Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Willpower: How To Get It And Keep It

Willpower: I've spent much of my life curious about why some people have it, and some people don't. Some people say they're going to lose 10 pounds, and they do. No struggle. No yo-yo. They simply obey their own minds. Some people decide on an early bedtime so they can get up early. And they do! No arguing with themselves over getting into bed at night, and no snooze-alarm-smack-fest in the morning. 

The rest of us struggle to some degree. Should I have the fries or the salad? I'll go to bed, but just one more sitcom episode first. We argue with ourselves, and we feel like we're two different people living in the same body. It seems like the angel and the devil on our shoulders are in cahoots to keep us going in circles. 

Finally, after more than two years of research, I cracked the code. I lost 20 pounds. If I stay up late, it's because I've chosen to do work - not because I'm mindlessly surfing on the computer. And about that work - it's work that I love, not work that I do because I feel guilty, obligated, or worried about money. 

So what changed? A LOT. I finally feel like I'm one of THOSE people who have willpower. I will share a few secrets with you right here. 

1. We can't beat bad habits by focusing on them. 
When we want to exercise willpower over a troublesome habit like overeating, we should go to an established organization like Weight Watchers to help us gain the willpower to do that, right? Not in my book. While Weight Watchers may work for millions, it never worked for me, at least not long-term. Here's why I'm not a fan of Weight Watchers: it keeps you focused on food. 

If I want to give up overeating, then why do I want to force so much attention on the topic of food - what I'm eating, how many points do I have left, and what can I still eat today. This is so counterproductive to me, it boggles the mind. If the very thing I want is to be thin and to have a healthy relationship with food, then signing up for a program that makes me track food and think about food to a nonsensical degree every day is crazy-making. 

If you're struggling with bad habits, then there's a whole internal world going on that needs to be addressed. The last thing we need is to obsessively force our attention onto the very thing that we're abusing in order to escape ourselves and our situations. This misplaced attention onto the substance simply allows for more escape. 

In order to gain willpower, first we need to turn our attention inward to our feelings, beliefs, and we need to learn what would actually make us feel happy and fulfilled in life. When we're fulfilled, we're not trying to sabotage ourselves with bad habits; willpower becomes almost a non-issue. That's what my life-changing course, 5 Weeks to a Blissful You, is about. While I do think that it's important to get into the nuts and bolts of the habit change process, that comes after we get to the bottom of what would make us feel like we're really living. 

2. Even people with extraordinary willpower face difficulty sticking to plans. 
If you've ever been an athlete, a runner or an exercise junkie, you will know exactly what I'm talking about. (If that's never been you, just play along.) So let's say you're in the groove. You're waking up every morning at 6:30 AM and you're heading out to get your sweat on. It hurts so good. You're getting that endorphin rush. You're kissing your biceps in the mirror. You've never felt better. 

This scenario describes what giving up wine for a year has been like for me so far. I don't mean that I've been literally kissing my biceps (well, only sometimes when no one's looking) - what I mean is that most days I'm in a groove. I'm doing something good for myself and I'm pumped about it. 

Read More: Want to Cut Back or Stop Drinking Alcohol? 5 Questions to Ask Yourself 

But even for someone with extraordinary willpower who loves working out, some days don't feel so perfect. When we've been enjoying a groove, we can suddenly wonder, "How come last week I could bench a bajillion pounds and it felt easy, and this week my workout felt hard?" Even when you typically have extraordinary willpower, some days are harder than others. It's keeping the big picture in mind that will serve you well every time. 

3. It's your choice whether you struggle or enjoy the habit change process. 
This sounds a little bit contradictory to the point I made above, but bear with me here. Breaking habits is a difficult process because the brain is wired to create and keep habits in order to save energy. So habits are, by nature, difficult to break. However, you do have a choice in the way you frame the process when you think about your choices. 

Read More: 5 Inspiring Lessons I Learned in My Third Alcohol-Free Month 

You can choose thoughts like, "Oh this is so hard. Oh, I miss sitting on the couch with a box of Cheez-its and a glass of wine when I'm stressed out." Or you can think, "Thank God I no longer sit on the couch with a box of Cheez-its and a glass of wine! Now I'm able to handle stress because I learned how to lower my stress levels!" (That's something I wouldn't have been able to do had I kept turning to solace in a box of crackers and a glass of vino.) 

At first, it's a conscious practice to choose to look at things a little differently. You can think, "I feel so deprived. I wish I could eat cheesecake." Or you could think, "Blugh, cheesecake. I'm so glad I'm no longer depriving myself of feeling good and healthy." Either way you can deprive yourself, whether it's cheesecake or your health - but why on earth would you want to deprive your body of feeling healthy? After some time, these thoughts become natural and you can't look at your choices any other way. It might look like willpower to others, but you're just doing what feels right. 

4. Celebrating with food and alcohol does NOT enhance your social life. 
I used to think that drinking wine in social situations was as natural as wearing clothing. Let's say you walk into a party naked. People are going to have a hard time conversing with you because they're going to think, "Whaaaa?" So to me, having a glass of wine was like wearing clothing. It was traditional, it was what people did, and it helped me to enjoy the conversation without some weird effect going on. I thought that if I didn't have a glass of wine in hand at a party, that it would negatively interfere with my ability to connect and converse and laugh with others. 

What I've learned, and what people who have extraordinary willpower know, is that the opposite is actually true. The true purpose of parties has little to do with food or alcohol. Parties happen so that people can connect with each other, something that you're not really doing when your mind is hazy from a couple drinks or your eyes keep flitting to the buffet table. Parties happen so that we can each be seen and heard and enjoy feeling like we're part of our tribe. When you add the distraction of food or alcohol - and I'm not implying that parties shouldn't have food or alcohol, let's not be ridiculous - but when we focus too much on eating and drinking, it interferes with our ability to see and hear others. 

Keeping our attention on food and alcohol also distracts us from seeking an experience in which we ourselves are seen and heard. Food and drink serves as a means of protection. It's a way that we can hide when we're afraid of being seen and heard. We fill that hole in our hearts by putting something in our stomach instead. People with extraordinary willpower are okay with being seen and heard, and they want to see and hear others, without food and booze muddying up the works. 

5. Your decisions matter.
Our habits make up the moments that create our days. Your days are your life. This means that, to a massive degree, your habits create your experience on this earth. Each time you ask yourself a seemingly inconsequential question like what you should eat or drink, or what time you should go to bed, your decision has a bearing on your future.

I can't even count how many times over the years I opted to have the glass of wine with dinner - which disrupted my sleep, which caused me to reach for the extra coffee the next day, which caused me to not sleep as well the next night. And so on. 

These seemingly tiny choices that had basically no detectable impact to me were wholly driving the bus of my life. Once I decided to wake up and create an extraordinary life for myself, it dawned on me how much these decisions actually matter. How well-rested I am determines my mood. How much sleep you got the night before influences everything from your stress hormone levels to your appetite to your ability to take the long-term view into consideration and to resist cravings. 

Tiny decisions about my daily habits make all the difference to my life: whether I'm healthy or whether I'm dragging around extra weight - which impacts my energy levels and my confidence. Take it from someone who lost 20 pounds and then took a walk one day with a 20 pound weighted backpack; it made me well aware that hauling around that much extra weight had a major impact on my life experience. Those 20 pounds both came and went via tiny decisions. 

People with extraordinary willpower are aware that small choices matter if you want to live an extraordinary life. 

Katie Morton is the founder of The Monarch Company. Get a FREE copy of her eBook, 10 Steps to a Blissful You, to get started on developing extraordinary willpower for life. 

* courtesy of Yahoo! 

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