March 29, 2014

Flexing the Willpower Muscle. ~ Lauren Dobey, HHC

Photo: Caza No 7

“Don’t do that!”

We all say this ourselves at one time or another. We say it when we are about to “indulge” in behaviors that cause us to feel a short-term pleasure for long-term pain.

Many people believe that they could improve their lives if only they had more willpower. With more self-control we would eat better, exercise more regularly, save for retirement or avoid drugs and alcohol.

Lack of willpower is one of the greatest barriers to change.

At the core, willpower is the ability to resist short-term temptations in order to meet long-term goals.

It can also be defined as the capacity to override an unwanted thought, feeling or impulse. Research also tells us that it is a limited resource.

Each of us only has so much of it. The good news is that willpower can be learned over time and we can strengthen that “muscle.”

There have been times in all of our lives where we knew we could be treating ourselves just a little better, listening to our bodies more closely, and loving and accepting ourselves more. There is a voice inside saying, “This isn’t in your best interest” or, “I know I will feel like s**t after I eat this entire cake.”

Why do we find it so hard to take action and listen to what our bodies are telling us? After all, aren’t we in control of our lives at all times?


Often it just feels a hell of a lot easier to avoid addressing our primary needs of a healthy weight and a happy life. Sometimes we are feeling a little lazy and we don’t want to be inconvenienced.

Instinctively we know we shouldn’t have that candy-bar or that soda. We know it’s bad for us, yet we feel powerless to it. It’s calling our name—taunting us. We can’t be in the same room with these things for fear that we will eat the entire bag of chips, or drink the half liter of soda in one sitting.

When we avoid our thoughts and feelings, we are really doing a disservice to ourselves.

We are saying, “I am not important enough to listen to what my body needs.”

It may require us to take undesired actions, such as preparing home-cooked meals, versus getting take-out. It may cause unpleasant emotions, like “I do not deserve to take a break and rest.”

Or it may drive us to have that difficult conversation with a loved one—the one we’ve been avoiding. Sometimes the food craving we are having is related to a feeling deep within that we aren’t willing to acknowledge.

Pay attention to your feelings; don’t eat them.

How can we break the cycle?

As we become aware of our thoughts and feelings, we can shed some light on the root issues. Each time we have the self-awareness, the light gets brighter and illuminates the path. Soon we are able to clearly see that we need to make better choices; choices that better serve us and allow us to live our best lives. Over time we are able to reach our goals and dreams.

Here are a few tips to help you strengthen your health and wellness willpower:

1. Plan accordingly.

Now that you know willpower is a limited resource, you can anticipate and plan for times of low self-control. Don’t go to the grocery store on an empty stomach—or at least avoid the cookie aisle. Eat a healthy snack before a dinner party and you will be less inclined to over do it at the cheese platter.

2. Strengthen your willpower muscle.

Just like doing bicep curls at the gym can build strong biceps over time, practicing willpower will help your willpower to grow. So, push yourself. Tempt yourself. But do it with the awareness and determination that you won’t succumb to the temptation.

3. Pat yourself on the back

Be gentle on yourself. Don’t beat yourself up if you slip up. Be grateful that you are willing to make the changes necessary to improve your life. Write down your accomplishments so that you can proudly look back at your growth.

I hope these tips will help you to realize your ability to overcome your willpower triggers and will lead you towards achieving your goals.

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 Editorial Assistant: Kim Haas / Editor: Rachel Nussbaum

Photo: elephant journal archives

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Lauren Dobey, HHC