Why Willpower is NOT the answer- and what IS!

Why Willpower is NOT the answer- and what IS!

One of the most common things clients say to me when we begin working together is “I don’t have willpower like you. I can’t give up ice cream/popcorn/cookies/carbs/etc.”

Two things:

1- I eat carbs ALL THE TIME! I do not believe in restriction or eliminating entire food groups. Yes, I’m a whole-food, plant-based vegan. But I would never give up all carbs or all protein or all fats- especially if they contain chocolate!
2. I do not have any more “willpower” than anyone else. Because willpower will never be the answer to long-term health. In fact, willpower isn’t the answer to success in ANY area of life!

So, if lack if willpower isn’t what’s preventing us from working out every day instead of hitting the snooze, or saying no to a third donut, then what is?

There are several factors that lead to a healthier lifestyle. When these factors work together, we find it is much simpler than we thought it would be to finally make permanent lifestyle changes that lead us to health, happiness, and fulfillment.

The fist factor is knowing WHY we need to change. And the why needs to be significant. It needs to be big enough to outweigh the excuses that our brains will fabricate almost as soon as we decide to make a change. Our brains are REALLY good at excuse-making. They are wired to believe that “new” equals “dangerous” so they immediately want to convince us not to do anything new!

The second factor is setting a specific goal. You may have heard of the acronym “S.M.A.R.T.” goals. This stands for SPECIFIC, MEASUREABLE, ACHIEVABLE, REALISTIC and TIMELY.

SMART Goals for eating healthy

An example of a SMART goal is: I will lose 10 pounds in the next 60 days.

This goal is SPECIFIC- 10 pounds. If the goal was just “lose weight”, then our brain would be able to say “OK, goal reached” after even just 1 pound of weight loss. And we already know- the brain is going to err on the side of the status-quo. It’s MEASURABLE- a scale can let us know if 10 pounds has been lost. It Is ACHIEVABLE- certainly a person can lose 10 pounds. If the goal was “I’m going to grow 3 inches in 60 days” that would not be achievable. Except maybe by my twin sons when they were about 12 years old. It’s REALISTIC- 10 pounds is a realistic amount of weight to lose in 60 days. If the goals was 50 pounds, that would be unrealistic, and also unhealthy, for the 60 day time frame. It’s also TIMELY- 60 days gives a concrete date by which the goal will be reached. S.M.A.R.T. goals are far more likely to be achieved than vague goals.

So we have the WHY, and we have the GOAL. The next thing we need is a PLAN. One of my favorite quotes of all time is by Vince Lombardi (Yep-I’m a football mom!) Anyway, Vince said “The man on top of the mountain didn’t fall there.” Boom. Success in anything does not happen by accident, luck or talent. The world is full of amazingly talented people who are unsuccessful. Success happens by having a plan, and executing that plan. Even on the days it’s hard. For example, I used to be very sporadic with my workouts.

I WANTED to work out every day.

But then my kids would need something, or my errands would take longer than expected, or a really good episode of Survivor would be on…… you get the idea. But once I began to PLAN my workouts, they became consistent and I was able to complete an entire 60 day program without missing a single workout! Willpower wasn’t the reason. What I did was write my daily workout into my schedule, at the time of day it was least likely to be interrupted (for me, that’s 6 am) laid out my workout clothes before I went to bed, and planned which workout I would do. Having a solid plan made all the difference.

The next factor that leads to success is developing the right HABITS. Habits are crucial, because everything we do every single day is a habit, good, bad or indifferent. We buy the same brand of cereal for breakfast. We drive the same route to work. We shave the same leg first in the shower every time. We brush our teeth before going to bed. We sleep on the same side of the bed. Habits also determine how we react to stress, frustration, joy, sadness, pain, anger, thirst, hunger, fatigue, etc. How do we create these habits in the first place? In their simplest form, habits are solutions we have created for our daily problems.

Here are a few examples:
You’re tired. You feel you didn’t enough sleep. You drink coffee, and a few minutes later, you feel more awake. Next time you feel tired, you remember that coffee helped last time. You make coffee again, and again you feel more awake. You have just created a coffee habit.

You’re stressed at work. You leave your desk to go to the bathroom, and pass the break room where someone brought a box of donuts. You have a donut, and the sugar spike gives you a dopamine release that makes you feel less stressed for a few minutes. The next day, when you walk to the bathroom, passing the same beak room, there is a plate of cookies. You grab a few on the way back to make that call to the difficult client.

You have just created a habit in several ways:

1. You have discovered that sweets give you temporary stress-relief.

2. You have begun to associate walking to the bathroom with getting a sweet treat.

So, how do we create habits that are positive and healthy? Using the same mechanism: Determine the problem, and develop a solution. If the problem is that you are stressed at work, what other solution could we use besides eating cookies? What are some other ways to relieve stress? Take a few deep breaths, go for a walk outside (which also stops us walking past the break room) call a friend, journal about how we are feeling, do a short meditation………..

The final factor is MINDSET. Your inner dialogue is CRUCIAL. If you tell yourself you are not a morning person, guess what? You will not be a morning person. If you tell yourself you have fat thighs, you will not allow yourself to build habits that will help you get legs like Carrie Underwood. If you tell yourself you hate brussel sprouts, you will never event try to roast them with a little balsamic vinegar and sea salt and discover that they are the BEST thing ever! OK, maybe that one is just me…..

The solution is not willpower. Willpower may get you off the couch for a workout or two, and it may help you say no thanks to a treat once in while, but without a goal, a plan, and some new habits, your brain will quickly convince you to go back to binge watching Netflix with some Chubby Hubby ice cream.

So, to create a healthier lifestyle:

1. Think about WHY you want to become healthy. Write down the reason and keep it somewhere you can see it all the time!
2. Set S.M.A.R.T. goals to reach for. If your goal is really big, like losing 50 lbs or getting your masters degree, break it up into smaller goals and set new ones every time you reach a milestone (say, every 10 pounds, or every semester of school)
3. Create an action plan of steps you will take to reach the goal. Set no more than 3 action steps at a time. Allow yourself to build upon small achievements so you don’t become overwhelmed.
4. Be conscious of the habits that are sabotaging your efforts, and choose new ones that will support your goals. (More on habits in a future post)
5. Pay attention to your inner dialogue, which determines your mindset. Use positive, present-tense language in your thoughts. “I am a morning person. I feel rested and energized and look forward to moving my body.” “I eat whole, healthy foods that nourish my body and make me feel strong, healthy and vibrant.” You get the idea.

With these factors all in place and working for you, I have no doubt you will succeed at developing a healthier lifestyle!

Comment Below and let me know how you have incorporated these steps into your daily routine!

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