Willpower is “control deliberately exerted to do something, or to restrain one’s own impulses”. Synonyms for willpower include such words as determination, tenacity, strength of character. We admire people who have a lot of willpower, and we look down on those who don’t as lazy and weak.
As a health coach who specializes in Habit Change, I think willpower is over- rated – willpower is best used in the first few weeks of a new commitment, but it’s no good in the long term. In fact, studies show that when a person resists temptation in one moment, they are less likely to be able to resist another temptation, even if it is totally different, later in the day, because we only have a certain amount of willpower we can muster each day, before we get exhausted and need to replenish. Who wants to willpower through life?
A better way to maintain a lifestyle change is to PLAN. Relying on good strategies will lessen reliance on our willpower in the face of temptation. Since this is the holiday season, I offer a few ways for you to avoid the ubiquitous holiday treats and maintain your exercise schedule:
- If your workplace has candies and cookie baskets arriving daily, or leftovers from the office holiday party still linger, bring some snacks from home that you can enjoy instead. Taking the reins and substituting something healthier is far more likely to help you succeed than if you deny yourself completely. Never leave a void, always have a healthy substitute on hand!
- This goes for all those parties too – bring a healthy dish you enjoy to that potluck to ensure you have something to eat. Choose a dessert size plate so you feel satisfied but not overstuffed. Remember to pay more attention to the people at the party than the food table. In fact, plant yourself in another room!
- Before you dine at a restaurant, look at the menu online first and decide what you are going to order. Commit to it by telling your dinner date or writing it down. Savor and anticipate that meal choice so that by the time you are at the restaurant, you will not get sidetracked by other options. Get into the habit of not touching the bread by focusing on conversation with your friends. Order hot tea after your main course to help you resist dessert. If you really want something sweet, ask the waiter for fruit.
- With the chaos of shopping, travel and visitors at this time of year, our workouts get forgotten. This is actually when you need to exercise the most, so schedule your workout times in advance and let everyone know you are not available then. Heck, maybe a family member will want to join you! If you are traveling, use the internet to find nearby gyms, exercise groups or running trails. What a fun way to change up your exercise routine!
The bottom line is, we can get through the holidays without losing our sanity or gaining a pound if we plan ahead. We will need less willpower because we have set ourselves up for success with a few simple strategies.