The Persuasion Diet

    Business Insider has an interesting article on how traditional dieting is becoming less popular. Now people are focusing on health and fitness, with weight management being a side benefit. That’s a big deal because dieting was always the wrong approach to health.

    Dieting is a bad idea because it treats weight as a function of what you do. The idea is that if you do less of the bad stuff – eating cake, for example – and more of the good stuff – let’s say eating salad – you will lose weight and be healthy. While that is technically true, it is a terrible system because it ignores the biggest challenge of weight management: Your mind. If you get your mind right, everything else happens easily. But if you try to overclock your brain and use willpower to force yourself to eat less, eventually your willpower will crap out, and you’ll be back where you started. That’s why traditional dieting rarely works in the long term.

    A smarter approach to fitness is to fix the brain first, and let the body follow. You might call it the Persuasion Diet. That’s what I wrote about in my book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big. I teach you how to learn which foods to eat, manage cravings, create positive habits, and eliminate the need for willpower. In other words, I teach you how to persuade yourself to good health without doing anything unpleasant whatsoever.

    Because I’m known as a cartoonist – and not a doctor – none of you should be taking health-related advice from me. I wrote the health-related chapters in my book with the full knowledge I would be ignored and mocked for my lack of qualifications. But I didn’t mind that tradeoff because I counted on two things:

    1. I have no sense of shame, as I will demonstrate once again in this post. So I knew it wouldn’t bother me to be mocked. It didn’t.

    2. I figured science would catch up to me and validate my “mind first” approach to fitness. We’re almost there.

    Since publication of my book – which only has a few chapters on fitness – I have heard from readers all over the world that they have lost lots of weight and gotten back into exercise, all relatively effortlessly. So the idea of systems being better than goals – for all areas of your life – is spreading.

    Also, I have been documenting my own progress as I approach my 60th birthday next June. I achieved this level of fitness – the best of my life, by far – without any willpower or sacrifice at all. I simply developed systems to train my brain. My body followed. This photo is a day old. And I should note that I don’t have a personal chef or a personal trainer. This is just me eating whatever I want, whenever I want, as much as I want, and going to the gym for about 45 minutes a day. 

    You might say I hypnotized myself to identify and prefer healthy foods, disdain unhealthy foods, and stay active every day. That is essentially true. That’s how I can eat “whatever I want.” It’s because I only want healthy food these days. And you can do the same, by developing your own personal system as described in my book. (Your system would be different from mine, and from anyone else’s.)

    Regular readers of this blog have heard too much about my book already. The reason I’m revisiting it is because by now you also know about my writings on persuasion during this presidential election. As I have been saying since last year, Trump’s powers of persuasion would change more than politics. It would open a crack in the universe so people like me could explain to people like you how powerful persuasion can be, and how to use it to your benefit. That’s what I’m doing here. I’m persuading you to see fitness as a self-persuasion system, not a goal that you accomplish with willpower.

    You might like my book because it is filled with words that I tried to arrange in a sensible order.

The Two Biggest Problems in the United States are Food and Marriage

    Here’s the problem with food:

    Broccoli is food.

    Cake is food.

    Those two things are not the same. Broccoli is good for your body and cake is not. When you have two items that are almost opposites, they probably should not have the same name. Would it make sense to have only one word to cover both criminal and victim?

    I know you hate big government, so imagine what follows as a thought experiment. Imagine the government passes a law to label all edibles as one of these two categories:

    1. Food, or
    2. Entertainment (cake, french fries, junk food, candy)

    As a parent, it is hard to tell a kid to avoid unhealthy food. My hypothesis is that it would be far easier for both kids and adults to avoid edibles labeled “entertainment.” This idea is inspired by my hypnosis background and my hobbyist understanding of persuasion and psychology.

    In the short term, the day after you change the names of things, nothing much would be different. But over time, the different labels would sink into people’s minds and become a substitute for rational thought. In twenty years the idea of turning to “entertainment” because you are hungry will feel silly.

    This sort of label change would destroy the fast-food and traditional supermarket industry in about five years. Today a busy parent will take a kid to McDonald’s because it feels as if the convenience outweighs the cost. But I guarantee that if the sign on the door said “entertainment” instead of some suggestion of “food,” every parent in my neighborhood would feel shamed to be seen there. The peer pressure would be overwhelming. If you doubt that, try telling your neighbor you aren’t into recycling and watch the look of horror on his face as he judges you.

    Humans are not rational creatures. Words rewire our brains and turn us into different creatures. Normally we have some control over which words are influencing us, and that is a good thing. At the moment, we are being victimized by the word “food.” Realistically, we won’t be able do an exorcism on that word and remove the “entertainment” part because the food industry uses Congress as finger-puppets. That’s why this is just a thought experiment.

    But if it could happen….Imagine a world in which most people are eating healthy food. Suddenly everyone looks better to each other, so our social lives and our sex lives are enlivened. Our health expenses drop, and the quality of our lives zooms. I can tell you from experience that when I evolved from a bad diet to a good one, nearly every part of my life improved. And the difference is huge. My body at age 57 is far superior to my body in my twenties primarily because of an improved diet. And I thought I was in good shape in my twenties. Diet isn’t a small thing in your life. It is the main thing, because it shapes your success in every other realm, from sex to business.

    Now let’s talk about marriage.

    Divorce is one of the most expensive, horrible, and wasteful things a person can experience. It is terrible for the kids, terrible for finances, good for lawyers, bad for employers, etc. Half of marriages end in divorce. And those people typically remarry and either divorce again or, all too often, live unhappily ever after. The entire process is insanely inefficient. 

    Unfortunately, in 2015, marriage is probably the best system we have for raising kids. But as a thought experiment, imagine that the government removes all laws favoring marriage. You get no tax breaks, no nothing. And instead the government encourages people to set up alternative social systems that solve the problems of divorce.

    How do you solve the divorce problem? Ask any economist. It is quite easy. I’ll give you a solution in one word: diversification.

    In marriage, if something bad happens to one person, or one person becomes a jerk, the system breaks. Any engineer will tell you that is a poorly designed system. But if, for example, you had a small tribe of people cooperating for mutual interest, a bad day for one of them wouldn’t be a death blow for the tribe. If your love interest hates you today, you have three others on call. If you get sick and need childcare, there are ten people ready to help.

    Don’t have time to exercise because of driving kids around? That’s no problem if your tribe has some designated after-school drivers. Is it hard to buy and prepare healthy food? No problem if some members of your tribe are great cooks and like cooking in bulk.

    I won’t design a full alternative to marriage here because people are different and one solution does not fit all. The main idea is that marriage is perhaps the biggest economic problem in the country that isn’t food-related. Marriage made sense in old-timey days. But with the help of the Internet it would make more sense for people to organize around what works instead of what we know does not.

    You will be tempted to point out in the comments that hippy communes didn’t catch on. I’m not talking about poorly-engineered hippy communes. That’s like comparing a Model-T to a Tesla. I think that with some creative thinking, and maybe some experimenting, society could develop modern alternatives to marriage that remove the divorce problem.

    I hear whispers that these sorts of arrangements are already happening, but because non-monogamy is shamed, you don’t hear much about it. Marriage will go away eventually, as all bad systems do. Single people recently became the majority in this country. Can we speed it up?



    Check out the latest news on holograms and teleportation on Paul Worthington’s Top Tech Blog.

    See Tamra Reid’s Berkeley Start-up Review blog for the most interesting start-ups coming out of the Berkeley start-up ecosystem (second only to Stanford in number.)

    And don’t miss Vivian Giang’s post on the dangers of smiling 🙂


    My book on success: “…the best business book I have read in the last decade.” (Amazon 5-star review Feb 26, 2015)