Many people struggle with applying willpower or having self-control. A growing body of research shows that resisting repeated temptation takes a mental toll, with some experts linking willpower to a muscle that gets fatigued from overuse.
Should we then just make peace with the fact that it’s difficult to maintain self-control and give up before we’ve started? Of course not! It’s possible to have enough self-control and willpower to see something through. One of the things that have a huge influence on your willpower and self-control is the strength of the reason why you feel you have to apply self-control. If you have to apply self-control for a diet you’re following, ask yourself why are you following the diet? Why do you want to lose weight? This will help you determine your motivation for your action.
There are Two Types of Motivation:
When you are motivated by something on the inside; something that you can derive pleasure and meaning from within.
When you are motivated by something outside yourself. Common extrinsic motivations are rewards (for example money or grades). In another study done by Mark Muraven, PhD, and colleagues, at the University at Albany, they found that people who felt compelled to exert self-control (in order to please others, for example) were more easily depleted of their self-control than people driven by their own internal beliefs, desires or goals. Successfully applying willpower or self-control can only be done if you’re intrinsically motivated because extrinsic motivation doesn’t last. You need to find something inside yourself that motivates you to change or that motivates you to push through.
The problem with extrinsic motivation, like being motivated to lose weight for a wedding or losing weight to fit into a certain dress, is that people never plan for what they are going to do after they reach their goal. If you want to stay motivated and if you want to keep on applying self-control, you need to find something deep inside yourself that motivates you to change. Intrinsic motivation doesn’t have an expiry date.
It’s our ‘why’ that will carry us through difficult days or through those days where motivation is lacking. When determining your ‘why’, or your purpose, ask yourself, ‘what drives me? What is my greatest desire?’ Purpose gives us energy, focus and perseverance during our most trying times. “Attempting to make a lifestyle change without knowing the reason you’re doing so is like driving to someone’s home when you don’t have the address. You’d be driving forever without ever reaching your destination. Purpose is what gives you direction and motivation for achievement”, says Dr. Jade Teta, an integrative physician, naturopath, and author of the book ‘The Metabolic Effect’. If you have a solid purpose making the necessary changes will be a lot easier. Your true purpose will help you get out of bed early in the morning, will help you pack your meals, and will motivate and sustain you for the long haul.
After determining your purpose and finding your ‘why’, you should imprint the same beliefs into your unconscious mind by focusing your imagination on exactly what you want. You can do this by using two tools:
1. Purpose visualisation:
Involves imagining yourself doing something that is very closely tied to your purpose. During purpose visualisation you take the role of a third person, thus you imagine yourself as if you’re standing outside your body watching yourself. Try to imagine as detailed as possible – colours, words, faces, smells, shapes, voices – the more realistic the visualisation, the bigger the impact. The best time for you to do purpose visualisation is just before you doze off at night because then your unconscious mind is most receptive and your conscious mind is less intrusive.
2. Pre-emptive visualisation:
This technique should be done first thing in the morning. It includes playing out the schedule of the coming day in your head, exactly as you expect it to play out; a kind of mental dress rehearsal. This technique is really simple and can be done in the shower or on your way to work. These simple techniques will help you become more effective the more you use them because every time you practise them you’re creating your new reality.
One of the biggest mistakes women make is trying to follow a diet that is too extreme or a diet that consists of food they hate, or one that doesn’t suit their lifestyle. For you to maintain a diet like this will require a lot of self-control and, as we’ve already discussed, willpower can become fatigued from overuse. This also explains why women succeed in following a very strict diet for a couple of weeks, but as soon as they stop or give up they’ll eat everything in sight and really struggle to apply self-control. This results in yo-yo dieting, which is very bad for your health.
Preparation and planning
Benjamin Franklin famously said; “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!” If you want to succeed you need to plan to succeed, and everything that you do has to prepare you for success. One of the biggest reasons why people fail at their plan is because they don’t prepare properly. If you fail to prepare your food for the week, you will need to apply a lot more willpower and self-control during that time. Planning and preparation take the think-work out of the equation because if your meals are packed and ready to go the chances that you’ll be tempted to eat something else are reduced. Do yourself a favour and get into a routine of planning and preparing to succeed.
Make the right choice
After getting all these steps in order, it will become easier to make the right choices, day in and day out. The truth is that making a lifestyle change becomes easier with time, but you will be making choices for the rest of your life. What we choose to eat, how we choose to feel, what we’re going to wear, what we’re going to do today all come down to simple choices. And not making a decision is also a choice. The sooner you make peace with this fact, the better because then you can start aligning your life so that making the right choices will be easier. Many people resist any attempt at scheduling and planning, but doing so is crucial to making successful.
Author: Tanja Schmitz
Founder and Editor of Fitness Magazine. You’ll find her behind her computer or on her bike, dreaming up new ways to improve or create content for you.