Saturday, February 23, 2019 / Singapore

How can I boost my willpower?


What is willpower?

By definition willpower is ‘control exerted to or to refrain from impulses’. When someone shows a ‘lack’ of will power they stigmatised as being lazy, ill disciplined, idle, or, just a teenager! This is not the case however, as everyone has willpower - just not everyone has the same motivation.

The essence of self control

Smaller reward Larger reward
Sooner Later
Self control failure success

The marshmallow test

There has bean several studies using the following strategy to test the willpower of individuals and the effects it had on delayed gratification.

The most famous scenario is ‘The Marshmallow Experiment’, conducted by psychologist Walter Mischel, at Stanford University. In these studies a child was offered a choice between one small reward (one marshmallow) provided immediately, or two small rewards if they waited 15 minutes. During which the researcher left the room, so that the child could make their own choice. Obviously, the children that waited longer received a larger reward, compared to the children that received a smaller reward, but sooner.

Willpower is draining

The brain feeds off of glucose (sugar) to function, much like a muscle for movement and exercise. Like the muscles of the body after a hard workout, the brain can become tired and depleted after long term concentration, requiring you to consume carbohydrates (predominantly), as these give us a faster release of energy (sugar). You can see the problem here then, if we’re concentrating on weight loss.

We know high energy-sugary foods are needed to be reduced in order to lose weight, but we need willpower and self control to avoid eating these foods in the first place (put that on top of a stressful day at work, where you’ve been rushed around and required to concentrate on important tasks). Talk about vicious cycle! So ‘cracking’ and delving into the biscuit tin, isn’t that you don’t necessarily have the will power, it’s a physiological response from the body, telling you to get fuel-and quick.

But I’m not going to let you off that easy!

Five rules for weight loss success

As previously mentioned, everyone has the will power, self control and discipline, just not everyone has the same motivation. Once you’ve discovered the ‘why’ behind what you want to achieve long term, the much easier it’s going to be, to resist the short term gratification and weight loss failure.

1: Goals must be clear and specific, (what is it EXACTLY you want to achieve and why?)
2: Goals need to be monitored (ideally by an external or independent source). Collect as many statistics that matter, to help you track your progress.
3: Stay focused and realistic, you’re going to need a certain level of will power and self control to get into better habits.
4: You need to be invested in your long term goal. Let people know about it, friends/family/social media (social commitment-you don’t want to look silly in front of people ). Do it for charity (charitable commitment-you don’t want to let down the cause). Pay a fitness professional (a financial commitment-you don’t want to waste your money) etc.
5: Make a plan and get it all down on paper.

Overcoming obstacles

Implementation Intentions is the behaviour you intend to take and the context in which you intend to take it.

If I do ‘X’, then I will do ‘Y’
What: The action will you take?
When: How will you know-create opportunity
Where: Is the obstacle likely to come up?
Tonight (when) at the an all you can eat buffet (where), I will only have one plate (what), with no desert but I’ll have a glass of wine.

The idea here is to be ready. If you’re planning and prepared for any likely obstacles, it forces you form mental links between possible scenarios and what to do, when the event arises, you are in a sense, ‘battle ready’.

Make a plan in advance

I’ve banged on before about the importance of the ‘6P’s’ (Prior Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance) and how essential this simple principle is for any goal. When the focus is weight loss, preparation and pre-commitment needs to be the foundation of your journey. You need to be honest, to be able to anticipate future self control failure and the best ways to do these are as follows:

1: Restrict that opportunity in advance ie don’t buy it.
2: Restrict access to the temptation, ie don’t go near it in the first place.
3: Make it costly to fail, for example donate your ‘losings to a charity you don’t like, or make a bet with someone.

Think differently to resist temptation

Another great way to resist temptation, is to dis-associate any emotion for the said item, by picturing it differently. Take for example the chocolate cakes below:

Which one looks more appealing, the illustration on the left or the right? Hopefully you’ve said the chocolate cake on the right, (otherwise you’re a bit weird). In the picture, we can see the cake in all it’s clear detailed glory. We can associate with it easier, because it’s real and likely because we’ve had it before and because we have an image in the mind, we can then find it easier to associate other senses. When you fancy something, our mind creates an image of what we want in every detail, even when you recall an image, you can still remember the taste, the smell and even the sensation of it getting stuck in your teeth (sorry if i’ve made fancy take now-but if have, that just goes to prove a point). If you’re craving chocolate cake at the suggestion of it now, do this; Change the image to an illustration, change the smell to a bleach (or something you dislike) and change the taste to off milk (or again taste you dislike). Still have the same craving?

Another technique you can use, is to change the image in your mind to black and white, fade it out or make it blurry. How delicious does the picture now, not look…

Where there is a will, there is a way

Nope. Where there is a motive there is a way. At the end of the day, motivation is all you need for success. Then you need a plan. What resources are going to need? Who’s going to support and guide you? The only point at which you’re going need ‘will’, is when you tell someone what you ‘will’ do and then commit to it.

What will you do, to take you one step closer to your goal?

Phil Snowden
The fat Loss & Performance Coach

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