– Willpower is usually much better when a person is well-fed. Being over-hungry is like tossing your willpower right out the window!
– The same can be said for pleasure from your food. After days on end of boring, tasteless food, it is usually not long before willpower wears thin and cravings for tasty food intensify, often leading to a loss of control. The message? Be sure to incorporate enough enjoyment into eating on a daily basis.
– Recent studies (described in a New York Times article) suggest that willpower might be more related to predictability of a reward than to our own natural ability to resist temptation. If someone is working hard to change eating habits but is not sure they will lose weight, or when it might happen, a decision to quit could be seen as a calculated decision. It may be more like a cost-benefit analysis than a measure of your character. A warm brownie (yum! now!) faces off against the more distant reward (not guaranteed) of weight loss you may or may not see in the future.
The key to developing willpower? Set realistic weight loss or health goals and make sure the task is not too difficult. Better yet, focus on improving what you DO, and focus less on outcome. You determine whether or not you exercise or stop snacking after dinner for instance. Setting a timer for 10-15 minutes is a good strategy when you feel tempted. Often a short delay is all need to “clear a craving from your brain.
You have much less control over the number on your scale – talk about unpredictable! Your weight will take care of itself with time and improved habits. Focusing too much on it can be discouraging.
Waiting for the payoff on the scale is easier if day-to-day living is a manageable challenge. That includes keeping irresistible items out of sight to limit the mental gymnastics of decision-making! Did you know that willpower requires mental energy? Try to minimize situations that would sap it unnecessarily.
More predictable rewards can help too. Instead of rewarding that wiggly number on the scale, you might reward the behavior goals you meet. Try banking money for meeting weekly challenges – like $5 for every day you have vegetables at dinner. Have something in mind that motivates you, maybe a new pair of shoes or dinner out (healthy, of course!). It doesn’t matter if you would buy it anyway; feeling like you really earned it is rewarding!
– Remember that you are human. Your goals can only be met by continuing with imperfect effort, because that is all any of us can manage. The important part is CONTINUING, not giving up. You may surprise yourself!