Do you ever feel like you make huge commitments in your health journey that you can’t keep? I know I do. But what if we stopped making grandiose, unachievable goals that we’ll inevitably fail at, and made smaller goals that will keep us improving in the long run?
I’ll give you an example.
Every year, my husband and I swear we’re going to spend less money eating out…
…and every year we spend about the same amount of money at restaurants.
At the end of the year, we always agree that we spent more money than wanted to in this budget category, and we remind ourselves of all the other things we could have spent that money on. We resolve to cook more at home. And for the first couple of months, we manage to do it. But as the year progresses, we’re eating out more and more often.
Why do we have such a hard time keeping this resolution?
In part, because we both love Asian food–Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese, Indian–and we both love fresh salsa and other spicy sauces. But neither of us knows how to cook Asian food, and neither of us has time to make fresh salsa. In the past, we’ve tried to make do by buying bottles of stirfry sauce and jars of salsa, but while some of the dishes we made with these have been good, they didn’t satisfy the cravings we were having. We still ended up going out for the foods we wanted to eat.
Our eating-out habit isn’t just bad for our budget, though. It’s also bad for our bodies. At home we cook with organic ingredients and veggies from the garden. We make a point to use healthy oils and real salt that still has minerals in it. When we eat out, we’re eating food that’s higher in pesticides and hormones and possibly food additives. Not a big deal when you eat out occasionally, but it’s harder to keep the meals in the healthy range when you eat out regularly.
We talked about our past willpower failures, and agreed that simply resolving to eat the foods we love less is not going to work. If we’re going to reduce our eating-out budget, we’re going to have to find ways to prepare those foods at home. We eat Vietnamese and Indian food only occasionally, so that would mean learning to cook Mexican, Thai and Chinese food.
Even though I agreed with this decision, it also made me feel depressed. I do most of the cooking, and while I have a repertoire of healthy dishes, I’m not a skilled cook. It would take a huge investment of time and effort for me to master the three cuisines that account for about 80% of our eating-out budget.
I’d rather spend that time doing other things, like writing.
So I committed to taking a kaizen approach. My first thought was to get a cookbook that explains the basic techniques of each cuisine, and then work through one technique a week for the next couple years.
Not a bad plan, but it’s not going to give us an immediate reduction in our spending at restaurants, because it’ll be months before I’m up to speed on the techniques of even one of those cuisines.
That’s still kind of depressing, to commit to a couple years of small steps knowing that I probably wouldn’t see a reward for at least six months. I was emailing a good friend–and whining a little bit about the whole thing–when my brain kicked in and I realized:
I don’t need to master three new cuisines. I just need to learn to cook the few dishes that we order all the time!
I can pick one dish a month, and try different recipes until I find the version that I like best. Now that I’ve pared that goal down, I feel excited about tackling it. My favorite Chinese dishes are mu shu, ginger beef, and garlic chicken; my husband loves garlicky spinach, egg foo young, and kung pao tofu. My favorite Thai dishes are meat and veggies stirfried with basil and chilies, nam sod, and larb gai; my husband loves pad kee mao and tofu with veggies in ginger sauce.
And we both almost always order enchiladas verdes when we eat Mexican food.
Even better, I don’t need to learn to make fresh salsa, because one of our favorite restaurants will sell us a tub of their fresh salsa for a little more than jarred salsa costs at the grocery store. We just need to remember to stop by pick some up once a week.
Twelve dishes. That’s it. If I tackle one per month, by the end of 2012 I will have learned to cook the foods that account for 80% of our restaurant spending.
True, we’ll probably still go out when we crave Indian food or Vietnamese food or when we’ve got something to celebrate. We’ll probably still go out for Chinese or Thai or Mexican occasionally too. But we’re not trying to become hermits, we just want to get a little bit healthier and use our money a little more wisely.
Are any of your current goals bigger than they need to be?