A mental model is any concept, framework, or worldview you carry around in your head to explain how something works. These models guide our perceptions, behaviors and decisions.
I have a mental model of my daily nutrition. I believe it's the model that keeps me consistent and feeds that positive vibe I have about what I "get" to each day. (Read about that vibe in my March 8th post). My mental model, which might sound restrictive, is actually pretty freeing. I'll get to that part later.
Creating your own mental model of your optimal eating plan can be quite easy. It starts with making the plan visible. So, grab some sticky notes, your favorite markers (Mr. Sketch please!) and some blank paper.
Here's how to go about it.
1. Choose your most typical day. Break your day into chunks of time around when you want to eat. Here's what mine looks like:
2. Pick a symbol or color sticky note for each area of nutrition that is important to you. This is the legend for your model. Keeping with the 4 areas of focus in my Month of Mindful Eating Practice, I am going to show a plan focusing on Fiber, Color (Fruits & Veggies), Protein and Fat. Here's my legend:
3. Next, draw your symbol or post a sticky note for the food category you want to eat in your time blocks. Find a home in the day for each of the important items to your nutrition. For example, if you feel want 4 servings of veggies per day in your diet and your symbol for veggies is a green square, there need to be 4 green squares on your day. Before you look at my example to the right, it is important to note the following:
This is my plan. Nothing about this plan is right or wrong, it's just mine. It should not be used for ANY comparison to what you eat. Comparison kills creativity. I also want you to know that I am 5' tall. That means about 95% of females IN THE WORLD are taller me and just by that fact alone you shouldn't make this a target for you.
4. Put your model in a place you can see it. Treat it like your schedule for a few weeks and refer to it as often as you need to.
5. Iterate and Experiment. What's not working? Did your schedule change? This is the reason I loved my sticky note version. When I picked up a client at 7am, I needed to rework the schedule, the sticky notes made it supper easy.
6. Keep it visual until you don't need it. When I did this for timed nutrition program, the goal wasn't to make a mental model, it was just to help me adhere to the program. I just needed something in front of me to make it easier. Several months after the program, I realized I was still eating to the plan without any thought. My color-coded chart had long been recycled but the "model" had been imprinted. It had become my mental model. It was in the background influencing my choices without me knowing it.
This is where the freeing part comes in. I did a little work up front, but I am not spending any energy now on deciding what to eat. I am just choosing what grooves with my model. Even better, when I am totally starved standing in front of the fridge at 4pm or when our dinner plans suddenly change, the magic of the model kicks in and guides a good choice.
"A schedule defends from chaos and whim" - Annie Dillard
If nutrition is a pain for you, if you find it hard to stay consistent in your choices or if you find yourself starved at points in the day because you forgot to eat, this could be a really valuable way to help you make make healthy eating more natural, intuitive and stress free. If you'd like help with the process, please don't hesitate to schedule some time together.