Is Willpower a Myth?

Is Willpower a Myth?
Written by: Coach Slater

Anyone who’s struggled with a new nutrition plan or workout routine knows that willpower, alone, won’t work in the long run. And, failures in nutrition or exercising can leave us feeling like “bad people.” If you’re bad at resisting temptation on a diet, or can’t stick to a consistent workout attendance, you supposedly have insufficient willpower. But, more research is proving that people who exhibit good self-control aren’t somehow gifted with exceptional willpower. They might not be inhibiting impulses at all.

Studies are finding that those who exert more self-control aren’t necesesarily more successful in accomplishing their goals. Instead, they’ve set themselves up to experience far few temptations overall. It turns out, forcefully expending self-control is exhausting. The people who are the best at self-control are hardly using it at all. Their trick is not giving themselves the option to make a bad decision.

Did you catch that? The trick isn’t making a good decision. It’s avoiding the option of a bad one. Mind-blown.

What Does This Mean to You?
1) People who are better at self-control, enjoy the activities others resist (like eating healthy or exercising).

If it’s fun, it’s not a chore. It’s easier to obtain a goal, if you WANT TO, rather than if you tell yourself you HAVE TO. Wanting to accomplish something is more effortless. If you come to the gym because you “have to” get in shape, it’s more likely that you’ll find working out to be a miserable experience. You have to “want to” to come to the gym. If you find the joy in attending, by socializing more and finding people you connect with, or enjoying the personal struggle and seeing yourself accomplish new milestones, then the process becomes easier.

Attending Derby City social events helps you meet more people from different classes, which then gives you more people to communicate with inside the gym. Participating in the Open in February introduces you to a team-version of competition. Saturday partner workouts give you a chance to team up with someone different. Lastly, setting a goal to learn a new skill, like handstand pushups and double unders, is fun because you now know how to do something which the WIDE majority of people outside the gym have no clue how to do.

2) People who are good at self-control have tricked themselves into better habits.

These people have structured their lives to avoid having to make a self-control decision in the first place. And, people who do the same activity (like exercising) at the same time each day have an easier time accomplishing their goals. It has nothing to do with willpower. Instead, their routine has made them successful.

Have you heard the old trick for waking up more quickly in the morning by placing your alarm on the other side of the room? That’s not in-the-moment willpower at play; it’s planning.

The person really succeeding with their new nutrition plan would never buy ice cream in the first place because they wouldn’t have walked down the ice cream aisle at their grocery store. Or, when they saw the ice cream, they would have figured out a way to say “yuck” instead of “yum“.

So, those are the lessons I have for you today. You can succeed at this if you stop relying on some intangible notion of willpower, and instead structure yourself to be successful. As Coach Phil emails everyone this month to check-in, let us know if we can help with this idea, or anything at all!

Everyday temptations: an experience sampling study of desire, conflict, and self-control
What’s So Great About Self-Control? Examining the Importance of Effortful Self-Control and Temptation in Predicting Real-Life Depletion and Goal Attainment

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