Willpower Alone Doesn't Cut It: What You Actually Need to Change Your Life
If all it took was some willpower to accomplish the things we want done, I think we'd be checking off goals left, right and center. Sign-up for that obstacle race that you have been wanting to try? Consider that finish line crossed! Go back to school and finish a degree? Enrolled. Check. NEXT!
Willpower by its definition is "using only the thought of your motivators to guide your behavior." For example, if one's goal was to "lose weight with portion control," and you were out to eat at a restaurant with a massive plate of food in front of you, strong willpower would mean that you decide that you are only going to eat a third of it, box the rest up and save it for multiple more meals the rest of the week...then doing just that. It's tough, right? Chances are, you eat more than you wanted, feel way too full and uncomfortable, then feel like you're a failure for not having stronger willpower to stick to your goal. (P.S. You're not a failure, this is normal) Willpower is often thought of in psychology as a finite resource; a pool of drive and determination that gets used up over the course of the day. If the day is particularly trying, you may find it all dried up, leaving you feeling powerless to stop the trips to the cupboard for night-time munchies.
Therefore, willpower must be backed up with accountabilitypower. I like the phrase coined by Meg Selig in an article at Psychology Today: Changepower. With "changepower," you're using a network of: realistic action plans; altering your environment; and installing accountability with others to reach goals and make lasting change. Willpower itself relies too much on the individual. It essentially requires you, as an individual on your own, to weather the storm of internal struggle that is happening when trying to change a behavior. The thought that more willpower is needed can be exactly what is holding you back in the first place.
When planning goals, you have to ask yourself a few questions:
1. "What do I really want? Really, actually want?"
It may seem that you want a certain goal but time and again you find yourself relying on willpower to get you there. An exercise I use for this is The 5 Whys. Pull out a piece of paper or open a word document on your computer. Write your goal at the top then ask yourself why you want that goal. Build from that reason and ask yourself why again....and again...up to 5 times until you really get to the root of why you want that goal. More often than not, there is a deep emotional reason attached to why you wish to achieve it. If you find that your why isn't that compelling for you, you need to find something else that is a higher priority.
2. "Am I ready, willing and able to achieve this goal?"
Again, you may find that this goal isn't really that important to you or that--when it gets right down to it--you're not willing to do what it takes to get there. And that is ok. Honestly. The last thing you need to do for your health is to try to force yourself through doing things you dislike for something you might not actually want.
After doing the above exercises and finding what you're really after, accountability and action plans need to be put in place to give you a roadmap to get from point A to point B. The roadmap and "how you get there" is up to YOU but the biggest thing for everybody is having a support team. Instead of the individual approach of willpower, real life change comes from connection. It's about getting other people involved in your goals, let them help keep you accountable, set up your environment for success and have REAL action plans in place to help you out when life gets in the way of what you're working towards. For example, that restaurant dinner above? Ask your server before your meal comes out if you can have a box ahead of time. That way, when it gets there, you portion out exactly what you planned to eat and the rest goes home with you for another time. Also, if the person you're with is a spouse/partner or someone you trust, get them involved: ask them to stop you at a certain point in the meal with some agreed upon signal. This point can either make you stop and check in with your hunger level (you might not even be hungry anymore) or can be your actual stopping point for the meal. You might even want to share the entree with them if they happen to be working towards similar goals!
Need more help? Not sure how to start the process? A wellness and/or nutrition coach's job is to collaborate with you during the process of change to help you work through what is most important to you now, plan the steps you need to get there and keep you accountable along the way so you have forward progress throughout. I happen to be one of those coaches...