I Have No Willpower
How many times have you said to yourself, “I’m weak” or “I have no willpower” just before indulging in something that’s not too good for you? It’s something I hear from people all the time. Yes, I can fall into that trap too. Yesterday my husband brought home some Indian take-out and asked me if I wanted a Samosa. My habitual response was to preface the yes with, “I’m weak.” Fortunately I was in the middle of writing this article and caught myself.
Call it resolve, motivation, grit or willpower, we seem to have it in spades one moment and then it’s gone in a puff of smoke the next. The pattern is predictable. You have a goal, to lose weight, to stop eating cookies, or chips or fried chicken — and you resist, resist, resist — until you can’t. And since you’ve fallen off the wagon you have no willpower. So why bother at all?
Fact or belief
Let’s look at the statement, “I have no willpower.” Is it a fact, or simply something I believe about myself? I bet you’re thinking, it’s a fact and I know it’s true because I have plenty of evidence. I’m sure you could rattle off a gazillion incidents, like when you’ve bought a dozen donuts for the office and started digging into the box before you were even out of the parking lot. Yup here’s the proof, I have no willpower. And as the evidence has mounted up and turned into extra pounds you think, why bother I have no willpower. And give up.
What’s happened? There’s a negative feedback loop at work here. Where identity shapes behavior and behavior shapes identity.
Turn the negative loop into a positive one
Let’s look at this from a different perspective. What if, instead of a fact you look at the statement, “I have no willpower” as a belief you have about yourself? It’s actually learned and the good news is, if it’s learned it can be unlearned. My guess is, you have plenty of willpower, you’ve just discounted it. It’s the negative bias at work. In your mind incidents of overeating tend to overshadow all the times you actually made good choices. Eating too much of the wrong thing, whether it’s one donut or the whole box, can have a demoralizing effect. And that demoralized funk is when we tend to give up entirely. It’s not your failing, it’s human nature.
Let’s start by changing your mindset. It really is possible to start believing in your own strengths. First, anchor onto a few positive beliefs. Even if you don’t believe them now, they’re things you want to start believing. Beliefs like, I’m strong and I make healthy food choices. It’s important to put the statement here and now. Not, I WILL make healthy choices, but I MAKE healthy choices. Then start taking action and giving yourself credit for every small win. You saw a candybar at the pharmacy check out, it called to you and you ignored it. Win. A colleague offers you a donut and you say “No thank you.” Win. You ate an extra-large helping of broccoli. Win. As the little wins mount up you will slowly turn that negative loop into a positive one and start believing it. The more wins you acknowledge, the more you will believe it and the more you believe it the more wins you will have. Will you be perfect? No. You’re human and the truth is perfection isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.
As for the times you make a not-so-great choice? Like when your husband walks through the door with Samosas. Make a conscious and deliberate choice, eat the Samosa not because of weakness or failure, but because you want the damn Samosa. Enjoy every bite and then continue with good choices and small wins. Trust me, they will add up over time.