Have you ever found yourself half-way through a forbidden cupcake, wondering where your willpower went? We have. Willpower is an exceptional trait that we all have some of. But unfortunately, it can also be elusive. Especially late at night, after a long day, when you’re standing in front of the fridge. To help us understand and plan for our next inevitable weight loss willpower drought, we asked brain health expert Dr Jenny Brockis to talk us through willpower.
Willpower, where are you?
Why is it that when you don’t need willpower, you’ve got loads of it around, then as soon as you’re in a slump it’s suddenly all gone?
Willpower is something we all have but it can be elusive, frustrating and inconsistent. It’s defined as that strong determination to do something we find difficult. Psychologist Kelly McGonigal thinks we say “I will” to help overcome procrastinating tendencies; “I won’t” to say no to temptation; and “I want” to identify goals.
But here’s the thing, it’s a biological process which means you can choose to develop and strengthen it. This is very good news if your weight loss willpower appears to have lost its fizz like a Sodastream™ out of gas.
Why is willpower easy for some but not others?
Each day we start with a full bucket of willpower, but every decision we make takes some out of it. It’s been estimated that we make around 30,000 decisions every day: big and small, conscious and subconscious. So if you’re making a lot of decisions earlier in the day, you’re going to run out of willpower steam sooner.
Not only that, your willpower is highly influenced by your level of fatigue, stress and emotions.
Just as over training in the gym can result in sore muscles and jelly legs, overusing your willpower can result in a wobble of indecision when faced with a crisis of choosing whether to eat that donut or not.
How to have more willpower
Like strength in your muscles, you can build on your willpower. Give it a daily workout by using the following strategies and avoid those fading weight loss willpower curtains.
- Keep your goals clear and small
- Have a weekly or monthly plan to provide more flexibility and wiggle room for when life and events make a sharp u-turn.
- Stay in the moment. It’s harder to use willpower effectively if you’re distracted. Studies have shown three hours of mindfulness meditation will boost your attention span and keep you focused.
- Stress makes you more susceptible to impulse, cravings, comfort eating or zoning out in front of the T.V. so practice your stress-busting exercises regularly.
- Avoid wearing the circlet of virtuosity. Just because you said “no” to cake at morning tea be careful this doesn’t result in letting your guard down against the next stealth attack vs. your willpower.
- Keep up the daily strength practice. Just like learning to play the piano, short intense bursts of regular practice will help you to improve more quickly.
- Willpower requires energy, so stock up on your renewable energy sources; get enough sleep, do some exercise (five minutes spent outside has been shown to be a huge energy booster) and eat healthy food.
- Keep yourself accountable to a buddy who will call you out if they see you veering off track. Peer pressure can be especially useful so why not post your progress online for others to see? There are a number of apps that can help.
- Have Plan B readily available by taking time to think through the “what if’s”. Your intention might be to go to the gym after work, but if you’re asked to stay late for a meeting or your child has come home from school feeling poorly, your Plan B will help you to overcome the internal conflict you’re trying to work through.
Willpower can be very useful, but it’s not perfect and neither are we. A stumble doesn’t mean you’ve lost the race.
Instead, pick yourself up, dust yourself off and keep going. Practicing strengthening your weight loss willpower and calling on your support crew will help you to stay on track and reach your goals.