How many people do you know who have tried to lose 10 or 20 lbs., went on a diet, and then fell off the wagon within a matter of weeks (or days)?
Similarly, have you ever tried to break a bad habit (procrastination, messiness, biting your nails) or start a good one (exercising regularly)?
I often hear people say something like “I tried for a few weeks, but then I ran out of willpower.”
My mother is an amazing person with a TON of willpower. If she decides not to do something, she goes after it 100%. She can have all sorts of junk food in her pantry and never be tempted (beyond the occasional treat). She never even scratches her mosquito bites.
Unfortunately for the rest of us, we are humans. Willpower doesn’t quite work the same way that it does for my mom. I’ve had many clients whose nutritional goals were completely derailed just because their boyfriends or kids or wives kept some ice cream in the fridge, and they just couldn’t help themselves.
One problem is that we generally think of willpower as a good thing, as if lacking willpower makes you a morally suspect person.
I’ve come to the conclusion that willpower is very overrated when it comes to behavior change.
Instead of blaming you for not having enough willpower, I want to gently suggest that we can all be more successful if we focus on planning.
Here’s two simple ways you can make planning work for you:
If you are having trouble with food quality:
Recognize that if you have tempting food (or rather, technically edible industrially processed foodlike products) in your house, it WILL wear down your willpower. This is especially true on those days when you come home from a long, hard day at work and you don’t feel like you have the energy to cook something healthy.
The simplest way to deal with this is just not to buy it or keep it in your house in the first place! I have stopped keeping chocolate bars in my pantry because I start out by saying “I’ll just eat a little piece once in a while” but I end up eating the whole bar.
Also, consider preparing your lunch or dinner ahead of time. If it’s already made, and it’s just waiting to be eaten, you’re much less likely to feel tempted to order a pizza because you don’t have the energy to cook.
If you are having trouble getting to the gym often enough:
- Hire a good coach.
- Pay for a bunch of sessions.
- Schedule your training sessions in advance, so you’ll be committed to them, and you’ll be more likely to schedule your life around the gym, rather than the other way around.
- Look ahead on your schedule. If there’s a day or week when you know you’re going to be busy, arrange to make up those missed workouts ahead of time!
So if you run out of willpower, I won’t blame you: you’re human. Stop blaming yourself if you find yourself lacking the motivation to do everything perfectly all the time. You’re not a bad person! (Well, not because of that, anyway.) Instead, focus on what you can control: plan ahead for your goals, and you’ll be a lot more likely to succeed!
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