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Limit your limits

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Wistful cat

Many years ago, I used to jog the same running route four times a week. By the end of each 6.2km circuit I was utterly destroyed, gasping for breath like an asthmatic goldfish in the Sahara.

Given my depleted state following each run, I naturally assumed that 6.2km was all that my body could handle. I knew my limit. And so it remained for a number of years.

Until one day, a friend suggested that we run together in a novel area. I agreed, and before I had a chance to entirely realise what was happening, we had 10km under our belts/activewear.


That was the day when I realised the limits of self-imposed limits. And since that time, I’ve been fascinated by how achievable goals often hold me back from achieving.

As I approach each target I set myself, it seems that I start to struggle irrespective of what the target is.

If I aim to climb 75 floors on the stair machine at the gym, I’m struggling at 70 floors. If I aim for 50 floors, I’m nearing breaking point at 45.

If I set out to fast for 24 hours, I’m getting peckish at the 22 hour mark. Scale down to a 16 hour fast, and I’m ready to rip a chocolate bar out of a passing toddler’s hand after 14 hours.

It’s as though, by setting an end point, the message is “This is what I’m capable of. This is all I’m capable of”. And the power of the belief makes it real.

Don’t worry; I’m not going to get all fluffy and assert that we can all achieve anything if only we believe we can. After all, no matter how hard we try, most of us will never be the fastest/richest/smartest human on earth, accidentally discover the cure for cancer, or land a date with Liam Hemsworth.

However, it’s certainly clear that we can quite easily stop ourselves from achieving our potential by prematurely capping our targets.

In a society that advocates short-term goal-setting for success, this realisation gives me pause. Might the setting of attainable end-goals actually be unwittingly shooting us in the foot and holding us back?

It’s not that I believe we should ditch targets altogether. Having something to head towards can certainly provide direction, and imbue us with the will to keep going when the going gets a tad tough.

But perhaps abandoning ‘achievable’ short-termers in favour of more fantastical or long-term goals might allow us to realise a greater degree of what we’re capable of.

Of course, setting ambitious targets necessarily elevates the likelihood of failing to achieve what we’ve set out to achieve. If I aim to climb 100 floors, I may ‘fail’ and only make it to 90. But relative to ‘achieving’ my easier goal of 75 floors, a failure of 90 doesn’t actually look all that shabby.

We’re impressed by Olympic athletes who land in last place. We don’t disparage doctors who are ‘only’ able to cure half of their afflicted patients. We still marvel at that guy who ate 8 hot dogs in a minute, even though really he was aiming for 9.

Falling short of something spectacular is inevitably going to thrust us to greater heights than we might achieve by meeting a more paltry aim.

So what’s your target going to be?

Facing up to fear of creative failure

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Some days, blogs tumble out of me. I sit down and, without really understanding how or why, my fingers frenetically fly across keys, bashing out ideas that somehow manage to render themselves coherent.

Then there are the other days.

Days when I’m struck by epiphanic ideas that somehow never manage to make their way onto page or screen. Days when I’m crippled by some sort of idiopathic inertia.

Bored girl

Today happened to be one such day.

I sat on the porch with a cup of tea, trying to work out why I was sitting on the porch with a cup of tea instead of at my keyboard evacuating the inspiration from my head.

It wasn’t too long before it occurred to me that the answer might be fear of failure.

I realised that before I started to write, the potential for perfection remained intact. My ideas had no opportunity to be opposed. I had no occasion to clumsily mangle them.

There was no possibility of letting myself down.

The realisation that fear of failure was fundamentally underpinning my creative immobility was eye opening. All of a sudden, I started to see the multitude of ways in which the fear manifested:

Researching endlessly to make sure I was adequately “equipped” before writing a word;

Painstakingly perfecting each sentence word-by-word until an entire afternoon had passed without progressing beyond a paragraph of text;

Accepting any offer of activity that interrupted the production process and allowed me to procrastinate further (thus delaying my otherwise inevitable failure).

Ironically, the cruel prophesy created by my fear was self-fulfilling. By virtue of self-sabotage, I was entirely unable to create anything. Let alone anything satisfactory.

I failed as I had been afraid I would. Because I had been afraid I would.

I remembered reading a quote as a child that “boats are safe in the harbour, but that’s not what boats are meant for”. It occurred to me that the metaphor could be extended to my fear of creative failure.

The ideas were safe in my head. But while trapped within, they carried no purpose or function. They had no power. There was really no point holding them there at all.

On the flip side, if I did attempt to translate the thoughts to text, what was the worst that could happen?

I might magnificently muck it up. I may well find myself exuding a poorly-constructed cascade of verbal nonsense. However, were this to occur, upon review I would unceremoniously ‘trash’ what I had written before any other humans had the opportunity to read/recognise my intellectual deficiency.

Paper bin

I might feel a bit miffed by the mess I had made of my once seemingly brilliant idea. But I would probably get over it pretty quickly. Particularly if I had something particularly delicious lined up for dinner.

Yet there was clearly much to gain by expelling ideas from brain.

For one thing, as with almost every avenue of achievement, creativity is essentially a numbers game. Just as we improve our odds of winning a raffle by buying extra tickets, so too do we hike the likelihood of producing something spectacular each time we produce something.

Of course there are bound to be a bunch of disappointing defeats and spectacular failings along the way. Plateaus and troughs are essential inbuilt features of the game of life.

We don’t expect to win the lottery every time we buy a ticket.

But failure is more than an inconvenient hurdle to success. It’s a catalyst for forging a stronger self.

When we succeed at something, we generally feel good but learn very little. Failure, on the other hand, tends to convey a sense of profound dissatisfaction. And if we can push through the preliminary knee-jerk impulse to punch a wall, throw in the towel, and never pick it back up, this dissatisfaction motivates us to become better.

So having recently recognised my own fear of creative failure – despite academically acknowledging its perks – I am resolved to finding a way to constrain its power.

Here’s my plan.

From here on, I will rigorously police my creative procrastination behaviours. Instead of painstakingly picking out the perfect words to form each phrase, I’ll smash out sentences as they tumble from my brain, and save the editing until later.

And each time I churn out a particularly pathetic blog, rather than exiling it immediately to the virtual trash can and pretending it never existed, I will examine it carefully to determine what made it such a total piece of literary tripe.

Then I’ll resolve not to make the same mistake next time around.

How to not die early

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Wilting flower

What do obesity, substance abuse, and poor access to health care all have in common?

Yep, you guessed it; they’re all about as likely to kill us as loneliness.

According to this meta analysis, being lonely hikes your likelihood of bucket-kicking by about 26%. If you’re socially isolated, you’ve got a 29% higher tendency to die. And living alone is an extra special bummer for mortality, with your chances of carking it up 32% relative to partnered peers or mates with roomies.

This wouldn’t be such an issue if only a few folk made it onto the ‘lonesome’ list. But according to a recent Australian survey conducted by Lifeline, an epic 60% of respondents reported often feeling lonely.


The stats, while sad, are hardly surprising.

As a society, we’ve traded close-knit communal living for aptly-named apartment living.

Most of us never encounter (much less interact with) our neighbours, with whom we’re close in proximity alone. Few of us have dependable help within hollering distance. Child rearing has become an almost hermitical task (hello post-natal depression). 

Outside the home, we travel on trains and train at gyms with eyes cast down and headphones in. Social time has largely become social media time, where our networks are massive, but also massively devoid of meaningful connection.

This is not groundbreaking information. Most of us are already uncomfortably aware of our increasing isolation.

Perhaps more pertinent is the question of how to bust down the walls we’ve inadvertently erected. In an age of alone-ness, how do we re-connect with our fellow man?

Holding Hands Holding Hands Hand In Hand

Connection suggestion #1: CommUnity

It’s no accident that community is 1/4 comm and 3/4 unity. Associating with others with whom we’re proximally located conveys a sense of cohesion. Oneness.

Yet many of us actively avoid getting too buddy-buddy with our neighbouroonies.

Perhaps we’re worried that if we chum up with one who winds up being a deranged psychopath, we’ll have a difficult time detaching. Once they know where we live and all.

Caution around not befriending the local community crackpot is valid. But unfortunately, it’s hard to erect a selective wall that only allows the nice, normal neighbours through. Preemptively suiting up in protective armour keeps the crazies out, but it keeps everyone else out as well.

Hello loneliness.

Fortunately however, connection doesn’t have to be an all or nothing game. We can dip a toe or two in without having to socially submerge.

For example.

I rarely see or speak to my next door neighbour. Our schedules just don’t often cross. But most Wednesdays, the day after Tuesday trash night, he gets home before me and brings in my wheelie bin.

It’s a relatively small act. But somehow it makes me feel less alone. Just knowing that someone nearby is willing to go out of their way to make my life a little bit better.

Perhaps best of all, commUnity is contagious.

Since he first brought in mine, I began bringing in my other neighbour’s bin. For all I know, she may be bringing in her neighbour’s bin. And so the sense of sharing and caring proliferates and perpetuates up the street ad finitum.

If you’re not a bin-bringing-in kind of human, don’t despair. The same effect can be replicated in any number of ways.

Dropping a few freshly-baked bickies on next door’s doorstep. Taking the time to water their visually dehydrated daffodils. Offering to feed their feline while they’re away on holiday.

feeding cat

When you start looking, you find almost endless opportunities for community and connection.

Connection suggestion #2: The third place

Most us don’t feel lonely 100% of the time. But many of us have lonely moments.

Enter the need for the third place.

The third place is a concept originally pioneered by sociologist Ray Oldenberg back in 1989. It alludes to a place that is neither work nor home where humanity – both familiar and foreign – can congregate and meet.

Importantly, a third place shouldn’t take too much time to get to. It shouldn’t cost much (if anything) to be at or in. And when we rock up there, we should have a good chance of encountering a familiar face or five.

For some, the third place may be a local watering hole or couch-studded cafe to which friends flock after work and the bar tender knows each regular’s regular order. For others, it might be a community centre. An after-work art class. A town square. A public pool.

My third place is my tiny local gym. I consciously aim to arrive at the same times each week, knowing I’ll recognise the regulars and get the opportunity to chat with my accumulating array of sweaty gym chums.


The social side of this local gym scene has been oddly effective as a way to maintain my motivation to exercise. But more than that, I find it imbues a strong sense of comfort.

Since finding my third place, I know that if I’m feeling lonesome on any given day, I have a way to access my fellow man. Where I can chat if I want to chat, or simply be amongst other humans. Somewhere I can go to feel less alone.

In an age of growing social networks but shrinking social cohesion, the third place is a cogent notion.

So are you lonely?

You know what to do.

Getting old slower

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I’m getting old.

I know I’m getting old because I’ve started saying things old people say. Things I once swore I would never say, like “Young people these days!” and “Where has the time gone?”

There’s no question that, as I progressively senesce, my discourse is drifting in line with my evolving perceptions of the world.

(Ok, I’m being moderately melodramatic. I may not have quite hit 30 yet.)

Nonetheless, it’s interesting to observe the changes as they arise, and reflect on what they reflect about me and my aging brain.

One theme that appears to pop up with increasing prevalence each year is the apparent acceleration of time.

As a child, days often dragged. As an adult, weeks whip by with alarming alacrity. As a kid, Christmas could never come fast enough. As an adult, it seems to be constantly coming (again).

Christmas squirrel

I listened to a lecture a while ago that discussed the phenomenon. It purported that our experience of how fast time ticks is more a function of our memory of events than of our direct experience of them in the moment.

As such, our retrospective sense of how fast a year passed may be entirely unrelated to how fast it felt like it was going at the time.

Which begs the question; if our overarching perception of time’s tempo is governed by memory, what exactly is it about these memories that makes time seem speedy vs. sluggish?

Memory landmarks

One theory states that, in retrospect, time feels fast or dawdling depending on how much we can remember from within each window.

Say we recall a whole heap of notable events from a particular period. A couple of weekends away. A wedding or three. An overseas jaunt. A new job. Meeting Molly Meldrum. Adopting a pet iguana. A Spice Girls reunion concert. Winning a hot dog eating contest.

hot dog eating contest

To account for so much having happened, we subconsciously sense that a hefty amount of time must have passed. How else would we have fit so much in (hot dogs aside)?

Thus we perceive the period as having transpired in a more leisurely fashion.

And once we understand why our lives fly by, we can seek solutions to slow them down.

Solution #1: Mix sh*t up

So we know that memories are linked with perceived speed of time passing. And we know that salient (unusual) stuff is particularly successful at driving memory formation.

As such, it stands to reason that incorporating more unusual events in our lives may be the key to slowing down the rate at which we experience them.

Such changes don’t have to be drastic. I’m not suggesting that we all quit our jobs tomorrow in pursuit of a more random avenue of income. But most of us could probably stand to mix things up a little more than we currently do.

It could be something as simple as occasionally picnicking at a park rather than supping at the usual dining table. Splashing some cash on weekends away. Enrolling in random pottery classes. Attempting an escape room. Setting off on a scavenger hunt. Belting out a power ballad at your local bar’s karaoke night.

cats singing

Sure – it’s more effort than a(nother) night in with Netflix. But the memories will last a lot longer!

Solution #2: Aid the encoding process

Over the past 5 months, I’ve been engaged in a mini experiment (sample size: me).

In an effort to aid my memory, I’ve been compiling a digital document of all of the special stuff that’s happened in my life since starting the list.

As well as forcing me to acknowledge (and appreciate) each event as it occurs, every time I open my list to add something new, I’m reminded of past events that may have otherwise faded from memory.

Fascinatingly, for the first time in a long time, time seems to be slowing down.

Finally, it’s July when it feels like it should be July.

And for once I feel confident that Christmas won’t be here before I know it.

happy clock

So who knows? Maybe you’re ok with life speeding by. But if, like me, sometimes you wish it would go a little slower, why not start a list of stand-out moments of your own?

Worst come to worst, you may just realise how great life actually is.

The inconvenient cure for addiction

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The 21st century may still be young, but it’s already racked up quite the reputation.

The technological age. The science generation. The era of orange-tinted megalomaniacs in positions of unfettered political power.

Donald trump funny

But above all else, there’s one feature that seems to define modern life above all others.


In the Netflix / online shopping / Uber Eats age, our every appetite can be appeased with little more than a finger tap. On a screen that happens to be conveniently located in – or at least close at – hand.

Gone are the days of hiking down to the local video store to pick a flick. Gone is the imperative to labour over lunch or dinner prep. Gone is the need to ever leave the house or encounter another human again, should we so wish.

This is a particular win for those who harbour agoraphobic proclivities, but also for anyone who tends to be a tad lazy or a bit busy (read: most humans currently residing on planet Earth).

The contemporary shift away from effort and towards convenience means that we can conserve our precious (and increasingly limited) time and energies, and channel them into other, more important aspects of life. Like watching strangers un-box miscellaneous items on YouTube. Or perusing Ebay for our cat’s next Halloween outfit.

Cat halloween costume

But of course, nothing in this world comes free. And as with almost anything that seems too good to be true, convenience harbours a hidden cost.


When things are easy to access, we tend to consume them not only mindlessly but also much more than we otherwise would.

Fast food. Phones that ding. The delicious salty snack that was placed conveniently within arm’s reach during the movie.

There’s little question that ease of access encourages us to automatically imbibe.

But perhaps of greater concern, it also overrides the need for us to make conscious choices around our consumption. And as such, many of us struggle to comprehend – or even consider – just how hooked we actually are.

But as blissfully ignorant as we may be around our dependencies, the truth is that most of us are abominably addicted to something. Usually many somethings. And almost all of them are relatively convenient to access.

Cans of coke from that vending machine down the hall. Checking emails and messages that can be ubiquitously viewed from any of our many devices. Dinners that are delivered directly to our doors. Passive screen-based entertainment. Seeing our posts and pictures ‘liked’ on Facebook or Instagram.

Addicted to facebook

So now that you’ve realised you’re a massive junkie (like the rest of us), let’s talk rehab.

We know that convenience underpins and perpetuates so many of our cravings. And as such, it seems to logically follow that inconvenience may just be the key to breaking free.

I struggled for years with an unhealthy Facebook addiction, before finally deciding to delete the app from my phone altogether. It worked like a charm. Without the ready means to constantly check it, I became increasingly apathetic towards my news feed and notifications.

Within a few short weeks, Facebook flicking transformed from an urgent compulsion to something that I could very much take or leave. I was cured.

Until, one dark day, I realised that I could access Facebook via my phone’s web browser. I logged in, did my Facebook thing, and didn’t bother to log out. And from that moment on, one quick click re-opened the brower back up, where Facebook was ready and waiting.

Needless to say, I regressed, relapsed, and realised that getting back off the bandwagon required more drastic measures.

So I changed my Facebook password to something cumbersome and impossible to remember, and logged out.

The next time the siren song of social media called, it was simply too hard to work out how to get back in and voila! I was back in remission.

The power of inconvenience as an antidote to addiction is undeniable. And it doesn’t just work for me.

One of my friends who was hooked on sugar physically imprisoned all of his treats in a special cupboard using locks and chains that required multiple codes and keys to undo.

Many locks

Another elected to keep her TV remote in a distant room of the house to counteract her automatic reflex to switch on the box on whenever her bum contacted the couch.

In an age of convenience, most of us aren’t thrilled by the prospect of actively making things harder for ourselves than they need to be. But when convenience is the culprit of unhealthy habits that have us hooked, something has to give.

Sure – it seems counter-intuitive. But perhaps it’s the open doors that are keeping us locked in.

And barriers and blockades are what we need in order to break free.

The stuff no one told you about success

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They say the only certainties in life are death and taxes.

I disagree. Not because I’m planning to live forever or move to the Cayman Islands. But because I reckon there’s one more certainty that has been missed from the list.

Falling off the wagon.

Image result for fall off wagon

Unless you are one of those sorry souls who never actually makes it onto a wagon in the first place, falling off – often repeatedly – is one of life’s inevitabilities. And like it’s inevitable relations (death and taxes) it has the potential to rob us of everything we’ve worked for. At least temporarily.

But before we get stuck into the ‘falling off’ bit, let’s delve a little deeper into the whole notion of a wagon, and what exactly it is that constitutes success.

Back in my youth, I used to conceive of success as being some sort of end state. A goal that could be gotten to and neatly ticked off.

Things like attaining a ‘respectable’ score on high school exams. Getting a ‘good’ job. Securing the attentions and affections of the ‘right’ partner.

Then I experienced a bit of life. And I realised that achieving success and maintaining success are two entirely different beasts.

In efforts to banish love handles from my life, there have been tonnes of times when I have successfully ditched the donuts, smashed out some work outs, and and shed a little of my jiggle. Goal achieved – hooray!

But then, over time, I would start negotiating with myself. “You’ve been gymming so hard – you’ve earned a piece of cake today. Heck, make it two pieces. You deserve it”.

Little by little, the hungry hedonist in my head would increasingly dominate this internal dialogue… until eventually someone would leave me unsupervised in Kmart during an Easter egg clearance sale, and it would be all over red rover.

Image result for bruce bogtrotter cake gif

Short-term clean eating is easy. Signing up for gym memberships requires remarkably little effort. But staying on those wagons long-term? Not so easy to do.

As a 30-year-old on a health kick, the notion of maintaining rigid self-restraint and dogged discipline for the remaining 60 odd years of my projected life is downright depressing.

(Perhaps depressing enough to induce an episode of emotional eating… now where did I put that tub of Ben and Jerry’s?)

It’s just not realistic to believe that achieving an aim means that it will never regress, or need to be re-visited.

After all, winds are most fierce at the tops of mountains. The tallest perches tend to be the most precarious. And life has a curious habit of hiding around corners, waiting for opportunities to ambush/knock us off the perilous pedestals we’ve placed ourselves upon.

Image result for precarious

Sometimes we’re strong enough to withstand such attacks… but sometimes our defenses are down.

Perfect postures deteriorate into slumpy humps during moments of fatigue. Clean kitchens become dirty dish dumping grounds when our schedules are hectic. Creative bursts of prolific production are interspersed with long periods spent languishing in creative doldrums.

And when our wondrous wins are replaced by devastating losses, our first instinct is to falter and self-flagellate. We reprimand ourselves for lacking the commitment and conviction required to remain steadfast upon our chosen success path.

Image result for beat self up gif

But such falls are a natural (and indeed necessary) feature in the landscape of success.

They’re the speed bumps that force us to brake so that our engines don’t overheat and explode. They’re the forced respite opportunities that allow us to recharge so we can come back stronger the next time.

And perhaps most importantly, they’re the crucial challenges that add meaning to our lives. They force us to keep striving. They give us the opportunity us to earn self-respect.

Anyone who has never fallen has never climbed high enough. And in the long-term, that’s going to hurt far more than a fall ever could.

So next time you take a tumble from whatever wagon you’d been riding, don’t flog yourself for failing.

Instead, give yourself an internal high five for making it onto that wagon in the first place. Take some time to re-group. Re-energise.

And remind yourself that you climbed aboard once.

You’ll do it again.

The food fallacy: extreme eating

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I’m an extremist eater.

And it’s tough.

Society doggedly extolls the virtues of moderation and disparages its less popular cousin – deprivation. My whole life I’ve been encouraged to “just have a bit” because “a small amount won’t hurt” and “you don’t want to miss out”.

But here’s the problem; not all of us are wired for such a sensible approach.

Sure – you may be entirely capable of casually nibbling a potato chip or three and acknowledging an appropriate ‘enough’ point. But for me, as soon as that first delicious chip passes my lips… the whole bag is going bye-bye.

Image result for ate too much

This is not to say that I’m entirely devoid of discipline. On the contrary, I’m actually capable of avoiding chip-chomping altogether. If I don’t crack a pack or accept an offered taste I can happily go without. Heck, a bag can sit unopened in my pantry for months (if my partner doesn’t spot it, that is).

But like a recovering alcoholic, the key for me is absolute abstention.

I don’t consider this extremist version of discipline to be any different to the discipline of a more moderate person. The discrepancy lies purely in the timing and stage at which it’s easy for each of us to stop.

For me, it just so happens to be before I start.

Unfortunately for me and others of my extremist ilk, society seems to have a hard time understanding and accepting our approach to eating.

We’re advised against absolute avoidance of particular foods for fear that we’ll become cranky with cravings, crack under the pressure, and go rampaging down the street, tearing Freddo Frogs out of small children’s hands.

Image result for taking candy from a baby gif

But even as we and our dietary approaches are looked down upon, it’s really not all bad. Being an extremist eater comes with some distinctive advantages.

Advantage #1: Drug detox

There are certain ‘foods’ that are not only horrid for health but also remarkably drug-like in their effects on our bodily systems.

Sugar is one such drug.

Much like it’s relatives – heroine and crack cocaine – it elicits an instantaneous dopamine hit, keeps us running back for more, and requires progressively larger hits each time to stimulate the same satisfying spike.

Given my extremist predisposition, I knew that the only way to detox myself from the dastardly stuff would be to get off the sugar train altogether. So instead of cutting down as a moderate might, I went cold turkey.

Related image

Two weeks after cutting it from my diet, I became aware of the delightful sweetness of carrots, cashew nuts and even milk. The taste of cakes, cookies and chocolates became sickly, and almost unpleasantly overwhelming.

Better still, my previously insatiable sweetness cravings faded away into nothingness. Like a recovered sex addict, I could sit dispassionately beside the object of prior temptation without any urge to put it inside me.

They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder. But apparently, when it comes to problematic food and drink-based relationships, it does a good job of making the heart a little less fond too.

Advantage #2: Eliminating the challenge of choice

Some time ago, I wrote a post about the problems associated with choice, including the mental and emotional turmoil associated with constant decision-making.

My health-conscious moderate mates must constantly choose whether or not to indulge in naughty snacks. And in a world of endless office chocolates, constant cake-studded birthdays and cheap treats lining the shelves at supermarket checkouts, such food-based decision points are dime-a-dozen.

To eat or not to eat? To have a big bit or a small bit? To go back for seconds? Thirds? Fifths?

As an eating extremist who used to masquerade as a moderate, I know that it can be exhausting having to constantly weigh up such options, particularly given the guilt so many of us experience in the wake of a poorly-selected decision.

Related image

However, since coming to terms with my extremist ways, I have found myself able to happily avoid such struggles, knowing that the choice has already been made. That it’s simply always going to be a no. (Unless there’s cheesecake on the line. In which case it’s simply always a yes. See? I’m not a total martyr!)

Now please don’t misunderstand; I do not, by any means, advocate extreme eating. What suits me and my munching style does not necessarily suit you and yours. Indeed, I have moderate friends who profess that abstinence induces such severe cravings that an epic, illness-inducing binge session is the only natural sequelae to such deprivation.

But if you are a natural extremist like me, don’t fall for the fallacy of moderation. Know yourself, your inclinations, your limits, and the time point at which you’re most able to say no.

And if you’re a self-identified moderate? Please don’t try to sway me into sampling a slice of your lovely-looking birthday cake.

It will last a lot longer if I don’t.