Willpower Warriors - prepare, protect and empower yourself
Sound like a job for “future me”?
Most of us know a little bit about what we need to do when it comes to keeping ourselves slim, healthy and fit.
Most of us know that drinking too much booze, smoking and spending too many hours scrolling through social media each day is bad for us!
WHY do we do it?
To help me answer this…I did a bunch of research and I was extremely excited to find that my main lady crush (Health Psychologist Kelly Mc Gonigal) actually created a school at Stanford University called the “Science of Willpower”. She created it to help answer this exact question (it’s like we're connected…if only I wasn't years behind her in my knowledge journey).
She has even written a book called the “The Willpower Instinct” and it is the BOMB. If you make it to the bottom of this article and want to learn more about this kind of stuff…check it out!
There are a few theories as to why we don’t just get our booty into gear and do what we should do. One of these theories (which is dominant in psychological and neuroscience literature), is that we have two minds/selves:
a “present-self” (P) who is more interested in immediate gratification, the more instinctual self - the one who wants that Ben and Jerry’s
a “future-self” (F) who is more mindful about what is going into your body and mind and what will happen in the long run.
There are some people that have these 2 minds overlapping a lot…and some that don’t at all.
There are also people that tend to think that their “true-self” is the present self. Whilst writing this blog...I realised that I am one of these people...
Although I’m big into health a lot of the time…I find that I often say to myself “I’m the boozy person”, "I'm the cheese to the extreme person”…I think that’s like me saying to myself “Oh yeah…I’m the fun guy!”. Nb: I am aware that admitting this is quite embarrassing.
I also think I connect this to spontenaeity and creativity. This is who I think I am at my core, not the person who can eat in moderation and is otherwise self-controlled.
But guess what…BOTH OF THESE MINDS are me.
One is just a bit more full of wisdom, and the other full of the need for self-gratification.
One comes out to play when I’m stressed, tired and moody…the other thrives when I’m in my superhero mode.
These two minds need to get better equated.
Whether you relate to this at all, or you are somewhere else on the healthier side of the spectrum…the GOOD NEWS is that there are a bunch of simple, evidence based tricks that can help you move even closer to tee-ing these peeps up and helping you achieve your goals!
What can influence your two minds?
The make up of your brain! (sleep, meditation, physical exercise, diet)
How you respond to failures
A disconnect with your “future self”
Surfing the Urge (mindfulness technique)
1. Willpower Brain Boost
As I’ve mentioned before…our brain is trainable. Remove the excuse of “it’s just the way I’m made up”…coz you can change your brain’s physiology in as little as a few months if you want to and you take action!
To get your Brain Physiology in the best shape to help you face willpower challenges:
SLEEP! - Many studies have been done that show that if you are sleep deprived (less than 6 hours) you will be at more risk of relapse to risky behaviours. It actually impairs your pre-frontal cortex!
MEDITATE! - Research says that as little as 10 mins per day will mean better sleep and additionally help strengthen your willpower muscle. Why not start with 3 mins and work your way up to 20-30. If you’re a beginner at this, I recommend downloading an app. The one I’m using at the moment is Calm.
EXERCISE - will not only make your PFC more efficient at using self-control mechanisms, but it will actually help it to become bigger and better connected to the regions they are supposed to be controlling.
DIET - Low-glycymic diets have been renowned for being better for monitoring cravings (going up and down on the blood sugar roller coaster is not good for resisting the donuts and wine) but it seems that there is actually more evidence to support that a more plant-based diet could be even more effective. Vegans rejoice! Meateaters - make sure keep to a low-glycemic diet where you can!
Doing these things may seem like they’ll take willpower to start, but the research shows that you’ll get back more than you give!
2. Don’t beat yourself up!
A lot of people think that if they fall off the wagon they will somehow be better-off if they make sure they teach themselves a tough lesson and beat themselves up A LOT.
Research shows that the harder you are on yourself, the more likely you are to run back to that behaviour that made you feel this way…this doesn't just apply to things like drinking, smoking and gambling, but procrastination and much more.
What would you say to a friend or family member who fell off the wagon? Would you yell and scream and tell them they were worthless? (I BLOODY HELL HOPE NOT).
So why would you talk to yourself that way?
HOT TIP: When you break the diet or drink too much give yourself a “self-compassion message”...
“I don’t feel great about what I’ve done and am feeling a little guilty. However, no-one is perfect. Having hiccups in this journey is all a part of the process of change and it happens to everyone. Don’t beat yourself up, just pick yourself up and try again. You are powerful.”
Nb: A similar version to this message was found to be more powerful than nicotine therapy when tested.
You are NOT innately broken.
You are not the only person in the world who gives into temptation.
Play yourself SURVIVOR by Destiny’s Child or TUBTHUMPING by Chumbawamba (ignoring that it largely talks about booze) and GET BACK UP AGAIN... straight away…don’t do the whole “I’ll start being healthy again on Monday” thing.
Power up and start NOW!
3. Get to know your future-self.
I like to blame past me for things…the present me is totally guilt-free and the future me is never going to come to pass “I’ll leave this for future Laura”.
Nb. PAIN for “FUTURE YOU” is going to be just as painful!
This is more common than I thought, and it has been found that people who think like this are more likely to have less willpower.
Try these things to connect the yous:
Imagine yourself 20 years older walking around your local shopping centre - imagine you have ignored all of your health goals —-what would you look like, how would you be acting?
Write yourself a letter from your future self to your present self
“Hey, nicely done re giving up binge drinking every weekend. Your skin became radiant, you started jogging more and your dance skills went from amazing to OUT-OF-THIS-WORLD”...but make it sincere and meaningful.
4. Prepare for failure
It is GREAT to have confidence in yourself and in your ability to achieve your goals. That, however, doesn’t mean that you should be a silly sausage.
Positivity and naivety are two different things.
To properly prepare for a game, football players focus on their strengths and acknowledge their weaknesses!
Think about when you might break your willpower challenge…When will it happen?
How will it happen?
And then PLAN what you are going to do to stop it! This tactic is most successful if done regularly - updating the challenges and plan of action as you go through the week!
As someone who LOVES a glass of wine or a beer in the pub on the weekends, Sober October was tough for me.
To help increase my chance of success I got out the calendar and mapped out all of the times that I thought my willpower would be tested and put in place extra “padding” for those times (ie. bringing a bottle of alcohol free wine to a dinner party so I have something more exciting than water to drink).
5. Surfing the Urge
This is a Mindfulness Technique where you recognise (rather than try and ignore) the physical symptoms of the urge. Whether it be an urge to grab a chocolate bar, smoke, avoid a social situation etc
You must give the physical feelings your FULL attention and TRUST that you can tolerate the symptoms. If you wait - it WILL pass if you just breathe and wait.
Imagine the urge as a wave…as it curls over and is the most powerful…breath…give your body a chance to take a moment to plan…once you feel a little removed…look for something that will help you achieve your goal…eventually it will crash at the shore and end.
This helps CUT THE LINK between stress and giving in!
When thinking about starting to plan to work on your willpower muscle….DON’T OVERTHINK IT! Just pick one of the things above and start. Start with the one that seems like the easiest one for you (they will all help increase "willpower").
You can never rely on your self-motivation because that will almost always take the route of least resistance…
-The “stay in bed a little longer” path
-The “I’ll just start on Monday” path
We are not designed to make ourselves feel uncomfortable…but sometimes the uncomfortable (the road less travelled) is exactly where we need to go!
So don’t wait for motivation…just DO IT.
Feel the urge to resist the challenge, look it straight in the eye and tell it to GET LOST!
You are strong.
You can do this.