Weight Loss and Willpower go hand in hand – or do they? The word ‘willpower’ is defined as ‘the ability to control your thoughts and behavior in order to achieve something.’ Adapted to the typical weight loss scenario, the process goes along the lines of:
1) need/want to lose weight
2) find a diet or program to follow
3) purchase/sign-up for this program
4) use willpower to stay on the diet until I reach my goals
5) feel happiness
This process is successful, statistically speaking, in 9% of the cases. What happened to the other 91%?
Where did it all go wrong?
The desire to lose weight is strong (Step 1) and the process to lose weight is available (Steps 2-3), assuming that an appropriate diet has been chosen. Step 4 is where most people falter and fail. The unsuspecting dieter started his journey with just one tool in his implementation toolbox: an unreliable tool called willpower. (More about that later).
It can come as a relief to know that willpower is an unreliable supporter of a dieter’s success. The word conjures up images of gritting teeth, using one hand to slap the other one as it reaches for a cookie, going to bed hungry, and endless fidgeting in front of the TV where snacks used to be so comforting. Look at the Dictionary definition of willpower above and ask yourself, if you did not have the ability to control your thoughts and actions before, how will you flip the switch to do so now?
This leads us to our next question: Where can additional willpower be obtained? It can be argued that willpower can be trained and practiced (by doing even more things you don’t want to do). But experience has shown that motivation, willpower, inspiration, and discipline are highly volatile, abstract concepts. A disciplined worker, upon winning the lottery, may lose his motivation to work from one moment to the next. A dieter may wake up in the morning determined to make this the best diet day ever, but somewhere around 5pm, she’s tired from work, hungry, has 3 cranky kids in tow, it’s pouring rain outside, a pile of bills awaits in the mailbox, and a headache sets in. Willpower is suddenly nowhere in sight.
Breaking a diet has a very high emotional price to pay in lowered self-esteem, frustration, and a feeling of failure.
A Better Way…
Let us go back to the metaphor of the toolbox. The weight loss journey ’toolbox’ had hopes and desires in it, it had a diet plan in it, and one lonely implementation tool for Step 4 called willpower. Just imagine you opened up the toolbox and removed willpower, calmly and objectively, knowing that this is not the right tool for the job. Just the same as you’d use a hammer instead of a saw to drive a nail into a wall, you’re going to find a better way to make this diet stick.
Here is how you can re-fortify your toolbox, by re-writing Step 4 above and ensuring that you reach Step 5, the best step of all. Here is a recommended list of valuable, friendly, empowering tools:
- Reconnect with the real reason you are losing weight, the deeper reasons that reflect your true values.
- Revisit your daily, concrete, measurable, tiny goals and re-design these as many times as you need to. Head over to dailyfeats.com for inspiration.
- Get support. A lot of it and everywhere. People, technology, accountability – you can’t have enough.
- Define your healthy boundaries. Practice saying ‘no, thank you’ to yourself in the mirror so you are good at it when the cake comes along.
- Revisit and upgrade your interpretation of the word Are you depriving yourself of chocolate or have you been depriving your body of nutrients, sleep, happiness and everything else?
- Prepare for setbacks and create strategies before they happen (and they will).
- Check who you spend your time with. Hint: You are 57% more likely to become obese if your friend becomes obese
- Appreciate all the wonderful things about being you! Put post-its all over your house with encouraging affirmations. Your body deserves a round of applause for all the hard work it does for you every day.
Your new toolbox is now complete. You may squeeze willpower back in there but it probably won’t fit and you probably won’t need it any more.
Why you don’t need Willpower to lose weight