Willpower: Do You Have it?

Willpower: you either have it or you don’t, right? What is willpower anyway? Can one person have more willpower over another? Do you lose willpower as the day goes on? 

Willpower is the ability to temporarily ignore a pleasure or discomfort in order to pursue a long-term goal. There have been numerous conflicting studies over this subject so I will try to keep this article as general as possible and avoid adding in too many theories.

The average person looks at willpower as a limited resource, which tricks our minds to believe we are less in control than we actually are. Some believe they were born with no willpower or lost it over time. The truth is, much like the emotions we all share, we all have willpower. That being said, have you ever run out of sadness or happiness? I am pretty sure you have never woke up and said, “Oh man, I wish I didn’t use up all my happiness yesterday, I have none left for today”. Sounds ridiculous, but I have heard plenty of people say,  “I ate great yesterday, but I don’t think I can continue doing this the rest of the week- I just don’t have the willpower to resist my temptations”. As if yesterday they used up all the self control they had for the week.

Now there are contradicting studies that say willpower diminishes as the day goes on. These theories say we run out of self control if we are forced to deny ourselves throughout the day. These studies also show many people feel they are deserving of a reward after mentally draining themselves at work or taking care of the kids, so willpower to resist unhealthy food choices goes out the door. I don’t deny there are days this is absolutely true. We 100% deserve to reward ourselves for all of our hard work, but that should not be because of lack of self control. Some days are going to be tougher than others, that’s just life. Some tough days temptation will get to you but that’s not because of lack of willpower (more on this in the next paragraph)

For those of you thinking, Deanna you clearly never solved your problems with a bottle of wine and a chocolate sundae… I promise you, I’ve been there- many times. But I have also learned ways of controlling this and found there is a right time to allow yourself to enjoy foods you wouldn't eat every day. Life is stressful, especially this year (thank you 2020).

If I always allowed myself the pass of “you've had a rough day, go for the cookie”- I wouldn’t be on track with achieving my goals. I would not be where I am today if I always gave myself a pass because there was a hiccup in my day. When I had a great training week, and stuck to a clean diet, then you can find me at our local ice cream shop on Saturday night taking down a giant sundae. Again, this is not for lack of control. But HOW DO I DO THIS? I will tell you my secret, but yet again I am sorry to tell you it’s not a magical pill that helps your body produce willpower. 

The secret is: Your environment dictates your willpower. Your environment is every bit of the problem and solution. Eliminating decision making in your environment is the key to success. For example, ever go to the grocery store hungry? EVERYTHING looks good and I don’t know about you but I always buy more than what I need. The marketing on these products are bright, colorful, flashy, and just downright delicious looking. How about at home when the late night cravings hit? Do you head to the pantry to find something to munch on while you watch your favorite show? Well think about it this way: you can’t decide if you should have the chips or not, if you don’t have the chips available in your home. Having to say no to something that is right in your reach is so much harder than not having the option at all.

I am the first person to say I have little self control when I know I have baked goods available to me at home. I LOVE snacks, so giving up snacking is never going to be an option for me. Also, because snacking on nutritious foods is a GOOD thing, and I encourage you to snack if you find you are overeating during meal times. The snacks I always make available are baby carrots, cucumber slices, berries, and melon because these are my favorite whole food options. When I have a crazy chocolate craving (yes, I am frequently prone to this), I grab strawberries and chocolate hummus (it is waaaaay better than it sounds) because I know I am still getting nutrients and satisfying my craving.

The idea is to have these nutritious options available so they are the go to choice when you are hungry. Eliminate the other options such as baked goods, crackers/chips, and other processed calorie dense choices.

Seriously, don’t even bring them home from the grocery store because you want to avoid the availability as much as possible. When you do decide it is a night to treat yourself, only buy enough for the one sitting and not enough to last you through the week. I have made this mistake several times! Then, to avoid the food going bad, I end up eating it every night until it is gone. Learn from my mistake, and only buy enough for the one treat. This will also cut back on waste because I won’t say throw away the rest of your food (I do not like wasting). 

So now that you know my big secret, how do you go about this successfully? In order for you to be mentally strong enough, you also need a support system. Imagine your family always had a loaf of bread with dinner followed by ice cream for dessert. This is the norm for you, until one day you decide you want to make the change to improve your health which would mean giving up the bread and ice cream almost every night. Seems like something you could handle, but your family doesn’t want to do the same. Now you are left staring at the bread on the table every night trying to convince yourself you don’t need it while your head is screaming “just take the bread”. How much willpower would you truly have after the end of a long work day to pass on the bread sitting right in front of you? 

In a similar scenario, your family doesn’t mind eating healthier meals. Making this change works for everyone, so you collectively give up the bread and ice cream. Unfortunately another issue comes about when you decide you want to start going to the gym more often to help reach your health goals. Now your spouse is left with more responsibilities, and unfortunately doesn’t accept this new role easily. Would you continue to go to your gym sessions and ignore the issue it is causing at home? 

I give you these scenarios, not to discourage you, but because they are real life examples that I have witnessed. How can anyone be successful without a strong support system helping to achieve these goals? This doesn’t mean everyone in your household needs to have the same goals, but it is important that we have someone in our lives to motivate us, cheer us on, and keep us accountable. If either of these situations sound familiar, and might be something you are struggling with - make an appointment to talk with our specialist today. We want to help you overcome any obstacles that you may be facing without you having to give up any of these health goals, and we are ALWAYS here to support you. The FitGuana team is here to help you create the most successful environment to maximize your willpower and potential.

Together, we can make it happen so don’t wait, book your appointment by clicking here!    

Deanna Virtue

ACE Certified Health Coach


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