So you’ve decided to start eating healthily and exercising. You want to lose a few pounds, tone up, have more energy and feel better about yourself. And this time it will be different…. if only you can maintain enough willpower to stick with it. Sound familiar? And if your willpower wanes you’ll start beating yourself up for giving in to temptation and then give up…. again. Does this also sound familiar?
We generally think that willpower is like a muscle which needs to be worked, strengthened, and constantly flexed. But it’s much more helpful to think of it as a state of mind which is constantly changing as a result of your physical and emotional environments. So you should concentrate on changing some of the environmental factors rather than on flexing a mental muscle which doesn’t really exist.
Firstly, you only need willpower during times of temptation. If you’re not being tempted, then you don’t need willpower. So how can you remove temptation from your environment? If you don’t want to find yourself eating crisps out of boredom in front of the TV in the evening, don’t have crisps in your house. If you don’t want to find yourself eating a whole packet of chocolate biscuits at your desk, buy individually wrapped ones, one at a time. Then it doesn’t matter if you feel you have no willpower – you won’t need it, there’ll be nothing to resist. If you’re tempted by the bread basket when you’re eating out, ask your friends to put it at the other end of the table, out of your reach. If your friends don’t want the temptation either, ask the server to take it away. What’s your own personal temptation and what can you do to remove it from view or place it out of reach?
Be aware that many salty and sugary foods are purposely formulated to be moreish. Remember the old slogan for Pringles, “Once you pop you can’t stop”? Pringles are salty, refined carbohydrate and that slogan said it all – you’re meant to keep eating them until they’re gone. And you’re meant to find them so irresistible that the next time you go shopping you buy more. The problem isn’t you, it’s the food. So ditch the guilt, but ditch these foods too. Know that your imaginary mental muscle is never going to be strong enough for you to eat just a few.
If you’re trying to stick to an exercise regime, make it as pleasant as possible for yourself. If you put on some tired old leggings and a washed-out tee shirt you’ll feel tired and washed-out. You won’t look forward to exercising if that’s how it makes you feel. Invest in some well-fitting kit in appealing colours – you’ll enjoy wearing it and you’ll feel so much better about yourself when you’re exercising.
And understand that exercise does not have to be painful, boring or unpleasant. Exercise shouldn’t feel like a punishment. If you don’t like running don’t go running, and if you find your gym intimidating try a different gym or get outside instead. Exercise should be energising, enjoyable and satisfying, so get imaginative and try something new – Zumba, hiking, dance, cycling, martial arts, outdoor bootcamps – the list is endless. When you find something you enjoy, it won’t feel like a chore, and you’ll be much more likely to stick with it.
Finally, make sure you fully commit to your plans. Take note of the language you’re using – when you say “I’m going to try to go to the gym three times this week” you’ve already given yourself a get-out clause by using the word “try”. Commit to your plans by removing that word, and then tell others what you intend to do.
So the next time you’re feeling guilty about having no willpower, give yourself a break. Expend your energy on changing your environment instead. Remove the temptations, make exercise as enjoyable as possible and fully commit to your plans. Now you have a recipe for success which doesn’t involve an imaginary mental muscle!
With kind thanks to Joanne Henson
Joanne Henson – Health, Fitness and Wellness Coachwww.joannehenson.co.ukTwitter: @Joannemh
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