It’s rare that I encounter someone who does not wish they had more will power, in one aspect of their life at least.
Actually I’ll go so far as to say that I’ve never met anyone who wouldn’t like more will power specifically with regard to exercise or nutrition.
Yes, myself absolutely included.
It’s amazing how often my clients tell me: “But you’re so disciplined. You have so much more self control than me!”
With respect, that is 100% crap-o-la.
Will power is something we all have and you can build your will power muscle.
The fact is we use it to varying degrees and if your current level of will power is not yet bringing you the results you’re seeking todays show on
Will Power: 6 Steps to Build Your Self Control Muscle
is for you. It’s basically a series of simple ways to think that will make flexing your will power muscle easier.
An understanding of what tools we have at our disposal is a good start.
The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is paramount and to quote Wikipedia the “basic activity of this brain region is considered to be orchestration of thoughts and actions in accordance with internal goals.” PFC’s job is to get us to step up and do the harder thing. To choose the walk to work option and resist that freshly baked berry muffin when we buy our take-away long black on said walk.
So we have the capacity to resist and also the desire to do the easier or seek immediate gratification.
Oh, and that desire or instinct? It once served us very well. There was a time when an insatiable sweet tooth or craving for fat prompted us to gorge ourselves when often unreliable food was in plentiful supply – to store body fat – which, for a cave gal or guy was actually an insurance policy to stay alive through the lean times.
Now we are lucky enough to never suffer lean times – even if that ‘luck’ seems tough to appreciate. The ability to resist temptation is now a far superior life insurance policy and an absolutely necessity if you want to enjoy having a fit, strong body.
Your success in the will power game is a matter of taking advantage of your primitive instincts rather than fighting them.
What if your desire for your ideal fit, strong body was stronger than your desire for hot chips at the pub?
Or the primitive feeling Fear? It once was essential to protect yourself from the very real danger of becoming someone else’s dinner. Again this is no longer a concern for todays gal or guy, however you can manufacture desire or fear to serve your purpose rather than be led blindly from one primal response to the next. What if you have a fear reaction to that stodgey-artery-clogging, jeans-over-filling, muffin-top-creating late night pizza?
Specifically with regard to will power we can break it into 3 types and use them together for maximum effectiveness.
- I WILL power.
- I WON’T power.
- I WANT power.
=> I will do 30 minutes of exercise 6 days per week first thing in the morning.
=> I won’t stay up past 10pm or hit snooze when my alarm sounds at 5am.
=> I want to prove to myself that I can do it – and look and feel fabulously confident and sexy rocking my favourite jeans at my birthday in 3 months time.
(the more emotional intensity you can insert into your ‘I want’ goal the better – it’s going to serve you more than “yeah I want to lose 5 kilos… bleh”)
Whenever you face a will power challenge it’ll be a battle between your present self – the impulse and desire driven you and your future self – the wise and goal orientated you.
You might find it helpful to give each a name. I’m serious! Or perhaps if you’re a more visual person, a picture. Like the angel v. devil. (unless there’s a part of you going ‘I want to embrace my fun, naughty side and that angels boring!)
So perhaps the ultra fit and strong you v. a sluggish, lazy, soft sofa hogging you?
Let’s jump to 6 specific Steps to Build Your Self Control Muscle.
A.WARENESS. The better you know yourself the easier you’ll find it to succeed.
What are you doing? Why are you doing it? And this will lead to preempting the behaviour. Most of our choices are made on auto-pilot, so switching to awareness is the first step in taking control of those choices you’d like to change.
- When you’re distracted you’re more likely to succumb to temptation. This is because your mind is preoccupied so your impulses rather than your long term goals are guiding your decisions.
- Being tired or drunk can have the same ‘leave it to impulse’ effect. 3pm choc bar or 3am hot chips anyone?
- To exasperate this, your early decisions can guide the decisions to follow.
=> Did you take the curry out of the freezer? If not, it’ll be that little bit harder to drive past your fav take-out joint after a long days work.
=> Did you work through lunch and now you’re too hungry to stop at the gym and need to race home and demolish?
Implementation point: Think of a specific will power challenge you’d love to get better at. Track your choices for 24 hours to ascertain when and why you are making the decisions that conflict with your goals.
B.E WILLING TO USE IT (or lose it). Your brain will remodel itself based on what you ask it to do.
Increased neural connections for activities you practice means your brain can become bigger, faster and stronger in the same way that a muscle does. You’ve got to commit to see the benefit though.
- This doesn’t mean order hot chips and leave them on the plate. That’s an absolute waste of your daily discipline quota.
- Even an off topic challenge such as deciding to only check social media 3 times a day can reflect positive changes in your overall will power.
- The perfect practice for will power training is meditation. It’s not about being great at meditation. More-so it’s ideal for catching yourself moving away from a goal (clear mind) and directing yourself back to your goal. It’s absolutely applicable to any will power challenge.
=> No time for meditation? A short practice you do today is better than a long practice you put off till tomorrow.
=> Utilise the physiology of will power. Slowing your breathing down to 4-6 breathes per minute switches your body from stress mode to self control mode by activating PFC. (this is it’s own challenge – to start any reduction in speed of breathing is going to help!)
Implementation point: Train your brain to get even better at will power. Take the will power challenge you thought of in step A. and frame it as either an ‘I will’ challenge or an ‘I won’t’ challenge to start today. Even 5 minutes is worthwhile: a 5 minute walk, getting up 5 minutes earlier or 5 minutes each day preparing extra veg to snack on – it all counts!
C.OMPASSION. Self control is a matter of understanding ourselves – not changing who we are. Guilt, stress, shame and self Criticism don’t work.
Be curious to learn from your will power challenges and treat yourself with the compassion you would show a dear friend or family member.
- Understand just because something does not yet come naturally, you’re not lazy or weak. Likely you’ve allowed your body to get in the wrong state to win a will power challenge: perhaps you’re tired, stressed or have been consuming poor quality fuel?
- If you’re expecting yourself to account for lost time via a will power marathon you’re courting a collapse. Instead learn to intelligently push your limits and pace yourself.
- Focus on how to keep yourself in the best possible state for self control– rather than hoping for an ideal version of yourself to turn up and save the day at the 11th hour!
=> Hoping for that ‘ideal version’ of yourself is also known as Borrowing from Tomorrow: “I’ll skip exercise today and do double tomorrow” or “I’ll just eat this now and then be extra-super-good tomorrow”.
=> The thing is, when you Borrow from Tomorrow – do you come through tomorrow?
Implementation point: Consciously reframe any negative self talk that you’ve gotten into the habit of using. Take some time to think about it now. The critical things you say to yourself that you wouldn’t say to a loved one, what could you say instead? Beyond that, how about consciously congratulating yourself for all those instances of self control you already practice each day?
When you quit looking to justify your actions (or inactions!) today, you save yourself unnecessary grief and are now in a position to…
D.ETERMINE WHAT REALLY MAKES YOU HAPPY. As I’ve mentioned, many of the actions that could be seen as will power failings are simply habits we perform almost on auto-pilot to meet some perceived need.
But do they? What are you expecting from that indulgence and does it deliver?
- Our brain is attracted to the promise of a reward and it’s vital to distinguish between that dopamine fuelled wanting and genuine happiness.
- In my experience when something really makes me happy, then that feeling will be present before, during and after the experience. Rather than beginning with anxious indecision and justification – followed by an all too brief ‘happiness’ – to be immediately replaced by guilt or disappointment.
=> When you determine it’s a dopamine fuelled ‘want’ that will only lead to guilt, disappoint or at best apathy rather than genuine happiness know that the urge will eventually pass on its own – like a wave – even if you don’t act on it.
Here’s a technique to stretch the wave analogy further:
Surf the urge.
When you feel the urge, stop and observe the physical sensations. Slow your breathing, imagine the urge or the irritation as a wave and ride out the feelings. You don’t ‘have to do it’ to ‘get it out.’ The feeling will pass whether you indulge it or not, your choice is how you want to be feeling when you come out the other side?
=> When you determine what really does make you happy it’s worth stacking the odds in favour of this activity. It is our natural inclination to pursue the path of least resistance regardless of what is actually best for us. Imagine you’re not in your strongest state – perhaps you’re tired, stressed, emotional – all 3? Even though you know going for a walk in the fresh air with your tunes pumping is going to help you feel a whole lot better it also takes effort! The easier, safe and familiar path of least resistance is to wallow in front of the TV, while refreshing face-book, and eating aimlessly.
Specifically here are 3 steps to stake the odds towards a will power win:
- Remind yourself of the benefit.Ideally actually document (perhaps via iPhone voice memo or photo) how you felt last time you chose the win option. Yes, this needs to be done ahead of time.
- Remove friction associated with the choice you want to make.g. Have your gym gear ready to go.
- Add friction to the choice you want to avoid.g. Unplug the TV and remove all junk or trigger food from the house.
Implementation point: Determine 3 things – that are easily accessible to you that truly make you happy. So by accessible I mean things that are not limited by more money, energy or time than you have available right now.
Perhaps: a walk somewhere stunning, soak in a bubble bath, phone conversation with a dear friend overseas? These activities will have you feeling great before, during and after and they are your upgrades to replace those old energy and will power sapping habits.
E.NLIST SOCIAL SUPPORT.
I Will. I Won’t. I Want.
It’s easy to think this challenge is all on YOU. It’s not. Although accepting 100% responsibility for your thoughts, decisions, actions and results is vital – why go it alone when you have the opportunity to support and be supported?
- Regardless of whether you’re actively seeking it or not the will power of the people around you will have an effect on your own will power decisions:
Chick #1. “Hey hon, how’s your day been? Am trying to go wine free this week but would love a little vino… hmmm, might go for a walk to distract – what are you up too?x”
Chick #2. “Go you hon, that’s a big effort! Had super busy day – chillaxing with second vino, YUM, is gorgeous!x”
And there’s a decent waiver in the will power of chick #1. You’ve been there right? Whether it’s cigarettes, dessert, skipping the gym in favour of the pub… whatever!
=> Luckily from step 1. Awareness; you know your triggers, the times when you have less will power. These are the times to avoid the people and situations that YOU KNOW from past experiences will present will power challenges. If they can’t be avoided they can be planned for.
- It’s also useful to know anytime you feel excluded or disrespected you will feel more inclined to give in on your will power challenge.
=> So, how about spending as much time as possible with people who ARE a positive, supportive influence? Friends, family – perhaps with a competitive edge such as group training or team sport? If you can’t afford a personal trainer and have a friend who’d like to lose weight I’ve seen tremendous results when 2 people with a weight loss goal email each other their food each day.
Implementation point: Think of the will power support crew you would most benefit from having and go about building this crew! Specifically find 1 person this week with a similar will power challenge they would love to get better at. (Food diary? Alcohol free Monday – Friday? Gym 3 days?) Agree to support and hold each other accountable and also commit to how + when exactly you will do this.
F.OLLOW YOUR BIGGEST WANT.
Your ‘biggest want’ is that goal and likely the feelings associated with achieving it that you seek before all else. What is it? When you feel ready to give in, what can do take strength from?
- To follow your biggest want requires building your ability to handle temporary discomfort in exchange for the attainment of your long term goal.
- It also means being compelled enough to change your behaviour rather than allowing the ‘promise of change’ to fix your feelings. To explain, whatever that most exciting goal is, the one that you love to fantasize about – it’s vital you go about taking the steps to change your behaviours and your life rather than just getting lost in imagining how succeeding will change your life.
=> a deceptively simple trick to stay focused on your biggest want is to frame (and reframe) everything you say that will help you achieve that want.
E.g. “I have to go to the gym” becomes “I want to go to the gym.” It really is that easy, ‘have’, ‘must’, ‘can’t’ are all words that carry pressure – who wants more pressure? Not me! When I say ‘want’ ‘would like to’ ‘can’ – I feel in control. I have a choice. It also leads me to think of WHY I ‘want’ to… yep, that compelling goal or biggest want.
=> a scarily effective strategy to ensure that which you don’t want to think about dominates your mind time, is to suppress it. Is there something you’re trying to avoid and is pushing the thought away making it come back stronger?
This is called Ironic Rebound – and it’s worth avoiding! It’s similar to the Romeo and Juliet effect, where you feel deeper desire when something is forbidden.
The solution? We’ve already covered it with the surfing the urge technique. Acknowledge the feeling – with curiosity rather than judgement – and ride it out. It’ll pass. While it does the best thing to be bringing to the forefront of your mind is Your Biggest Want.
Implementation point: What is it Your Biggest Want and what feelings will achieving it allow you, and all those you love to experience? Picture yourself winning your will power challenge, doing it easily and effortlessly… notice what you’re telling yourself… and how great it feels to prove to yourself that you can.
Awareness. Willingness to Train Your Self Control. Self Compassion. Remembering what really makes you Feel Good and what You Really Want will work.
The most important factor on the will power journey is to base your expectations on your ideal future and to learn from, then disregard any will power frustrations of the past. Past challenges don’t define you. Your will power future and the results it brings is whatever you want it to be.
Here’s to a fit, strong, happy, healthy and compassionate 2020!
That’s it for today in Healthification. Thank you so very must for trusting me with your time and attention today. It means a lot.
The Healthification podcast is proudly bought to you by my FREE ‘Easy Vegan’ plan. It took me 25 years to transition from a meat eater to a happy, healthy Vegan! You can do it in just 3 days with my simplified ‘easy vegan’ plan! Get the fit, strong, and healthy plant based body you deserve… while avoiding ALL the mistakes I made along the way!
Till next time, remember Creating a body and life you love is Freedom. (If this ex-carb queen, non genetically gifted, naturally uncoordinated vegan chick can do it – so can YOU!!!
If you liked “Will Power: 6 Steps to Build Your Self Control Muscle.“ you’ll also like 6 Tips To Increase Your Willpower.