If I only had more willpower...then I'd finally have the body I've always wanted!
No matter how committed you've felt to a goal, you've probably had moments in your life where you seem to have lost your, "willpower"
You can't help but order the burger and fries at the restaurant (even though there are quite a few healthier options).
Your alarm goes off at 5AM for the gym, but you're too tired, hit the snooze button, missing yet another workout.
You walk past the candy jar 3 times, but you grab a couple of pieces the 4th time you pass. Then again the 5th and 6th time too…
I JUST NEED MORE WILLPOWER!
All of these scenarios raise some common (nasty) questions: Am I just a lazy, no good, never gonna succeed person? Am I doomed to forever being how I am? Why don't I have the same amount of willpower successful people have?!
Well, I've got some good new.
You're probably not a lazy, good for nothing person.
No, you don't have to be doomed forever.
And believe it or not, successful people don't have any more willpower than you have.
The Problem with Willpower
The way you use willpower in your mission to drop extra pounds has some problems.
Actually, a lot of problems.
First, what is willpower? Willpower is an internal force that pushes us to do something we don't normally do.
Notice the word "force". We force ourselves to do something different - often something we don't necessarily WANT to do.
For example, when you don't WANT to eat a salad for lunch, but you force yourself to make the choice because, "it's the healthy thing to do."
When you don't WANT to go to the gym, but you push past all negative talk about how tired you are, how much you hate the gym mirrors and go anyway.
On it's surface, willpower looks great! It makes you do the things that you need to do to achieve your goal.
The problem with willpower is it takes a lot of mental energy and it's finite. You only possess so much willpower in a day.
You can only push yourself to do something that you don't normally do for so long.
At a certain point, you'll use up all your willpower. That's usually when trouble beings...
Now, does that make you "bad" or "weak" or "not good enough"? I don't believe so. I believe everyone has the capabilities to be great at whatever one decides to be great at.
This leaves a few questions: What's missing that has you make choices that don't support your goals, over and over again? Why are you consistently coming up short?
Willpower versus Skill Power
I'm going to propose a totally different way of looking at how to obtain results.
Consider results are tied directly to a specific skill set.
Certain goals require certain skills. To achieve said goals, you will have to practice and develop these necessary skills.
This poses a new question, one that offers some concrete answers: What skills do I need to develop to have a higher likelihood of succeeding at my goal?
You can have all the willpower in the world to learn French, but if you don't practice French, you'll never be fluent, regardless of your level of willpower.
The same applies with being "fluent" in nutrition and exercise. There are certain skills required to have the body you've always wanted.
Stay with me here, especially if you believe this does not apply to you. There are a TON of skills required - more than you likely are present to - in successfully living a lifestyle that supports your physical, mental, and social health.
Not to mention, many of these skills are key to STAYING consistent and healthy all the time. If you're relying on willpower alone, eventually you'll run out and go back to your old ways…
Just like learning a foreign language or a musical instrument, practice leads to new skill development. Appropriate skill sets lead to results.
Let's take a look at some skills needed to consistently eat nutritiously. At the end of each skill is a sample practice you can take on to better develop the skill.
Skill 1 - Personal Awareness
Are you mindful when you eat? Are you in tune with body cues telling you that you're full? Are you in tune with body cues telling you that you're hungry?
While this may seem like a basic skill, it's almost never an area of focus. And, it is not something you'll just naturally be good at. It takes practice to develop this awareness.
Believe it or not, for the first 6 of working with new clients, this is mostly what I have my clients focus on. Developing the skill of having body awareness and adjusting their behaviors based on what their body tells them it needs.
Practice: Try eating slowly for the next two weeks. This one practice alone will support your personal awareness around food.
Skill 2 - Owning Your Environment
Your environment has a major impact on your choices. The ability to constantly be aware and make changes to your environment so that it supports your goals is a crucial skill to develop.
How often are you putting yourself in situations where you have to "use up" your willpower? Your environment around you will directly effect how much energy and thought you have to put into eating healthy.
Practice: Take action on the first 4 steps in the Principle of Easy Nutrition blog post.
Skill 3 - Your Cooking
Do your cooking skills allow you to cook healthy and delicious foods?
If you're food tastes like crap, you're probably going to turn to some options that are easier to cook (or order), but don't support your goals!
Being able to cook at a baseline - and beyond - is important to sustainability.
Practice: Try three new recipe that "stretch" your current cooking skills over the next two weeks.
Skill 4 - Organization
What organizational skills might you need that help with your health and fitness goals?
How can you organize your life to set yourself up for success, not matter the circumstances?
Practice: Go through your kitchen and be sure you have the proper meal prep materials. Buy what you don't have.
Bonus practice: Build a "gym bag" that has all your needed gym items ready to go. Store it in your car, office, or any other place that is convenient to your life.
Skill 5 - Future Planning
Do you plan ahead of time and get clear on situations that will pose a challenge?
Practice: Look at your calendar each Sunday and pre-plan your week in your head. Look for times in your week you already know you'll be challenged and envision how you can plan ahead of those challenges before they arise.
Skill 6 - Stress Management
Once you have developed the skill of body and mental awareness, now you can begin noticing your food triggers.
Do you eat when you're stressed, emotional, tired, or for some other reason?
Do you have the skills to deal with these triggers outside of food? Stress management is a skill to develop. Not something that we can "just do".
Practice: Schedule 5 minutes a day to "check-in" with your stress level. Over the next few weeks, try out 2 or 3 stress management techniques. Observer what works for you and build on it.
Skill 7 - A Sleep Routine
Sleep is vital to a healthily lifestyle. A proper sleep routine requires an entire set of skills, many already discussed (personal awareness, stress management, planning ahead, owning your environment).
Practice: Turn off your electronics 1 hour before you sleep every night this week to support healthy sleep.
Skill 8 - Decision Making
Here's where "willpower" and skills begin to blend. Making conscious decisions that support your goals is also a skill.
Over time, you'll become better at making choices that align with your ultimate goals.
This is different than willpower, however, as getting better at making choices that support your goal is usually not from a place of "forcing myself to adhere," but rather a, "I want to make this choice" type of place.
In essence, you're developing your ability to choose your future.
Practice: Make a list of 5 decisions you've been avoiding. Decide, in the moment, how you want to proceed with each of these 5 decisions. Notice how much energy this frees up!
There are many more skills that we have not discussed, but it's a start.
You may have the willpower at times, but if you don't have the adequate skills developed to succeed long term, your willpower will run out at some point… and you'll go back to old habits and routines.
In my opinion, this is why so many people struggle to stay healthy consistently.
Wait. To build the necessary skills, that takes "willpower", right?
Well, I'd call this desire to focus on building your skill set something else.
Skill 9 - One Final Skill
Everyone needs to have an emotional connection to their goal. A purpose behind it. Passion behind it. Something pulling you forward. A goal without gravity has no weight.
If you're emotionally connected to what you're after, that will drive you forward with ENERGY. You won't have to "force" yourself to do certain things. You'll WANT to do the things necessary to succeed.
Now, the ability to be emotionally connected to your goal is ALSO A SKILL.
It takes practice to dig deep down and discover WHY you're doing what you set out to do. Humans don't naturally stay connected to why we do what we do.
We develop automatic behaviors and habits that allow us to save our mental capacity. If we thought about why we we're doing everything we did, we'd never get out of bed!
The challenge with this, of course, is we often develop habits that don't support what we want.
You have to bring awareness back to your life (again, another skill as mentioned above) in order to re-wire how you do things.
Practice: Write down your current goals. Ask yourself, why is this goal important to me? Write down your answer. Then, again, ask yourself, why is my answer important to me? Repeat this process 5 times. Dig deep. Find some emotion.
Where to go from here
The question to end with is: What skills might be missing in your arsenal? What can you practice to get a little better at this skill so you can sustainably move towards your goal?
The development of skills takes times. It's a journey.
But, it works.
And it doesn't just work for the few weeks when you're "feeling it."
It works forever.
A final note
One reason I've adopted this methodology is I see people succeed (and fail) at improving their nutrition, fitness, and health all the time.
When I get to know them, it's never that they "don't want it enough."
Often, when the client and I dig together, we uncover there are just gaps in their skills. And, the skills that are lacking are often the stuff many of us over look (often because they're not as sexy as a crazy diet or intense workout program).
This allows a totally unique approach to coaching, as we're not working to "fix" the client, as there's nothing to be fixed. There are only places where we can develop.
Not to mention, most people have a pretty shitty story about themselves, that they're "not good enough" or "weak" or "bad people" or something else really nasty.
They don't need me thinking that too.
Are you ready to achieve amazing results?
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