“I’m really going to lose these extra 20 pounds. This time I mean it. I bought a new pair of running sneakers, a new workout outfit, and I basically bought the entire produce aisle home with me. This time is it!”
If I had a dollar for every time someone said something like this to me… well I’d be beyond wealthy.
When I get into conversations with people about reaching their health goals I always ask what’s different this time around. I usually get answers that sounds like these responses:
- I’ve blocked out time in my calendar.
- My father just had a heart attack so I have to start taking care of myself now.
- I’m tired of being tired so this has to change now.
These are all good reasons, but here’s the really interesting thing…
All of the above responses are basically describing a set of words like: determination, self-discipline, drive, self-control, etc.
In other words, what we’re really saying is “I’ve blocked out time in my calendar so I am more disciplined to workout.” Or “I’m tired of being tired so now I have the determination to make a change.”
What we actually say out loud is just the “thing” we are going to do differently, but the feeling associated with the change is determination, control, discipline, or something similar. This feeling is what we actually believe is going to make the difference.
To dig a bit deeper…
We know that simply penciling in an hour to workout won’t make you healthier. You actually have to do the workout. So we believe the self-control will be there this time. Or we believe the discipline or self-motivation will be there. It’s this that is different and thus the change-agent.
Now, here’s the problem.
Psychologists associate all of these words with another word: will power.
And will-power is a limited resource. That means that it is a resource that can wax and wane with different environments.
Here’s an example. Let’s say you want to eat no sugar for the next 30 days. You do really great for the first 20 days. You said “No” to your co-worker’s birthday cake, you said “No” to dessert after a nice dinner date with your spouse, and you said “No” to grabbing a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup at the gas station.
But now it’s time for your annual family reunion and your cousin is bringing her world-famous banana pudding. You just LOVE this stuff. Suddenly your will-power is lessening.
Here’s the problem with relying on sheer will-power: it will eventually lessen and go away.
That doesn’t mean will-power is bad. In fact, it’s one of 3 critical tools that we need to have lasting change.
Willpower researcher Roy Baumeister, PhD, a psychologist at Florida State University, lists 3 necessary components for reaching your goals.
- Establish the motivation for change and set a clear goal
- Monitor your behavior towards that goal
- You level of will-power.
Whether your goal is to lose weight, kick a smoking habit, study more, or spend less time on Facebook, willpower is a critical step to achieving that outcome. Just don’t rely on it soley.