Life is full of temptations.
And they are only magnified the harder you try to resist them (I’ll explain why below).
You’ll find day-old donuts in the lunch room appetizing after starting a diet, or the smell of a cigarette will lure you just as you’ve resolved to quit smoking.
So what makes you able to exert self-control in these situations?
The strength of your willpower: which is the ability to say no when your entire being is telling you yes.
Your willpower is tested in different forms throughout the day, be it life-sized chocolate bunnies, cigarettes or a casino VLT.
How do you resist?
Here are three ways to use willpower to your advantage:
Conserve Your Willpower Wisely
Willpower is a limited resource, so you need to focus it on the big rocks that’ll help move your life forward (you can build up your willpower, as I’ll show you in Part 2 of this article)
First, you must determine which habits are hurting your health and life the most and focus your willpower on eliminating those habits and replacing them with good habits. (For strategies to replace bad habits with good ones, read this)
Maybe that bad habit you need to kick is your sedentary lifestyle. You feel sluggish and survive on caffeine and snacks to get through the day, and you know it’ll catch up to you eventually.
You need to get active – not just to feel better now but to be healthier in the future.
You’ll need to reduce the amount of time you spend on sedentary activities (watching TV, playing video games etc.).
The next challenge you’ll face is the strength to do what you dislike now for a better future.
These tasks are both unpleasant and necessary to achieve your goals – in this case, those tasks involve working out and eating right.
But you know it’s in your best interests to keep at it. Why, then, do you self sabotage your efforts?
Your vulnerability to instant gratification gets in the way (it happens to us all)
When a temptation is staring right at you, like that donut in the office lunchroom (it’s just you and the donut in a quiet, empty room with no one to judge you), resistance often feels futile because the reward system in our brain reacts so strongly to visible rewards. The brain wants dopamine and that donut will give it.
How do you resist?
Out of Sight, Out of Mind
Because visible rewards make you overestimate the benefits of instant gratification and underestimate the value of exerting self-control, this leads you to impulsive decisions that sabotage your efforts.
But those temptations become weaker if they’re not within sight or smell.
In one study referenced in The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal, office workers were subjected to candy that was either placed out of sight inside a desk drawer or on top of the table. When the candy was stored away, the subjects’ candy consumption was reduced by 33%.
Out of Mind, Not Out of Mouth?
The messed up thing is the more you try not to think about cheating on your diet – or reaching for that cigarette – the more likely you are to cave in sooner than later.
In one study again mentioned in The Willpower Instinct, women were invited for a taste test of two similar chocolates. Before bringing in the chocolate, the researcher asked the participants to think out loud for five minutes. One group was instructed to suppress any thoughts about chocolate, while the other group were free to think about whatever they wanted.
In a cruel twist, the group that received the instructions not to think about chocolate ate twice as much when it was put in front of them.
When it comes to dieting, the more you try and resist a certain food, the more your mind becomes preoccupied by it.
So how can you overcome cravings without pushing them away?
When you’re on a diet, don’t deprive yourself of your favorite foods because it will only increase your cravings.
Instead of deciding “you won’t” eat fast food or cupcakes, devote your energy to the idea that “you will” eat more healthy food. A decline in unhealthy food will automatically follow and you’ll have a much easier time sticking to such a positive challenge.
As Jordan Syatt of Syatt Fitness summed up: “Successful fat loss begins not with food restriction but the addition of various habits,” Syatt said.
“Add more to your diet and lifestyle through the incorporation of more protein, more vegetables, more fluids, more sleep, and more self-awareness. Focus on adding to your lifestyle rather than restricting and your mindset and results will change for the better.”
To Be Continued in Part 2…
How do you achieve weight loss success when you can’t hide the temptations in the house?
Your kids like their treats, your job drains your willpower and you just want to eat that pint of Ben & Jerry’s on the couch tonight?
In Part 2 of this article coming in a few days, you’ll discover three surprising ways to boost willpower in spite of life’s challenges.
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