What works best for you may just be a combination of both internal and external control when it comes to a healthy lifestyle. Elements in your lifestyle may shift from one mechanism of control to the other all the way through your life. Some things will be elements that are introduced over time, others are ones you have battled with for years.
What is internal control?
This is when you do not need an external influence to help you make a decision. In fact, you cannot in all conscience choose to possibly make any other decision. This is when you would be going against your inner "compass" if you choose differently from your normal response. This requires no effort and is just "how things are."
What is external control?
External control is when an external rule dictates a behaviour. Some of these external controls are things like accountability, or achieving a set goal. Or you have joined a challenge and have committed to replace certain foods. You do this because you "know you should." This requires thought, a decision and an effort of your will.
And example of the difference in control mechanisms in the 30 Day Challenge is when you look at the nutritional replacement list and you find that there are things on the list that you just don't have anyway, by default. It is likely that you have already reached INTERNAL control over these things and it would be "out of character" for you to start having them. For example, if you don't drink alcohol normally, you would then just have that as a "default" replacement food since you don't usually have it anyway. It is no great effort to continue to abstain, because you don't partake of it anyway. In the same way however, choosing something from the list of replacement foods that you DO usually have, but make a conscious decision to replace in order to choose a healthier option is an example of exercising EXTERNAL control.
Perhaps by the end of the challenge or after a while this will shift to be an internal mechanism of control. You no longer desire the thing that you chose to replace and it becomes a "default" element that you replace on a normal everyday basis which takes no more conscious effort or thought. It just is part of who you are and what you do.
What Participants had to say:
"External controls - I want to see a good number on the scale.
Internal controls - my body doesn't seem to want foods that don't agree with me (wheat!)"
"Food - it seems to me that the internal control is well established -my body knows that too much sodium is going to upset the balance; I was stopped in the supermarket yesterday by two journalists from an inhouse magazine - Fresh Living - to check my basket and my reasons for purchase. Luckily I was shopping for myself!! It was all healthy, fresh food - no processing in sight other than fat free cottage cheeses. "
"For me, internal control means watching food combinations. I have to constantly be aware of what I put in my mouth and it is a learning process to find what 'upsets' me. I have found that coffee with milk is what sets me off and when I am finished the challenge, I will try a cup of black coffee to see if there is a difference. I am also giving up on green grapes as they give me heartburn. This is what I am hoping to achieve - to be able to use this internal control to say I don't need this anyhow."
"Re the internal/external controls – I have always know that I would have to eliminate bread and cheese if I was ever going to lose the muffin top, but it took this challenge to get me to do that, so I guess that’s the external control. I will continue along with this as much as possible as I am finding a few other problems that I had before have disappeared (stomach pains).
I’m pretty good at staying away from the really bad things like fries, chips and processed foods – that’s not to say that I don’t love these food groups, but I know that they are unhealthy so only have once in a while."Crystal wrote,
"Internal and external control response: I would say external currently is my soda pop addiction. While its in control that's still by choice. I know it would be easy to fall back into the old habit. I'm not keeping cola in the house and my family is supporting me.Internal control would be rich fatty things. While I enjoy a taste my body now immediately puts on the brakes before my mind needs to kick in."
"I have internal control over soda, coffee (almost all caffeine really), and highly processed foods. I don't crave 'em at all.
I am learning external control over delicious sugary snacks, like cake, cupcakes, brownies, chocolate truffles, and other high-end sweet snacks by replacing them with naturally sweet snacks, like fruit. I am also learning external control over white carbs, like bread, white rice, white potatoes, etc. by replacing them with more complex carbs, like sprouted grains. "
What forms of internal and external control mechanisms effect you in your life?
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Melony Teague a freelance writer and columnist and motivator who lives in Canada with her husband and two young children.
Founder of "Secrets of Body Transformation from the Inside Out"