Today we are going to discuss why ‘willpower’ doesn’t really work, and what you can do instead.
The health industry has told people for years that if we just use restraint, aka “willpower”, we can succeed in our health goals easily.
This concept sets us up to fail, because if we do not succeed it is because we are somehow “weak-willed”. This is bunk and I am going to help you see why.
Hello and welcome to Fearlessly Holistic.
My name is Irma and I want to share my journey to improved health by eating whole foods, moving my body and eliminating stress as much as possible.
It is my hope to inspire you to make daily changes. Why? Because eating fresh, seasonal food, getting some sunshine, and purging unhelpful thinking is the best way to increase longevity. But you do not want just a long life.
You want a quality long life, and you want to look and feel your best while you live it.
My blog posts are my opinion and the results of things that I have tried that either worked for me or didn’t. My opinions are for informational purposes only and are not intended as medical advice. Medical advice should always be obtained from a qualified medical professional for any health conditions or symptoms associated with them. As well, there may be affiliate links in this post. Read more here.
Why Do I Have No Willpower?
Every January, a new group of people make a decision to change something in their life…with willpower alone.
And many of these people give up quickly. Why is that?
The answer is…willpower is a concept, not an action.
A concept is an idea, but that does not mean it is workable or that you will get success with it.
An online dictionary defines willpower as “the strength of will to carry out one’s decisions, wishes, or plans”.
Seems easy enough right?
However that also implies that if we do not carry out our plans, we somehow ‘lack’ enough willpower to get the job done.
Relying on will alone is not helpful
Willpower relies on dealing with issues as they come up, which is not much of plan.
As well, willpower does not teach us anything when we fail to achieve our goal. Or even if we come close.
And that makes people feel worse about themselves, their abilities and their ability to succeed.
There are simpler ways to achieve our health, or any, goals
But we have to do a bit of digging first.
The first step is to become aware of why we want to achieve a goal in the first place aka self-awareness.
The second is to build up good habits that will give us useful feedback so that we can adjust our goals to help them work.
Self Awareness Instead Of Willpower
It’s hard to resist temptation sometimes, isn’t it?
That piece of cake calls to you. What’s the simple answer to this? Don’t stand in front of the cake!
- Don’t go to the store with all the tempting treats that you are trying to avoid
- Avoid going to the bar if you are trying to stop drinking
- Stay away from people that lead you to trouble.
People have the idea that willpower means being ‘immune’ to temptation.
If that were true, we would all easily achieve our goals. What if true willpower is not only the ability to say no, but the wisdom to avoid temptation?
Become aware of where your resistance is low, and don’t put yourself in those situations.
And create systems for yourself that allow you to avoid the temptations that derail you.
By systems, I mean that you figure out what your worst triggers are and then brainstorm how you can avoid or detour around them.
This does not mean forever in most cases, but if you need to break a bad habit then avoiding temptations is smart.
For example, if you are tempted by the fast food places on your drive home from work, then perhaps try a different route so you don’t see the temptations.
Or you know the staff party will have cake, and you want to stop eating it.
Either don’t go to the party or plant yourself at the opposite end of the room from the temptation. And find a buddy who will not encourage you to eat foods you need to stop eating.
Step two is moving away from the bad habit by moving towards a new, good habit.
How To Start a New Habit
It’s hard to keep up willpower for any length of time.
Yes, we can stick to a low-fat 1,000 calorie diet and go hungry for a week or two, but eventually our willpower fades.
FYI this does not apply to eating a 1,000 calorie a day high fat diet, because I do it pretty much every day. And it’s easy.
And yes, we can try avoiding fast food… until we are starving on the way home from work.
That is when our willpower goes out the window.
But what about getting up to take the kids to school every morning, brushing our teeth or going to work every day?
Those may not be our favorite things to do either, but we do them daily without the risk of running out of willpower.
That’s because they have become habits.
They are so ingrained in what we do and who we are that we do them without even considering skipping a day or a week.
We don’t have to make a conscious decision each day to shower or drive to work.
It’s just what we do – a habit.
When you start to think about it, there is an inverse relationship between habits and will power.
When you first want to build a new habit, it takes daily will power to get it done day in and day out.
As you start to establish that habit, it becomes easier and easier to do until you don’t even have to think about it anymore.
Just being aware of this process helps us stick it out.
We know we don’t always have to make such a big effort to go work out or skip the donut for breakfast. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.
We know eventually it will become habit to go out for a run first thing in the morning or fix some eggs for breakfast.
While we’re in that transition from willpower to habit, we can use tools to make it easier.
- Use a to-do list or set a reminder to help stay on track.
- Find an accountability partner so the two of you can motivate each other. Online friends works too.
- Be sure to have healthy foods and snacks at home, so you are not tempted to go out and buy unhealthy treats
- Make notes about situations that trigger food cravings, and avoid them for a couple of months until your new habit is sticking.
Do what you can to help your willpower along until you have a new true habit
After that it’ll be easy and automatic and you’ve created a new lifelong habit.
I use the alarm app on my phone to remind me to stop eating at 6 pm.
Now I only eat at night if I am travelling or have some odd hours, because it throws off my autophagy health benfits.
They say it takes 21 days to form a new habit
I find that to be subjective. Some ‘bad’ habits are easier to change than others.
In my life, I have found that the longer I have had a bad habit, the longer it takes to change it over to a good habit.
For instance, I ate cereal with a sliced banana and 2% milk for breakfast for years.
The bad habits that I had to change were:
- To quit eating cereal as breakfast food
- Switching away from low-fat dairy
- Eating bananas, because they are so high carb
The good habits I replaced them with are:
- I drink keto coffee (coffee with heavy cream) for breakfast
- If I am hungry in the morning (not usually when I have keto coffee), I eat berries and heavy cream
- Making sure that I always have eggs and some kind of breakfast meat in the fridge
Quitting cereal took longer because it is such an easy breakfast; I really had to get creative because I cannot eat eggs every day (food allergies).
Eating high fat dairy was an easy switch because I was not using as much of it.
I do suggest easing into it because it is so rich. And all that healthy fat was so helpful to my mental clarity.
And it was pretty easy to stop eating bananas.
9 Ways To Strengthen Willpower
There will be times when you didn’t choose the situation, of course. What can you do then? Try these tips:
1. Immediately begin to imagine the consequences of your actions. Give yourself a good scare, if you have to.
2. Substitute temptations. If I crave a sweet treat, I make some whipped cream with a bit of sweetener.
3. Ask for help. If you are in a temptation spiral, contact a health buddy (online buddies are good too!)
4. Relax. Willpower is low when you are stressed. Close your eyes and take three deep breaths.
5. Energize yourself. Willpower tends to go up and down with energy levels. Sleep well, play energetic music, move around, or start an interesting conversation.
6. Plan for success. Carry healthy snacks in your car or bag, like mixed nuts. Always have a water bottle. Make fat bombs for emergency sweet cravings or the extra fat.
7. If you think you are hungry, try drinking some water first before finding something to eat. Sometimes dehydrations seems like hunger.
8. My personal favorite is a rubber band on my wrist. If I catch myself doing something I am trying to stop, I snap it. I also remind myself at the same time why I am motivated to make changes. For example, if I am trying to stop buying junk food at the store, I might say “healthy people eat healthy food”.
9. Learn from your mistakes. If you end up in a situation where you eat off plan or fall to temptation, take a good look at the reason you ended up there and figure out how fix it so it does not happen again. That is key to succeeding with goals…feedback.
Changing unhelpful behavior is something to be learned, and it takes some trial and error to figure out which things work for your own life.
My tips have helped me, and they may help you as well, but you need to be aware if they are not helping you and then find another tip to try.
Just keep trying 🙂
I have been eating low-carb since Atkin’s diet was a thing. I was in some really great message boards and learned a lot of great tricks.
But the best tip I can give you is to keep trying to make your health better.
I get it that sometimes life happens and all of our good plans go out the window. But the difference between failure and success is the ability to get back on the wagon and keep trying.
If you are interested in how I do Keto, please check out my FEARLESS KETO DIET KIT: get recipes, a shopping list, tips, and a planner to set goals, track progress, and success tips, and an actual goal setting guide.
This kit is all the help you need to get started eating Keto diet to lose weight and there is nothing else like it anywhere else.
Have you started your keto diet yet? If not, I suggest grabbing my free keto food list and quick start guide…absolutely free!
Holism targets overall wellness, and when we are well, we only get better with age.
Eat the best food that you can afford to give your body the building blocks it needs for optimal health, longevity, and looking good for as long as possible 😉
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Until next time, here’s to our health!