When I ask people what is the biggest obstacle to losing weight and staying slim, most people say it’s down to a lack of willpower. If asked how this makes them feel, they tell me it makes them feel worthless and foolish because they are betraying their own desires. Yet very few people have been given the opportunity to learn about willpower—especially how to strengthen and improve your willpower.
What is willpower?
Willpower is the conscious effort to override an urge to indulge in a behaviour or action. In particular it is trying to stay in alignment with what you, and/or society believe to be appropriate. In weight-loss it’s typically about the inner battle between a healthy choice of food or drink or exercise vs giving in to an impulse to indulge in something that you know is unhealthy. In other words you know what it is you want to do: but it’s considered a lack of willpower when you fail to do this desired action. There is though, far more to it than just this. Your hunger, general tiredness, emotional state and psychological balance are just some of the factors that effect the strength of your willpower.
Your willpower is a form of self-control regulated in an area of your brain involved with conscious thought. There is at any moment a supply of energy that allows this part of your brain to be active. When you are refreshed, well-nourished, relaxed, and feeling good, then your willpower has the maximum amount of energy to draw upon and then it is very easy for you to stay in alignment with what you want and believe to be right in terms of eating, drinking and exercising. When you are tired, stressed, mal-nourished and/or physically hungry, then your energy levels to exert self-control—willpower—will be low. So, to increase your willpower, you need to ensure you brain energy levels stay high.
How to increase your willpower
There are many ways to increase your willpower – or lessen the effects of an energy drain in this area of your brain. By reducing how much over-processed foods with additives you eat, the more space there will be to eat natural, wholesome foods which help nourish you—and your brain—a key step to take to increase your willpower around food (and drink).
One of the biggest drains the energy from the self-control area of the brain, is the inner battle we often have, where an inner dialogue might go something like this:
‘I really want to eat that biscuit (chocolate, bag of crisps or whatever is your favourite indulgence)’
‘Don’t eat that biscuit! Find some fruit—that will be a better choice’
‘I will eat just one biscuit: I’ve been so good, one biscuit won’t hurt me’
‘Eat an apple!’
‘But an apple won’t satisfy me: I want something sweet!’
‘I will have just one biscuit…’
And we all know that is rare to have just one biscuit in these situations – although later I will teach you how you can indeed learn to do that.
This battle seems small, but in terms of the energy drain on the self-control area of your brain—it is very significant. Scientists have shown the more inner battling you do, the greater the difficulty you will experience in trying to stayed aligned with your healthy food/drink choices and so your willpower is likely to collapse.
Creating an ‘If… Then…’ contract
If the internal battle drains your willpower energy levels, then having a process in place that negates the need for such a battle, makes it easier for you to achieve your desire to make healthier food and drink choices.
One way of doing this, is to create a contract with yourself. Over your lifetime, you have created hundreds if not thousands of these contracts–the majority of which were subconsciously formed. For example, if you grew-up in a really untidy house and it really bothered you, then you may have made a contract subconsciously that said: ‘When I have my own home, it will always be tidy.’ Many of these contract will either be the opposite of what you experienced growing up, or the same as your parents/guardians have done. However, you can make them consciously too and they are powerful tools to help you.
To make your first ‘If… then…’ contract, first identify one food/drink indulgence or treat that you know is a weak spot. It might be a glass of wine you have after work that too often turns in to 2 or 3 glasses. Or the chocolate bar that looks so irresistible when you go to the newsagent, or the dessert where one helping is not enough to satisfy you, or that there is always something else to do, rather than exercise.
Now construct a sentence that begins with ‘If… and then has a second part starting with ‘…then…’ The first part of the sentence describes situations where you might be tempted; the second part offers you a solution to help you resist the temptation. The following examples may help you construct your own ‘If… then…’sentences (which then become your contracts).
‘If there is a packet of biscuits in front of me, then I put them in a box and hide them on the top shelf of the cupboard’
‘If I am always tempted by chocolate at the newsagent, then I make sure I have eaten a protein snack 30 minutes before I go to buy a newspaper.’
‘If my friends want to go for a drink at the pub, then I tell them not I’m having only one glass of wine then switching to mineral water.
Only make a contract with yourself that feels right for you—otherwise it won’t work for you. However, still make it something that you really want to do, but currently, don’t do. Choose what is you really want to have happen in these situations to help you stay aligned. Play around with a few ideas until you feel comfortable with your choice. Now, write down your final version, make copies of it and stick it in place you will see it—and can read it—regularly. I’ve found that good places are; on your fridge door, beside your bathroom mirror, inside your wardrobe door, on your car’s dashboard. Now when the temptation comes up, you have your default action to counter the urge. By reading your contract regularly for 30-days, you will embed this strategy as a solution. Knowing your solution means you no longer drain your willpower energy, and in the process you now have a new, healthier habit.
Eat Well–Be Well 🙂
P.S. If you are struggling with the wording of your contract—email me with details of both how you get stuck and what you want to do—and I will help you with the words to make your contract really strong.