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(Note: This article is a part of our 31-day series, “31 Days to a Whole Body Makeover“.)
Why is it we can start a new eating plan, exercise plan, or any other type of lifestyle change, all excited and raring to go, only to find a week or two later we are struggling and wondering why we are even doing this in the first place. What if you get off track? Do you beat yourself up for not sticking to the plan? Do you resign yourself to thinking that the new changes were not for you, and go back to the old ways?
I’m going to tell you some of the tools I use to better exercise willpower and motivation.
Willpower is a Lot Like a Muscle…
Willpower really is a lot like a muscle. The more you exercise it, the stronger it becomes. We know that if you make a change that you repeat over and over again for 21 days straight, it becomes a habit. (Of course, it takes me more like 42 days, har har.)
To illustrate, if you lay a piece of thread down, that thread representing your new good habit, you could easily pull on that string and break it, right? It’s weak! Lay down two strings, three strings, four… you might still be able to easily break it. But lay down 21 strings, and no matter how hard you pull on that pile of strings, which is officially now a rope, they are going to be incredibly difficult to break!
There is a story that asks the question, “If you give a man a penny, does that make him rich?” Of course, you would say, “No,” right? But what if you give him another penny, then another, then another… eventually, the man becomes rich. The Power of One is indeed powerful.
At the same time, our willpower (back to the muscles comparison) only has so much energy within the day. By the end of a busy day, your muscles are tired, and you want nothing more than to veg out and relax on the couch, right? So goes our willpower. We are only able to make so many choices in a day before we just cannot make any more. By the end of the night, your good decision making abilities have gone out the window and before you know it, you’re raiding the junk food cabinet because you’re hungry, and incapable of rational decision making. Your brain has checked out!
So How do We Overcome the Inability to Make Good Choices?
These are all tips that I have personally found incredibly useful. You may find one or two that will work for you, or maybe all will work.
Tip 1: Write it Down
Write down your reasons for wanting to accomplish the things you do. Write in-depth, and really put your feelings onto the paper. When you’re facing temptation, it is so easy to forget those reasons! If we are fiending for something specific, all logic goes out the window! Keep your list in a spot that is handy, and you can reference it in a moment of weakness.
Tip 2: Systematize Your Day
Let’s start this one with the story of one of the founders of Apple, Steve Jobs. People wondered why he always wore a black t-shirt and jeans. For YEARS, this is all he wore. It turns out, Mr. Jobs had to make so many important decisions throughout his day that he did not want to take away the ability to make a good choice by wasting it on what to wear that day. He made his wardrobe part of an automatic daily system. He wanted to make as few decisions in his personal life so that he could save that brain power for his business.
Perhaps making the same foods for lunch every day may help you systematize your day. Or making sure something goes into the slow cooker every morning so that dinner is a no-brainer. Doing this will help you abstain from getting fast food because you are just too tired at the end of the day.
Tip 3: Put it in Your Schedule
When it comes to exercise, I write it into my family schedule. I know it’s there, my husband knows it’s there, so no appointments are made at that time.
I once heard a theory that if you give something “airplane ticket priority”, that makes it top priority. You would never cancel your airline ticket or risk missing your flight, would you? No freaking way! You would completely rearrange everything to make sure you got to that flight on time. By giving the things that matter the most to you airplane ticket priority, you make a date that you’re sure not to break.
Two business-minded people that I follow and admire greatly are Darren Rowse and Pat Flynn. Darren said on his podcast recently that he has everything scheduled, even his daily walk. Pat even has alarms on his phone so that he knows where he needs to be focusing his attention. These two get a crazy amount of work done and at the end of the day, they are both great family men. They are all about their kids once their working day is done.
So schedule in the things that you know are important to you…. because if you don’t get them done, then are they really that important to you?
Tip 4: Set Up Your Environment for Success
If you’re trying to cut something from your diet or any other vice, here is step number one: Throw away the offending products, and then don’t buy any more! If you don’t have it in the house, you’re not going to consume whatever it is that beckons you in the middle of the night.
Instead, fill your cupboards with the things that you should have, so they are always at the ready!
Like I said in my article about switching to clean eating, it’s much easier to avoid temptation than it is to resist it!
Have issues driving past fast food restaurants every day? Take a different route.
Having a hard time getting to the gym in the morning? Pack your gym bag full of your work clothes and then lay out your gym clothes the night before so that they are what you put on first. Make sure you can’t have your work clothes until you go to the gym, work out, then shower.
If you set up your environment for success, there’s no way you can fail!
Tip 5: Give it Five Minutes
This is my rule of thumb for starting anything I don’t want to do: Give it five minutes.
I believe that if I just start a task, and give it five minutes, I’ll find I want to keep going until it is completed. We might not want to do that task we’ve been putting off, but once we get going, we almost always change our minds!
Exercise, doing the dishes, writing a blog post… It works every time for me.
Set a timer if you have to.
Try it, it works.
Tip 6: Make a List of Distractions You Enjoy
Say it’s the end of the night, you’re exhausted, and all you can think about is ice cream. It always helps me to do something I enjoy to distract myself, like knitting or coloring. (Have you seen these adult coloring books? There SO GREAT!)
Tip 7: Make a Visible Reminder of Your Commitments
When I started to get really active and serious about writing on this website, I purchased a ring for myself. It has only a small and simple bee on it, and it reminds me all the time of the commitments I’ve made to live the life I’ve always wanted.
Tip 8: Be Kind to Yourself
If you make a mistake, and make poor choices, the worst thing you can do is beat yourself up. That one piece of cake is not going to hinder your weight loss efforts. That one skipped workout is not going to slow your results. Enjoy the break, and then just recommit. As I said in my article about intuitive eating, we don’t lose weight by being bullied into it. We lose weight by being loved into it. We are making these behavioral changes as a service to ourselves and to the family that depends on us for survival. Your children are not doing well if you are not doing well. So keep taking care of yourself, and do it with kindness.
Overall, you must remember that real lifestyle changes and behavior changes take time and consistency.
Want to know the secret of the people who lose weight and keep it off?
I’ll tell you: Time and consistency.
They are the ones who make mistakes, but they get back up, dust themselves off, and keep going. It’s the consistency that matters the very most.
Did I miss anything? Please tell me in the comments below your tips and tricks for practicing willpower and motivation!