Guest Post By Carina Morgan
If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me how I have so much willpower over my nutrition and exercise, I could probably throw in the towel now and retire. Ok, that’s a slight exaggeration, but truthfully, I get asked SO OFTEN how I have so much self-control around food and exercise. I desperately want people to understand that neither willpower nor self-control are necessary for long-term health. In reality, using those tools to stay “on track” is the temporary solution that most health-seekers rely on because it is actually EASIER than doing the work necessary to be able to never have to use either one again. Here is the thing: you can have such better health when you stop relying on your willpower and using self-control to maintain your health routine, and I’m going to walk you through why that is and how you can make changes towards a better solution.
First, let’s establish why willpower and self-control do not work long-term. Unfortunately, you only have so much willpower “in the tank,” so to speak, and when you want to change something that doesn’t come naturally or intuitively, there is only so much energy you have to spend controlling yourself to engage in the habits (or abstain from them) necessary to reach that goal. Therefore, when you rely on willpower and self-control to reach your health goals, you will inevitably fail at some point. Now, to clarify, we are all unique individuals, and some people may have more willpower to give than others, but at the end of the day, we all have a limit. Who do you know who has ever used willpower successfully for their entire life to reach their goals and been HAPPY doing so? Either you run on willpower and make yourself miserable or you give in when you can’t take it anymore and work AGAINST your health goals.
When you focus on using willpower and self-control as your main tools, essentially you don’t fully believe in what you are doing, because if you have to use those tools, you do not enjoy what you are doing. Think about it: if you enjoyed the journey and process of change to work towards your goals, you wouldn’t need willpower, discipline, or self control, because you would be WANTING to do what you’re doing. Therefore, automatically, when you find yourself relying on willpower and self control, your mindset is not where it should be in order to reach your goals. That right there is a big problem, because at the end of the day, if your heart isn’t into what you are doing, it won’t last.
So, if you find yourself in this position, then you have one of two issues:
A) Your mindset is not where it needs to be in order to tackle those goals of yours
B) You are chasing the wrong goals for YOU
How do you transition away from using willpower and self-control to chase your health goals? First, you need to realize how much power you have in making conscious, mindful, and deliberate choices. Take full advantage of your ability to CHOOSE everything you do, each and every day. When you are thoughtful in your decisions, weigh the pros and cons, look at what the instant gratification/ramifications are versus the delayed benefits/consequences, then the way you view and approach your life changes entirely.
Here is the decision tree I use when making choices throughout the day. I’ll provide a real-life example afterwards. I don’t do this for every single decision I make (because we are literally choosing all day every day), but when it comes to a goal or goals I am working towards, I make using this process a priority to make sure I am taking ownership of my intentions.
1. Ask myself if I really want what I am conflicted about. Do I really want this, or do I just think I want it?
2. What are my benefits and consequences now?
3. What are my benefits/consequences tomorrow? In one week? In one month?
4. Am I willing to accept the consequences because I feel like this decision is worth it to me?
Ok, here’s an example: I make dinner for my partner and my parents, and after we are done, my dad suggests going to get ice cream. When I was younger, I wouldn’t think twice about saying yes because that’s what he wanted, and oftentimes I would end up regretting it. This time, I think about it. Ice cream always sounds good to me, and I do want it now that he brought it up. But I know that if he hadn’t brought it up, I would not have wanted it. I know that I might enjoy the taste now, but I also have been dealing with some skin issues recently and I know that dairy causes it to flare up worse. As much as ice cream sounds great, I want to clear my skin up more, so I politely decline.
Here’s another example that goes the other way: I am at my partner’s family’s house for dinner to celebrate a special occasion. It’s a weeknight, and I’m trying to cut down on eating sugar, especially during the week. My mother-in-law brings out red velvet cupcakes (my favorite!) she made from scratch to celebrate the occasion, and she has made them gluten-free especially so that I can enjoy them too (I have Celiac Disease). I am working towards a goal of cutting down my sugar during the week, but in this moment, I weigh my options. I do really want the cupcake; it is a celebration, it is my favorite flavor, and my mother in law has made them gluten free, even though she does not have any dietary restrictions. Yes, I am technically working against my health goals in this moment, but I know that it is worth it to me to eat the cupcake because of the love that went into making them, and because in reality, one cupcake is not going to kill my progress or ruin my goal. I care deeply about my relationship with my in-laws, and to me, it is 100% worth it to join the family in eating dessert.
So, as you can see, these examples show each outcome. In both examples, I 100% believe in the choice I made, even though it is different in the two scenarios. What is amazing about ditching willpower and self-control as the main way of keeping track of your health goals is that when you embrace the power in your choices and decisions, you never feel guilty about what you decide, and you never have to regret your choice, because you know you took the time to analyze what was best for you.
You might not get it perfect every time, and that’s ok! Practice makes perfect, and I will always tout progress over perfection. The great thing about this method is that when you make a decision that you end up thinking was the wrong one, you can go back to your decision-making process, see where you went wrong, and learn something from that experience. We can constantly learn from ourselves and make a better choice next time; that’s how we grow and develop as individuals.
Hopefully I have convinced you that willpower and self-control are not your best tools towards reaching your health goals. If you want more information on how to ditch these as tools and start owning your choices for a happier, more powerful, and more fulfilling life, check out my online course, Becoming A Health Warrior!
Carina runs Carina Morgan Health & Nutrition as an online health coach who specializes in helping women achieve optimal & sustainable health without causing obsession or sacrificing their sanity. As a health coach, Master of Science in Nutrition, Whole30 Certified Coach, Precision Nutrition Level 1 coach,and CrossFit L1 coach, Carina uses her experience and education to empower women to take ownership of their lives so that they feel healthier, happier, and more fulfilled.
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