we cannot separate ourselves from — such as a family holiday meal or a picnic where few nutritious options are available — by utilizing the best available options; it could also refer to exercising self-restraint and portion control in a scenario where there are no preferable options to work with. Either way, the best rule of thumb is to be adaptable. It is possible to go off plan without setting yourself back, but with careful and smart navigation.

Exercise foresight

Try to place yourself a few hours or a few days ahead of where you are now — will you feel good about the decisions you are currently contemplating? Ask yourself if this action (or lack thereof) will stand as a win or a loss in retrospect. Like I’ve said before, we want to avoid an outside-in, finish line-first mentality with regards to long term goals, but it can be good to look into the immediate future as a motivator for the present. Just try your best to mitigate personal pressure.

This same approach can be applied to short-term planning — the essential action points that will propel us towards tangible wins on a daily basis. Everyone has a different method for this type of preparation; it could be a to-do list, a planning app on a mobile device, or a marked up calendar that you keep in plain sight. Whatever the medium, the more you plan to stay on track, the quicker your results will come — and this should keep your wins consistent and your self-confidence high.

Redefine success

The self-discipline process is another area where we must constantly redefine success. In a perfect world, we would be able to hit all our daily, weekly, and monthly goals en route to a quick milestone achievement. In reality, however, there are going to be both wins and losses along the way — especially if you are just starting out. Any habitual action is likely going to be tough to break; this is simply how the mind is wired. Therefore, you should expect mistakes to periodically occur.

That said, just like you should utilize the best options in any nutritional scenario, try your best to make the most out of any win/loss ratio during the week. If your losses outweigh your wins, take a mindful approach toward silencing the inner critic, emphasizing the wins you did accomplish, and getting yourself back on the horse moving forward. Conversely, if you have garnered more wins than losses, celebrate these wins rather than focusing on the fact that you had losses to begin with. Think of it like a record for a sports team; a 5-2 record is solid, and if this were to remain your average for the next two weeks, you would sit at a cumulative record of 15-6.

We want to keep losses at a minimum, but they can still be recognized as a component of personal success. Each daily win is a microcosm of success, and each loss should be a motivating force to keep wins as frequent as possible. It all boils down to interpretation and our method for avoiding self-sabotage.