If you never do something, it requires no restraint to maintain that habit

Moderation has never really worked for my personality.

Despite my best efforts to adopt an everything in moderation maxim, turns out I’m an all or nothing kind of. Timing and monitoring and measuring my effort doesn’t motivate me, it exhausts and frustrates me.

Framing my level of activity and consumption as sensible, whatever the hell that means, only ruins the experience for me. Unlike some people, occasionally indulging doesn’t heighten my pleasure and strengthen my resolve, it only makes me want something more.

Schimmel used to do a great joke about moderation, referring to nineties diet replacement drinks.

He didn’t understand how the commercial could promise people they could lose weight by drinking a shake for breakfast, a shake for lunch, and then eat a sensible dinner.

“If you could eat sensibly, you wouldn’t be on a diet in the first place,” he joked.

This bit always resonated with me. Kind like those delicious, salty potato chips that famously claimed you couldn’t eat just one?

They were talking about people like me. That entire king size bag would be gone in a matter of minutes. The way my brain works, one is out of the question. Zero is more attractive and attainable.

Rubin writes about this division in her bestselling book about habit formation:

For certain personalities, she explains, if you try to be moderate, you only exhaust yourself debating. But if you deprive yourself completely, you conserve energy and willpower, because there are no decisions to make. There is no willpower to muster. By abstaining, it cures the noise just as effectively. You’re not tempted by all the things you’ve decided are off limits.

That’s the beauty of all or nothing. If you never do something, it requires no restraint to maintain that habit.

Now, that might sound irrational and extreme to you, someone who can eat their sensible dinner, but to me, abstaining is a path to liberation and peace.

Because there’s nothing to manage. You simply don’t do things. It’s purely an abstract lack. And the black and whiteness of that makes me happy. It frees up my mind to focus on the true currency, which is the joy of the process and the experience.

What about you? Do you moderate or an abstain?

If you’re not sure which side of the fence you’re on, here’s one way to think about. Gambling addicts, when starting recovery programs, are given the choice to become completely abstinent and never gamble again, or reduce their activity to acceptable levels.

And if they choose the latter, it means they practice what’s called controlled gambling, where they set limits on the amount and time that they spend gambling each week, for instance, one hour, or one hundred dollars.

What would your choice be? Would you rather never step foot into a casino again, or figure out how to time and monitor a sensible level of playing?

If you chose the former, then you’re an abstainer like me.

If you chose the latter, then you’re a moderator.

In which case, I hope you enjoy your shake for breakfast, shake for lunch, and a sensible dinner.

Would you rather extinguish your first desire, or exhaust yourself satisfying all of the sparks that follow it?


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