How You Can Survive the Cereal Aisle

Nov 14, 2022

What’s your favorite aisle in the grocery store? What’s your worst one? I’m not a fan of piling food in a metal wheeled cart and pushing it about like a mouse in a maze. I raised and fed five sons with enormous appetites almost entirely with made-from-scratch meals in pre-online ordering days. If there were a degree in Grocery Store Marketing, I’d have a doctorate. The dissertation would center on the cereal aisle.

Seriously, how many ways are there to grind, shape, blend, season, and cook wheat, corn, rice, and oats so the product doesn’t immediately dissolve when milk is added?

Here’s the secret to surviving this aisle of horror. Pre-decide your “yes’s" and "no's.”

If not, here’s what will happen. You’ll start at one end with shoulders back, head up, eyes bright, smiling at the beleaguered soul approaching from the opposite end – “Oh my, she must have recently experienced the death of a beloved pet.” You’re tempted to offer a tissue for the tears dripping on the cart handle but you’re not sure if enough time has lapsed since the frenzy of the Covid pandemic. “Would she consider this a kind gesture or an act of assault by virus?” You’re wary and don’t have “bail money” as a line item in your budget, so you opt for a compassionate smile instead.

You move forward 2” because in that space there are 17 different types of cereal. They’re lined up military style, with no space between, and stand on shelves stretching 1” above the floor to 15” above your head. They’re covered with as much decoration as a five-star general wearing every badge, pin, medal, and ribbon ever earned.

“No/low sugar.” “High protein.” “Tastes great!” (Oh, like that needs clarifying?) “Non-GMO.” “Organic.” Pictures of enthusiastic kids with perfect hair and photos of energetic seniors with perfect teeth fill in whatever white space text hasn’t claimed.

Couldn’t the cover just read “Sugar. Oats. Rings.” or “Wheat. Honey. Flakes.”?

Of course not. Because the covers are designed to appeal to emotions and appetites, not your thoughts.

Would you buy the same box of ground-up corn, molded into squares, if it read “Corn. $3. Sugar $2. Brand name $3?”

Take the power of this aisle’s emotional appeal and appetite allure seriously. Outwit it by pre-deciding what you’re here to buy, get it, and get out. Otherwise, you’ll exit the aisle looking like the poor creature who just stumbled past. She was 2” taller and 15 IQ points higher when she entered the row. Alas, she didn’t pre-decide her “yes’s" and "no's." Learn from her mistake.

Pre-deciding a “yes” and "no" spares you the pain of rejecting a multitude of “no’s” and "yes's" and substantially decreases the “if only’s.”

Pre-deciding a “yes” and "no" builds and protects your will – a person’s greatest muscle.

Building muscle results from tearing it. Counter-intuitive, but factual. Without micro-tears, the body doesn’t deploy its muscle-rebuilding special ops cells. The tissue needs tiny rips, not shredding.

Your will is like this.

A person with a broken will isn’t strong; they’re weak and vulnerable. Easy prey – to others or to the internal lies which a sinful nature and a fallen world stream 24/7.

You need pressure for your will – agency, determination, decision-making – to be challenged, stretched, and pained. Maybe even to the point of fatigue. You need situations to say “no” to the chocolate, shoes, sarcastic comeback, white lie, or flirtatious comment. Your kids need situations to say “no” to the impulse to hit, scream, break something, fib, or steal. You need opportunities to say "yes" to generosity, giving encouragement, listening patiently, and showing up prepared. Your kids need opportunities to say "yes" to sharing, laughing, building, exploring, learning, leading, and attempting.

That’s how wills grow strong – one micro-no or yes at a time.

But what empowers a micro (or macro) no or yes is a thought. An idea.

Your emotions and appetites will always fight your thoughts for the upper hand to guide your will. 

That’s what the covers of cereal boxes appeal to – your emotions, your appetites. Your will needs powerful thoughts to release it from the vice grips of emotions and appetites. That’s why Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your mind.” That’s how we are transformed – “by the renewing of your minds” and “taking every thought captive.”

Your will is going to be directed by one of two authorities: emotions and appetites or thoughts. That’s it. Whether the decision is to hit “send” on “that” email; read a book or watch a show; scroll through social media posts or get off the couch; buy the shoes and the outfit or just one; purchase the wheat flakes or the oat rings. It’s not that emotions and appetites are “devils” on one shoulder and thoughts are “angels” on the other. All are needed to be fully human. Rather, it’s which one will guide your will.

Emotions and appetites controlled by thoughts aligned with truth will empower you to become your best self. Thoughts dominated by emotions and appetites will pull you to become your worst self.

Wills also need protection to become and remain strong. A wise athlete knows a weekly intense push-to-the-point-of-collapse workout won’t produce the same result as reasonable regular sessions but will eventually lead to a serious injury. This will only elongate the time needed to achieve a fitness goal.

I don’t know about you, but I sure find it easier to say “no” to an alluring chocolate-frosted doughnut dotted with rainbow sprinkles at 8:00 AM than 8:00 PM. The research isn’t conclusive, but some studies indicate the strength of our will decreases throughout the day. It makes sense. Our thoughts require physical brain power – expending energy. Sleep restores the physical brain, cleansing it from “waste cells” generated throughout the day. There’s a physiological reason many issues at 9:00 PM don’t seem as big the next morning at 9:00 AM.

Emotions and appetites, however, seem to be the opposite, gaining intensity throughout the day. The anger, anxiety, and loneliness that’s like an annoying feral cat in the morning can transform into a prowling lion in the evening.

Pre-deciding your “yes’s” and "no's" can strengthen your will to stay governed by your thoughts, not revved up emotions and appetites.

The only way to fulfill the First Great Commandment – “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength,” – is to both build and protect the will, not break it.


©Stephanie Smith, 2022

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