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.
Yep, 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.
As you knowing ‘wishing’ will get you squat.
(not that sorta squat – the other kind that means you don’t get to flaunt a rocking booty… or enjoy a toned tummy… or sculpted legs…)
Back to will power… it’s 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… read on for the tactics and tricks – or just simply ways to think that will make flexing your will power 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 lean 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, lean 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.
1. I WILL power.
2. I WON’T power.
3. 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 5kilos… 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 lean you v. a sluggish, lazy, soft sofa hogging you?
Let’s jump to some specific steps.
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 kebab anyone?
* To exasperate this, your early decisions can guide the decisions to follow.
=> Did you take the meat 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 24hours 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 mean 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. sadistic.
* 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) & directing yourself back to your goal. 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.
=> Utilize 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. 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 credit 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 credit 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.
This is where I’ll leave you for today – thinking about what it is that truly makes you happy and preferably sharing these happy experiences in the comments… I’ll be back to cover steps D. E. and F. in Part 2. later this week – actually, on Thursday, because weekly blogging is one of my will power challenges this year.
I will blog each Thursday.
I won’t allow less important stuff to steal my writing time.
I want to be as consistent with the most important components of my business as I am with my exercise and nutrition.