Let’s talk about the third ingredient for behaviour change – willpower. Just how important to our success is willpower?
How is it different from motivation? And…What can I do to strengthen it?
Caveat…before we start, this is a big, important topic and my intent is not just to tease you with some basic information, but to provide you with some useful strategy to help you on your path to change. That’s gonna take more than the 750 words that people typically invest in these articles, so I’m going to break it into three pieces, but if you would like to read the piece in its entirety I will provide the link. Now let’s get back to willpower.
Willpower is the strength we have to move towards something that repels us, or away from something that attracts us and motivation is why we act this way – it’s the reason for the action. Simply put, if I want to lose weight and I resist that plate of glazed chocolate doughnuts on the staff lunchroom table, weight loss is my motivation, my reason, and willpower is the strength to resist. It’s important to note that with motivation, the reason we act, there are often layers and a level of complexity that go well beyond this article and that simple explanation, but it’s a start to a deeper understanding.
The technical term for will power is self-regulatory strength and Dr. Roy Baumeister, a highly regarded social psychologist from the University of Florida, is responsible for the idea that willpower is like a muscle and that like a muscle – over time with repeated effort and use – it gets stronger, adapting to the demands imposed on it. The muscle model analogy also suggests that just like muscles, short term, intense demand will cause fatigue and weaken our willpower. This concept of our willpower strengthening as we exercise it may or may not be true, but there are certainly some ways that you can shore up the strength to resist cravings or temptation and to stay motivated and on track.
Let’s start with the number one strategy regarding willpower – don’t ever rely on it!
I mean never, ever put yourself in a situation where you need it. Discipline – the decision to plan ahead…to prepare in advance…and not willpower – is the key to success. I can’t stress enough the importance of structuring your physical and social environments to reduce the possibility you need to rely on your internal ability to resist. It’s a cornerstone of my coaching style.
Now, I’ve personally explored the idea of willpower as a muscle, running little mini-experiments that were completely the opposite of my habits and behaviour. I changed my driving habits for a month, using the digital fuel display on my truck to never drive more than the perfect speed for optimal mileage, always driving slightly under the speed limit and keeping my acceleration to a minimum. That was irritating to me and all around me and everyone was glad when that ended. I took ice cold showers every day for almost 2 years, not starting warm and moving to cold, but stepping into and finishing with an ice cold shower. I grew to like that one, still do… but while there were certainly benefits to these little trials…the driving may have saved me some money in fuel and the showers were invigorating, but I’m not convinced that they helped me pass up an invite to a cold beer on a Thursday afternoon or a piece a pizza watching the football game with friends.
So what can we do to strengthen our willpower?
Let’s turn to the real experts in resisting cravings – addiction and recovery researchers and programs like Alcoholics Anonymous. The ability to resist, the strength to overcome that internal conflict is subject to our emotional and physiological states and with AA, you’re taught the acronym – H.A.L.T, Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired. These are the warning signs or states for potential relapse and if you want to stay sober it’s best to avoid these feelings. But how do we do that? One way we do that is through discipline and preparation, the main strategies to not only avoid using willpower, but to boost it for those emergencies when we actually need the strength to resist.
As I said at the beginning, this is a big topic, so let’s take a look at some specific ways to avoid experiencing, the first physiological condition that can jeopardize our plans for change – hunger. In the next three articles we’ll look at what we can do about the other emotional and physiological states, angry, lonely and tired.
Part two of Hawthorne’s colum to come Friday, Feb. 14.
Missed Sean’s last column?
ABOUT SEAN HAWTHORNE:
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Rehabilitation is icky. (That’s not a technical term 😉) It’s hard on your psyche, I went from casually curling 70 pound dumbbells to failing with 5 lbs. It hurts, holding that little green band in a supinated position is extremely uncomfortable. And it’s slow (might be my maturity level), it’s taken several months to be able to externally rotate that little green band as poorly as it looks. . . But, what else am I going to do? Quit lifting weights? Never throw a football to my son again? Switch to button up shirts? No. As an existentialist I’m all about quality and not quantity. It’s worth the effort. Netflix and chill is not a sport. If you’re injured or have chronic pain, don’t settle, find some professional advice and get to work. . . If you read this far and you’re curious, I crashed on my dirt bike and tore my shoulder to shit. External rotation and humeral stability are severely compromised. I started with strength and stability (static) and have progressed to eccentric with very limited ranges of motion through the concentric contraction, it’s been 13 months since the accident. . . #kelowna #onelife #change #weightloss #fitness #change #exercise #practice #rehabilitation #coach #coaching #diet #nutrition #motivation #influence #performance #success #awesome #captainawesome #mentalfitness #deliberatepractice #kaizen #happy
Sean Hawthorne is the owner and operator of OneLife Health and Wellness, Kelowna’s first and longest running private, personal training facility. While working in Dubai, UAE as a Contracts and Project Manager, Sean decided to leave his successful career in Civil Engineering Technology and pursue his passion for health, fitness and helping others achieve their goals. He returned to Canada in 2001, taking formal education in Exercise Science and starting his career in the field of health and fitness. Working in collaboration with their clients, Sean and his team of health and fitness professionals strive to continually improve their skills and to help everyone reach their goals.