“I wish I had more willpower”, Dianne tells herself as she walks to the pantry after dinner, searching for a bite of chocolate to curb that evening sweet craving. “Just one bite” she thinks as she indulges in the soft, creamy milk chocolate bar. The one bite turns to two, and before she knows it, all that’s left of the bar is a few crumbs.
Rewind backwards 12 hours and Dianne started the day 100% dedicated to getting her workout in, sticking to her eating plan and finally make progress toward losing those stubborn 20 pounds.
Sound familiar? You start the day with good intentions, but slowly as the day wears on, your inner strength fades, and it becomes increasing difficult to do what you said you were going to do. Or maybe you decided (the night before) that you’d get up early to fit in your workout, but instead keep pressing the snooze button until the last minute, spending your workout time sleeping, then make up for it with an extra cup of coffee and a Starbucks muffin, since you’ll start fresh the next day.
Where did the willpower go? And how the heck do you get more of it?
Two of the most common mistakes when changing habits, and in this case, adopting a healthier lifestyle, are:
1.) To expect willpower to be strong without training.
2.) To rely on willpower alone.
Think about willpower as a muscle. Like muscles, they will get stronger when they are trained. When you do a strength workout, you fatigue your muscles. As they rest and recover, your muscles become stronger. When you practice willpower, and then recover, your willpower will also get stronger. Like your muscles, though, willpower will fatigue. We don’t expect our legs to be able to hold us in a squat position all day, nor can we expect willpower to work all day long. And no matter how strong you are, there are some tasks that are too much for your own strength. Let’s say you want to lift a canoe to the top of your car. You may not have the strength to lift it on your own in one go: it’s heavy and awkward. You may however be able to tip the canoe onto the car and then slide it on by yourself. In other words, by simply leveraging the environment (using the car to help you), you can achieve your goal.
To be successful in changing habits, it is important to both train your willpower ‘muscle’, and to minimize the need for willpower.
How to Strengthen Willpower
This one is simple: PRACTICE. I get it: it’s simple, but not necessarily easy, and definitely not perfect. Practice, making good choices, and then recognize when you’ve been successful, and then celebrate your wins! I recorded a podcast on this topic in January. If you’d like to listen, go to www.ascendfitnesscoaching.com/74
I recommend keeping a tally of all the times in a day you practice discipline, make a good choice and you strengthen your willpower. Include decisions in ALL areas of your day. Did you slow down and practice gratitude when stuck in traffic instead of getting angry? That’s a win! Did you start your day with a nourishing fat-fueled breakfast? Tally it up!
When making the next good choice, focus on the present moment. For example, saying no to the birthday cake at your nephew’s 4th birthday party doesn’t mean you’ll never have birthday cake again. It means right now; you’re saying no thanks. “No thanks, not right now” or “I’m good right now”. Then give yourself an internal fist pump or imagine me giving you a virtual high five. Also, be mindful of your inner dialogue. Choose “I do not want it” over “I can’t have it”. “Can’t” removes your power. “I choose not to have it” or “I don’t want it” puts you in the driver seat.
Don’t confuse making more good choices with being perfect. There is nothing about perfection here. If you make a choice that you wish you didn’t make, move on! Let it go. Do not get stuck focusing on all the times you messed up. Instead, focus on the next good choice you can make. Look for the next opportunity to succeed.
When you start to see your successes, you will also start to recognize that you are someone who is disciplined, and that you do have willpower. Your attitude and your mindset will change. You will feel more confident, more capable, and ready to take on the next challenge. Henry Ford said “Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you’re right.” And whether you think you have willpower or think you don’t, you’re also right.
In my next article and podcast, I will share practical tips and action steps to change your environment to minimize the need for willpower in decision making. Until then, practice making more good choices and giving yourself credit each time you make a good choice!
Thanks so much for joining me this week. I really look forward to getting to know you in the months to come. If you have a question that you would like answered, or need a bit of extra help in a certain area, please take a moment to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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