If you have made any new year’s resolutions this year you may be calling upon your willpower right now to keep you on track.
We wake refreshed and ready to take on the world, be productive, and make healthy decisions about what we eat and how active we are. By eleven o’clock some of these decisions have been scuppered as we find ourselves walking into some coffee-house lured by a ‘skinny cappuccino and (‘willpower, willpower’) blueberry muffin please’! So how can we make our willpower work better?
Researchers believe that by structuring our lives so that many of our decisions are automatic rather than active, we can strengthen our resolve around goals. We spend about a quarter of our waking hours making decisions, using up our well of willpower. When tempting decisions come along we may already have reached ‘decision fatigue’, where we choose the easiest option. This may of course be ‘blueberry muffin and no exercise with that thank you’!
Learning how to work with your willpower will help keep you on track for actually achieving your resolutions.
1. Avoid tempting situations. Out of sight and out of mind really does work. So if you are cutting down on biscuits then don’t buy any. Or keep them in an opaque container in the back reaches of the cupboard. Or only buy the ones which your children or partner love but which you don’t favour. Make it easy to say no.
2. Plan. And plan some more. Make an action plan as to how you will achieve this particular goal. Write down all the steps to get you to where you want to be. Walking more? Buy the trainers, the pedometer, the kit (including the waterproof jacket, the hat and the gloves). Schedule the activity into your diary. Know the route you intend to take. Is anyone going with you? Make it so walking more is no longer a decision, it’s just what you do Sunday mornings and Thursday evenings. Keep a record and feel proud.
3. Pin it. Whatever you are trying to do write it down and pin somewhere you will see it regularly. Remind yourself all the time why you are trying to achieve this particular goal. Your goal can be your screensaver on your electronic devices. It can be on the inside of your filofax; a note in your wallet or purse, in your make-up bag. You can pin it to your family calendar. Wherever you are likely to see it, pin it. Reminding yourself regularly what it is you are trying to achieve, and why, will strengthen your motivation and your ability to get there.
4. Think your way there. Be confident of your goal. Be confident you will achieve it. Rehearse what you will say if others are trying to tempt you from your good intentions. Prepare your answers in advance e.g. “I no longer drink during the week. I save it all for the weekend.” It doesn’t matter if this is a goal you are working towards for the hundredth time. Believe this time is the right time.
5. Eat regularly. Though food may have nothing to do with what you are trying to achieve eating regularly will help you get there. Because your brain runs on glucose skipping meals and trying to resist temptation can leave your brain depleted of its willpower. By eating regularly we not only fuel our brains we also fuel our willpower too.
6. Choose wisely. Really think about what you are trying to achieve with your healthy lifestyle. Then choose one great habit to work on to begin with. Focus on this particular habit within your bigger picture to improve your chances of being successful. Consider how this habit will fit with your daily life. Break it down into really small steps. When you feel this habit has become part of your normal routine, you can move onto the next habit for the bigger picture.
“Skinny cappuccino please”.