Tag Archives: willpower

Do you think you have a “willpower disability”?

I have a client on my mind.  We met this morning, and the conversation was interesting.  “I am struggling,” she said.  I found myself asking lots of questions to understand exactly what the struggles are and what is causing them.

What I learned was that she is still having trouble controlling sweets at work. (People bring them in.)  After digging deeper, we discovered that she really doesn’t think she can resist eating the treats at work.  Although she avoids the room they are typically in, all it takes to trigger the “I can’t resist it” belief is the mention of cake or other treats by a co-worker.

She does feel conscious of the fact that there is a choice to eat it or not, but in reality it is not a choice at all.  The mindless part of the habit is in the deeper belief that she cannot resist  treats when they are available.  Checking with herself in-the-moment about whether or not to indulge is really just going through the motions.  The deeper (and less conscious) belief tells her she is not strong enough to really have a choice.  Call it a perceived “willpower disability.”

Add to this challenge the guilt that accompanies the inevitable “choice,” and it adds fuel to the fire of the belief:  “See, I knew I couldn’t resist.  I never can.”

Beliefs are strong.  And they are most often unconscious.  This can make a “conscious” thought a mere habit instead of a realization of actual choice.  There is a big difference between realizing on a superficial level that you can eat something or not, and really believing it.  In other words, it is possible to choose to eat something and also truly believe that there was a choice not to eat it.  In order for the latter choice to exist at all, one must believe that this is possible, at least sometimes.  And, of course, there are all kinds of choices that exist between the two extremes of all and nothing.

Being conscious of thoughts is important, but sometimes it takes looking deeper, especially when feelings of failure and disappointment keep popping up.  If the thought of an option to make a self-controlled choice is habitually followed by discouraging thoughts (“What makes you think you really have any choice at all, you spineless disappointment?”), those thoughts probably point to a deeper belief that keeps that habit going.

To be clear, it is still a good idea to keep from deliberately making choices too challenging by surrounding yourself with temptation.  Let’s face it – some kinds of food are just really, really hard to resist when they are too accessible.  There is no need to test your strength by leaving a whole cake out on the counter.  That’s just not very kind!

Choosing to eat any particular food is not the problem.  Knowing you could choose not to have something and having it anyway feels so much different than eating it because you feel too weak-willed to have any choice.  How much enjoyment can there really be in that?

A Sneak Peek at a New App Addition!

A new version of “In the Moment – Mindful Eating” will be added soon.  Included will be a new “bubble” giving users an opportunity to choose to “just stop” – in the spirit of self-compassion of course!  This video, which is totally adorable, will be included.  Can’t we all laugh at this and see a little of ourselves in it?  Can anyone honestly say they have never been in Frog and Toad’s shoes before?



Willpower: Tips for Finding More of “IT”

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!