Kathleen Totter is a fitness expert, media personality, personal trainer, writer, life coach, and overall health enthusiast.
I actually don’t believe that willpower is the key to adopting a healthier lifestyle. Think of willpower as akin to a “self-surveillance muscle.” Like any muscle it gets exhausted. Exerting willpower requires conscious thought. You have to stop and think, “should I have the cookie or the apple?” Sure, you might make the healthier choice when you are newly motivated (say, New Year’s or Monday), or in the morning before life gets crazy, but as you get tired, angry, overwhelmed, depressed, etc., you are more likely to make less-than-ideal choices.
Willpower requires your brain to decide to be healthy, but the brain has limited capacity. The solution? Establish healthier habits (habits require less conscious awareness) and set up systems when you do have discipline — when you are motivated — so that your future less-disciplined self has no choice but to follow through.
Examples of systems include not having food in the house that you don’t want your future self to eat; piggybacking a workout onto something you already do (turn your dog walk into an intense cardio workout or take conference calls as you walk); eating from smaller plates and drinking from smaller glasses (we eat and drink less from smaller dishes), and portioning out your snacks — especially when watching TV (we’ll eat until the dish, package, or container is empty). I sleep in my exercise clothes to ensure my morning workout is as easy/convenient as possible. I have a client who connects his exercise bike to his TV so the TV only works if he is cycling.
Create systems based on you – your unique triggers and situations that typically derail you. For example, if you know you always skip your stretch post outdoor run because once in the house life and kids take over, decide you have to stretch on your porch before you go inside. One of my clients uses this system. It has moved her from stretching once a week (at best) to stretching after every workout.
The net is, sure, use willpower when you have it and act in ways that ensure your willpower muscle is strong (sleep, eat nutritionally dense meals to ensure your blood sugar stays stable, meditate, etc.) but know that willpower is not enough. At some point your future self will be tired, hangry, etc., and in those moments you need established systems that will keep you on course. Set up systems that will save you from your future less motivated, exhausted, sad, or overwhelmed self. READ FULL ARTICLE!