How many times have you heard someone say "I know what to do to lose weight. I just don’t do it” or “I know I need to eat better, but I just don’t have the willpower”?
Maybe you’ve said these things yourself.
When it comes to weight loss and body shape change, most people know what they need to do, to make it happen. They just don’t do it.
Because their habits don’t support their actions.
Forget Willpower (For Now)
Despite what many believe, willpower is not the key to success. Willpower is self-control; the ability to resist temptation and not give in to immediate gratification. While you can do this for a while, it’s simply not sustainable in the long-term. This explains why so many people go on restrictive diets, and then come off them again. Some people may be able to exercise a level of self-control longer than others, but eventually everyone needs a break from the amount of pressure and stress this creates.
The Keys to Long-Term Success
Roy Baumeister, PhD, a psychologist at Florida State University, who specialises in research into willpower, believes there are three necessary components for achieving goals:
- Have a reason why you want to change (your WHY) and a clear goal.
- Monitoring your behaviour while working towards that goal.
Notice that willpower is not the first thing required, nor is it the only thing.
When setting out to achieve anything, it’s important to understand why you want to achieve it. What does it mean to you? What will you get when you succeed? Without a strong why, you’ll never have a reason to continue when it gets difficult, and you’ll never be willing to find a way, when you come up against an obstacle. This is the same for losing weight or undergoing a body transformation. Getting my clients to identify their WHY is one of the first things I help them to do.
Your Behaviour (Habits)
Even if you’ve identified your why and have set a clear goal for your weight loss or body shape change, it’s almost impossible to achieve results and keep them, unless you’re aware of your behaviours, also known as your habits.
All of us have habits. They are the behaviours and thoughts we engage in without even realising. We do these things unconsciously. Sometimes they can serve us well, but often they derail us from success.
Habits at Work
You might decide that you’re going to do all you can to lose weight for summer. You’ve set yourself a realistic goal, worked out a menu for the week, prepared some food in advance, and scheduled your exercise sessions for the week. You’re feeling motivated and excited.
Things go well for the first couple of days. You’re sticking to your exercise plan, you’re eating well and even getting to bed earlier than usual. You’re feeling great. But then you have a bad day at work. Clients are rude to you, your boss asks you to do some urgent work on top of your already heavy workload, your colleagues are noisy and disruptive, and you miss your train, you get home later than usual.
By the time you do get home, you’re feeling stressed, angry and tired. So instead of eating the food you’ve already prepared, you end up bingeing on pizza and wine. The next morning, you wake up feeling groggy and lethargic and tell yourself that it won’t hurt to skip your morning walk. And then, because you’ve already ‘fallen off the wagon’ for this week, you give in to your old habit of believing “I’ll re-start next week”, or “I’m OK for my age”, or “It’s not for me”.
Where do these thoughts come from? Maybe they come from an old habit of believing that as you were not 100% perfect, you’ve ‘failed’, and that this ‘new you’ you were striving towards is not ‘really you’ anyway, so why bother trying? If so, the next time you drop your phone, you might as well smash it with the heel of your boot because it’s broken anyway, right?
Habits Beat Good Intentions Every Time
You can see how an automatic reaction has a domino effect, and before you know it, you’re doing things you had no intention of at the start of the day. In this example, the trigger is a bad day at work, which causes stress. Your automatic response to that stress is to comfort yourself with pizza and wine. This then leads you to feel less than ordinary the next morning, which means you then skip your workout, which then makes you think that you’ve failed, and then you give up completely.
But a person who is aware of their habits would stop and think before automatically reaching for the wine and pizza. And a person who has changed this habit would have a different routine for dealing with stressful days, such as going for a walk, relaxing with a book, getting an early night, or punching the life out of a punching bag.
There’s no getting around the fact that your habits will beat your good intentions every single time!
What About Willpower?
Willpower may be useful when you’re learning to replace negative habits with better ones. For example, a person who is learning to manage stress in the example above may still want to order pizza, but because they’re aware of their habit, and why they’re working on changing it, they’re able to avoid giving in to their craving.
The real power however is in changing the habit. When you change your negative habit of dealing with a stressful day, to a habit that will keep you on track with your weight loss efforts, the thought of ordering pizza and wine doesn’t even get a look in.
Changing One Habit at a Time
If you try to change all your poor habits in one go, you will most likely fail. You need to hone in what is called your cornerstone habit and work at only changing this one. At Eternally Fit I help my clients identify and change their cornerstone habit, the one habit that is at the centre of them not succeeding in the past. Work hard at changing this habit and watch what happens. Now I know habits are hard to change, but it’s always worth it. You also don’t want to be doing this alone - you need a good support network who can help keep you on track, or at least not try to drag you down. If you need someone else in your corner, I can be that person. I will be with you every step of the way to help guide, cajole, and even give the occasional ‘virtual uppercut’ to ensure you get on top of your poor habits. Let’s change them into something that will give you the health and body you’ve always wanted.