The 'know thyself' weight loss resolution

Story highlights

  • After years of counting calories and flirting with diets and food restrictions, I had an epiphany that led to real weight loss
  • Incentivize a behavior in which the intrinsic reward is not enough of a motivation

This essay is part of a column called The Wisdom Project by David Allan, editorial director of CNN Health and Wellness. The series is on applying to one's life the wisdom and philosophy found everywhere, from ancient texts to pop culture. You can follow David at @davidgallan. Don't miss another Wisdom Project column by subscribing here.

(CNN)Every year at my parochial elementary school, the students were conscripted into selling chocolate bars as a fundraiser, not unlike how Girl Scouts sell cookies to raise money for their local troop.

The sales were meant to subsidize my cash-strapped school and fund basic supplies, books and the occasional field trip. But the sales incentive for myself and other students was not supporting education. It was the prizes.
    Brochures displaying shiny toys and games were handed out at an annual, "Music Man"-esque assembly led by a representative of the fundraising company. If you sold, say, 50 bars, you picked from the first tier of prizes, such as a simple bike lock. Sell 100 bars and you had a nicer set of prizes from which to choose. And so on, until the top layer with the big prizes, such as a bike.
    The motivating interests of students, the school and our patrons were different, but aligned. The school got its money, the public got its chocolate, and we got our toys.
    This scheme works with little kids too. Stickers and prizes for good behavior, potty training, what have you. They may be motivated by the reward, but they doubly benefit from establishing a new habit.
    I needed to start a new habit and thought I'd try to reward myself with prizes if I was successful.

    The real incentive versus the virtuous wrong one

    After years of calorie counting, of exercise regimes, of flirting with diets and food restrictions, I had an epiphany three years ago that being more fit was simply no