According to the American Psychological Association, when we fail to achieve our weight-loss (and other) goals we blame our lack of willpower. And certainly, as a medical doctor, when people talk to me about failing to achieve their high priority goals, willpower failure looms large in the list of excuses. Dieters generally visualize willpower as the inner psychological resolve to resist temptation. However, there’s a biological way of thinking about self-control that’s far more conducive to achieving your weight-loss goals.
Willpower Is A Muscle
Scientists have come to think about willpower as a muscle that fatigues with use. Case in point: Meeting the demands of a busy work schedule takes focused attention which depletes your self-control. The same with forcing yourself to be polite to a rude coworker. Getting yourself out the door and in the gym, once again, reduces your willpower reserve. Unfortunately these (and all our other) willpower challenges draw from the same “bucket” and so, when the time comes to steel your resolve and resist a big slice of chocolate cake, the bucket is likely to be empty…and your stomach likely to be full.
Using the willpower as a muscle metaphor shows us some ways in which we can overcome the depletion of this valuable resource.
Train Your Willpower
As a motivational speaker, one of the key insights I’m able to share with my audiences is that, while willpower may fatigue with use, just like a muscle it becomes stronger with training. Encouragingly, if you build up your willpower, it will help you resist other temptations and not just your weight-loss related ones.
So how on earth do you exercise your willpower muscle? Answer: You practice exerting self-control over something that, under normal circumstances, you do automatically. For example, when you put on a pair of pants, which leg do you pull on first? Whatever your answer, tomorrow consciously pull on your pants other leg first. Alternatively, try cleaning your teeth with the toothbrush in your non-dominant hand.
Sounds silly, doesn’t it? Yes it does, which is precisely the point. The objective of this approach to reinforcing your self-control is to boost your willpower without the risk of experiencing (yet another) self-control failure over something important. And, while this approach to enhancing your self-control muscle sounds daft, it has been investigated at numerous universities across the country and reported in several prestigious, peer-reviewed scientific journals. This strategy works and, if your looking for a scientific approach to strengthening your willpower so you can reach your weight-loss goals, you would be well advised to give it a go.
Track Your Willpower
If willpower is a consumable resource then it makes sense that it will tend to be stronger in the morning and weaken as the day proceeds; and, for most people, this generalization is true. In addition, we experience personal dips in self-control that may not conform to the general observation. For example, do you experience low energy and willpower levels mid afternoon? How about last thing at night when you’re standing in front of the fridge staring at that ice cream carton?
Knowing that your self-control fluctuates, if you track your levels throughout the day you can plan to avoid temptation when you are “willpower weak.” To quote Stanford psychologist Kelly McGonigal, you can “put your willpower where your goals are.” For example, if your self-control plummets mid-afternoon, avoid the office fridge when you know that your willpower is questionable.
Achieve Your Weight-Loss Goals
Learning how to train and track your self-control, will provide you with the strength you need to flex your willpower muscle and exceed your dieting goals. Not only will you be pulling on your jeans “wrong” leg first, they will be your skinny jeans!
About the Author: Dr. Steve Bedwell is a medical doctor and motivational speaker who teaches audiences a perspective-driven approach to professional and personal growth. For more information visit: http://www.mindcapital.com/blog/