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Why it’s not all about willpower

By April 1, 2013No Comments

When people embark on a plan to get fit and healthy or to lose weight there’s often a lot of talk about willpower – if they can just summon up enough willpower they can succeed this time around.  However, when I ask why things have gone awry in the past, those same people often go on to say that it was their willpower that failed them.

Willpower is great when you’ve got it (although I would rather call it Resolve – a sense of positive, focused determination), but it’s not a constant, and the amount you need varies according to your situation. When you come home from work on a cold,wet winter’s night and you’re tired, you might need quite a bit of willpower to get yourself changed and get out for your run.   But on a sunny, spring weekend when you’ve just had a good night’s sleep, you’ve got plenty of time on your hands and your partner wants to go with you?  You won’t need much willpower at all.

Here’s another example – someone, let’s call her Susan, loves chocolate, and decides she’s not going to give it up totally, but she will limit her consumption.  So far, so good.  She goes to the supermarket and sees that a family sized pack of chocolate biscuits are on special offer – Susan buys the pack, and tells herself she’ll only have one every couple of days, thereby setting up a situation where she has to rely on willpower.  When she opens the packet and eats the first one, two things could happen.  She could enjoy it so much she decides to have another, and then perhaps another – no willpower at all, and she’ll beat herself up over that.  Or she could spend the time before her next meal exercising her willpower and not eating a second biscuit, but actually thinking of those remaining biscuits ALL THE TIME.  Neither option is an enjoyable one for Susan.

Now what if Susan just bought one individually wrapped chocolate biscuit every two days?  No second/third/fourth biscuit calling to her from the cupboard, no need for willpower.

So if you’re constantly beating yourself up for a lack of willpower, have a think about how you can organise your situation so that the need for willpower is minimised  – how can you make things easier for yourself?  If you struggle to get to the gym, what if you had arranged to meet a friend there to do a class?  If you had a personal trainer waiting for you?  If you had paid up front for something?  If you had your gym bag packed and ready to go in the morning?

Plan your days in advance to set up your situations so that they aren’t so challenging – see my blog on planning for more on this subject –