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Why you don’t need (and can’t rely on!) willpower!!

By January 20, 2020 No Comments

This week, I’m going to focus on mindset. This is perhaps THE most important factor in the success or failure of any long term change.

(If you missed last week’s focus on nutrition, click here to see the first in the series.)

Some of it is related to our identity and beliefs–to how we see ourselves and thus what drives our actions. I’ll talk about that later this week.

But a lot of our success or failure is related to willpower… although not in the way that you’re probably thinking. That’s what I’m going to talk about today.

You are NOT weak or lacking in willpower if you’ve tried and failed to make a change.

So why, then, when we KNOW it’s good for us, is it SO hard to change our habits?

Why is it hard to get to the gym consistently if we’ve never really gone?

Why is it so hard to stop drinking soda or to start eating healthier meals if those aren’t our current eating habits?

And why do some people seem to have it together so easily?

How is it that they can make it to the gym every day and bring salads to work for lunch and it looks like they’re not even trying?

The answer is NOT that they have some unlimited reservoir of willpower.

No. Recent research has proven, without a doubt, that you cannot make changes like this–changes that last–with willpower alone.

In fact, research has also shown that our willpower is a finite resource. We have only so many decisions that we can make each day before we run out of willpower. Researchers call this “decision fatigue”.

So, while we may be able to exert willpower to do something once or for a limited period of time, it’s not a good strategy for the kinds of long term change that a healthier lifestyle requires.

Rather, the trick is to change your environment in ways that make it easier to succeed–that remove as many decisions from the equation as possible, so that you don’t have to rely on willpower.

Let me give you an example.

Emily, the TC manager, had never gone to a gym or a group exercise class before she joined us as a client 8 years ago. Plus, after back to back pregnancies and the exhaustion that came from having two kids under 2, she felt very out of shape. And the only class time that worked for her schedule was 5:30 am… but at the time she was not a morning person.

So coming to our classes was a BIG leap for her.

She realized that, in order to get herself out the door, she would have to do some things that made getting up as easy as possible (and unavoidable!). Here’s what she did:

  • She moved the alarm clock so that she had to get out of bed to turn it off, lol.
  • She laid out all of her clothes and shoes, along with her wallet, keys and water bottle, the night before.
  • She made a smoothie the night before and put it in the fridge, so that all she had to do was get dressed, brush her teeth, grab the smoothie and walk out the door.

With these actions, she made it easy for herself to get up and going by having everything ready–she didn’t have to think about what she was wearing, or what to eat beforehand, etc. She also made staying in bed hard, by moving the alarm clock across the room.

She became a regular at 5:30 and, before long, she started to not only see the benefits of the workouts, but she met people and found herself enjoying both the community and the classes. Working out became easy and, ultimately, part of who she is.

There are other examples of clients who have changed the route they use to drive home from work so that they don’t pass any fast food restaurants that might tempt them to stop.

Many purge their house of all sweet and/or salty snacks, soda, or maybe even alcohol.

I fall into this category–Tessa will tell you that if I have certain things in the house, like M&Ms or chips, I’ll eat the whole bag. The only way for me to avoid that is to not have them around at all.

So what habit do you want to start?

What can you do to make it easier… to smooth the path?

Conversely, what can you do to make it harder to slip back into your old ways? Can you do the equivalent of moving the alarm clock or changing your route home from work?

How can you get your willpower out of the equation and instead program your environment so that you make the decisions you want to make?

If you can figure that out, you will unlock your potential for lasting change.

Check out our second mindset installment here!