Where does willpower go after the sun goes down? Our morning iron will seems to deteriorate by evening, and we start feeling defenseless against temptation. You know what I mean— that donut you didn’t think twice about at 10:00 a.m. seduces you at 10:00 p.m. Why does this happen?
I used to think that sticking to a fitness regimen was just a matter of wanting it badly enough. Yes, a strong desire will help push you through tough workouts and restrain you from the peanut butter jar, but it isn’t always enough.
Most researchers agree that willpower is like a muscle. It can get depleted from overwork and can be strengthened with practice. One theory is that willpower is depleted when one is forced to use it all day long. For example, having to dodge donuts all day at work may lead you to finally give in at the end of the day. Think about it like performing an exercise until failure.
Another theory is that willpower is depleted from mental fatigue. If you are making lots of decisions all day, you become mentally exhausted, making it difficult to continue to make good choices.
Either way, knowing that willpower can be variable and exhausted on any given day, there are a few things you can do to STRENGTHEN YOUR WILLPOWER:
Eat protein frequently. Research by social psychologist Roy F. Baumeister concluded that willpower wanes when one’s blood glucose levels are low. This leads to a contradiction for dieters: you need willpower to restrain calories (i.e., diet), but you need to eat to have willpower. This is yet another reason why having small meals containing protein (rather than fasting) is one of the best long-term weight loss and weight maintenance strategies.
Set it & forget it. Considering that resisting temptation and making decisions may deplete your daily willpower, have a specific plan that you follow without question. This will minimize the opportunity to act impulsively.
Make it fun. Researchers have found that when a goal is perceived as fun, it’s much easier to consistently exercise willpower. Frame your goal as a happy, amazing accomplishment and think of the path as an exciting, fun challenge. Don’t allow yourself to focus on the pain and obstacles, as this will deplete your willpower. Also, try infusing fun into your diet and training by inviting friends to train with you, incorporating new challenges into your program and making small tweaks to your diet (i.e. switching up your salad toppers) to keep it interesting.
Stop looking for trouble. After you’re done eating, leave the kitchen. If it’s not mealtime, stay out of the kitchen. If you poke around looking for that one little thing to satisfy you, you’re just looking for trouble, as your willpower may not hold up.
Refuel with rest and recreation. Mental fatigue drains your willpower, so make sure you are giving yourself sufficient rest and relaxation every day. This means 7-9 hours of sleep per night and short breaks throughout the day to refuel your mind and body. From experience, keeping a consistent frantic pace will catch up to you.
Watch your words. Believing you have willpower will help you manifest more willpower. Creating this belief begins with our thoughts and is reinforced by action. Repeating seemingly innocent comments like, “My weakness is candy” or “I just can’t resist cookies” reinforces and keeps us repeating bad habits. Instead, strengthen your willpower by saying statements like: “I make decisions that align with my exciting goals.”
Push Toward Your Best
As you continue to flex your willpower, especially during those times when you feel like you have none, you are strengthening your resolve and forming habits. Habits make sticking to a fitness program feel like a necessary and natural part of your daily routine like brushing your teeth. Once your goals become a series of habits, you’ll free up your willpower for use in the pursuit of new and exciting goals.
Keep pushing— your best is waiting.