When you're on a diet -- when I'm on a diet -- I'm trying to not do something. Not eat ice cream, or not eat potato chips, or not take 2nd, 3rd, or 4th helpings, or not consume any one of a gazillion different things a person would happily wolf down if calories were not an issue. Conceivably, the list of things I'm trying not to eat is infinite.
This has always confounded me. Infinite notness: does that even make sense? I mean, sure, the universe is infinite and all, but does infinite notness make sense as a plan?
Say you're a human being confronting a challenge or pursuing a goal: don't you usually make a plan to actually do something?
Take a concrete step or two?
Formulate a plan of action?
Assuming the answer is generally speaking 'yes,' where do diets fit in? With a diet, the basic idea is to spend 16 hours a day not doing something, so is not doing something the plan?
Not eating junk 16 hours a day every day from now on?
Is not doing something doing something?
I find the whole thing mystifying, and I always have.
The best answer I've come up with is that not doing something isn't doing something, not really. And, as a corollary, not doing something when it comes to food is harder than doing something.
My foray into quasi-veganism seems to support my hunch, but until yesterday I had no idea what research had to say on the subject if anything.
Turns out the precision teaching folk figured it out long ago:
The Dead Man TestDon't eat ice cream is definitely something a dead man can do.
The dead man test was devised by Ogden Lindsley in 1965 as a rule of thumb for deciding if something is a behavior. The need for such a test stems from the importance of focusing on what an organism actually does when attempting to understand or modify its behavior. It serves as a guideline for the identification of whether the "behavior" of interest could be performed or measurably demonstrated by a "dead man."
The question posed by the dead man's test is this: Can a dead man do it? If the answer is yes, it doesn't pass the dead man's test and it isn't a fair pair -– for example "behave appropriately 80% of lunch hour" -– then it is not a well written goal. If the answer is no, you have a fair pair. For example:
Suppose that you wanted a fair pair target behavior for "swears at peers." Let's say that you came up with the target behavior "does not swear at peers." Does this pass the dead man's test? No. A dead man could refrain from swearing at peers. What would be better? How about "speaks to peers without swearing"? This passes the dead man's test because a dead man does not have the power to speak.
On the other hand, Stop eating ice cream is not something a dead man can do.
I'm going to eat an apple tomorrow.