Are you falling prey to the Willpower Gap?
by Pavlina Cavojska, RHN
If you have read my last blog – New year’s resolutions – then you know I have been talking about one of the mistakes that people make trying to lose weight and that is underestimating what it really takes to achieve and maintain successful fat loss.
However, it is not the only one. The other major roadblock that almost everyone has in common when they try to lose weight is that they rely on their willpower (or self-control). When they start a new diet they learn which foods to eat and which foods to avoid, and then they just assume that their willpower will be there to keep them on track when they grab their plate and start heading down the buffet line. Well guess what? It doesn’t work like that. It turns out that willpower is not a loyal friend. It has gaps. Huge gaps. It coughs. It sputters. It leaves the room entirely without a clue as to when it’s coming back….
Susan Peirce Thomson Ph.D. – Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the University of Rochester – who is studying the psychology of weight loss sees this phenomenon so often, that she gave it a name: the Willpower gap. This is how she explains it: “It’s a unitary power source inside us, like a battery. When we want to do something, or we want not to do something, it can be called on to see us through. However, if the battery is depleted already, we won’t be able to summon the needed power. Typically, when that happens, we unconsciously convince ourselves that we didn’t really want to do that thing anyway, or we rationalize that we deserve to indulge in this one-time temptation. In those moments, we have just fallen prey to the Willpower Gap. Willpower is limited. Scientists estimate that we have only about 15 minutes at our disposal before the battery runs dry.”
Only 15 minutes of juice, before we run out!!! That is not very encouraging, is it?
The good news is that there are things that are within our control how we can “juice up “ on willpower and there are certain habits that will deplete us pretty fast.
Here’s a quick list of examples that run us dry :
- Resisting temptations
- Persevering on tasks
- Monitoring our performance
- Making decisions and Multitasking
- Regulating our thoughts or emotional responses
Now wait a minute! This sounds like a very familiar scenario: day at work, where we have to focus, picking up our kids, making sure they get homework done, make dinner, bath, resolving their little quarrels, etc. – all these everyday things that we go through day in day out REALLY drain our resolve big time!!! How many times do we want to go straight from turning out our child’s bedside lamp to the kitchen? … you are not imagining that connection.
And on top of that, how fair is it to us – women – that we always try our hardest and get lesser results than our male counterparts? Leaving us feeling frustrated, inadequate and sometimes even jealous with our struggles while our hubbies show such an unwavering resolve and control?!
I personally believe that this – the art of multitasking – is one of the reasons (not only reason) why men – who let’s be honest do not have much ability in this area – often have better, faster and longer lasting results. Now that is what I call Not Fair!!!
So let’s focus now on all the things we CAN do to replenish our stores of willpower :
- Social connection
- Connecting with nature
- Light exercises like walking on fresh air/sunshine (double charge) or Yoga;
and last but equally important is keeping your blood sugar levels steady/balanced. When you run out of fuel for your brain – pretty much like getting to the point of feeling ravenous – your willpower is non-existent.
Just remember the day where you forgot to take lunch to work, did not have time to go out to grab something healthy so you just snacked on a carrot muffin that was available at the office, got the kids, came home, checked the messages while resisting the near – constant temptation to eat. By the time dinner rolls around, you hear yourself say “ Let’s just order a pizza” and don’t even know why… This is where you have just fallen into the Willpower gap.
How many times have we started the day with great intentions; only to end up ordering take out for dinner because we are exhausted? We tell ourselves, “I will start again tomorrow “.
So how can we make it work? We need to bridge this Willpower gap and this is how we do it.
What you need is a plan that assumes you have no willpower at all – because any given moment you may not – and work anyway.
A lot of people that I talk to tell me “but Pavlina, I know what to eat to lose weight”. The truth is we all have a certain level of understanding what it takes to lose weight. We all know that cutting out high sugar foods, eating more vegetables, drinking more water, not overeating is going to get us some results. But no matter what you know about nutrition you will never succeed if you are making your food choices on the fly. That’s right. Bridging this gap is essential.
- PLAN and PREPARE
- SET GOALS
- TAKE ACTION
I say it again and again. Making being prepared a high priority will bring you the results you desire. We all have heard the saying “ Fail to plan, plan to fail”.
How do we plan? We set goals.
I like to use the smart setting goal system because it helps to guide you through the goal setting. I take goal setting a little bit differently than the average person. I find that the average person always wants to add goals and often does not really think about actions and behaviours or things that they need to extinguish or eliminate in order to achieve the goal.
- S – Specific: state the goal so the exact result is understood.
- M – Measurable: state the goal so your success can be measured.
- A – Action-Oriented: state a goal that promotes you taking an action to accomplish it, or extinguishing a negative action to accomplish it. List out the actions.
- R – Realistic: choose a goal that can truly be attained.
- T – Timed: set an appropriate deadline for meeting your goal.
Here are some examples of SMART goals : “I will sleep 7-8 hours per night to get sufficient amount of sleep” or “ I will meditate 15 minutes 3x this week to start” or “ I will eat 3 servings of vegetables every dinner” or “I will reduce the amount of coke I drink from 7x per week to 3x/week”. “ I will drink 8 cups of water every day”.
I will take the last example “ I will drink 8 cups of water every day” to expand on the “TAKE ACTION” stage since a goal/plan without action is a dream without direction. The momentum that comes from taking consistent imperfect action is what gets us to the finish line in record time and usually with greater results then we had even considered.
Many people I know are not in the habit of drinking water. So to start drinking 8 cups a day seems like an overwhelming and unattainable task. So we make this goal to be a mid-term goal – 5 weeks goal – and we set up a short-term goal that can be confidently attained this week. “ This week I will drink 3 cups of water every day”.
Now that seems realistic.
The first action would be to get a portable water container, preferably one that is glass or BPA free, and have that always with you so that you can have your 3 cups of water every day.
The second action is to fill it up every morning and set alarm clocks on your phone or computer so that every 2 hours you can have a drink. That would be a really good action to take to remind yourself to have that water.
The other action would be to bring home the water container so the next day you can repeat again.
Listing out all the actions or steps that you need to do in order to implement this new behaviour will help you to clarify the process in your mind and help you succeed. If you are not a water drinker AND you drink 5 cups of coffee daily, maybe 1 of your action steps can be switching 1 cup of coffee for 1 cup of water extra, etc….
No matter how simple the goal is or how silly it feels to list all these steps, if it is a new behaviour that we want to implement – we NEED this otherwise we forget! Seriously, think about it….
Setting Personal Health Goals
Pick one short-term goal that you plan to accomplish over the next week, then pick one long-term goal you plan to accomplish over the next 5 weeks. Complete the S.M.A.R.T. goal process for each of the five goals. Keep in mind the actions that need to be taken or eliminated in order to achieve your goal. When you are done, sign and date your goal sheet. By signing and dating it you are making the commitment to achieve your goal.
Setting a goal, planning and executing each step of the way = being prepared = no gaps
This series of blogs is meant to guide you with little tips from different angles of weight loss on your personal journey to help you succeed on your own. However, if you are still struggling and in need of help, we have many options for you to get you going. Whether you need a little push to get moving in the right direction or you need us to hold your hand throughout the whole process of transformation, we are here for you.
If you are undecided whether our options are right for you, feel free to book your complimentary discovery session where we can answer all your questions.
Holistic Nutritionist, Weight Loss Specialist