Willpower – Where Does It Go When We Need It the Most?

(Written by Dawn Lupul)

Do you feel like you are bombarded with hundreds of choices every day? From what to wear to what to eat to what to do after work, it seems like there is always one or many options to consider.

Decision overload can make it seem almost impossible to consistently make good choices that support our goals.

After a long day of making multiple decisions, it might not actually be your fault if you reach for the cookie jar when you get home instead of having a salad.

Although the research is somewhat controversial, ego depletion, or the idea that exercising self-control gets harder the more you have to do it, could play a role in your ability to assert willpower successfully or not. If our decision making muscles have limits in how effective they are based on how many decisions we make, this could explain why you end up doing exactly what you don’t want to do.

The secret to success lies in taking back control of your decision making. But where to start?

Small changes can make a big difference. A little planning ahead of time can save you from having to test your willpower when it’s at a low.

Here are five easy tricks to follow to encourage better habits:

  1. Plan Ahead – Minimize the number of decisions you have to make, especially in the morning. If you want to go to the gym, put your workout clothes where you almost have to step over them when you get out of bed. This reaffirms your desire to develop a better habit and makes it more likely that you will follow through.
  2. Shop Wisely – Stock up on the foods you would like to include in your diet, like fresh fruit and vegetables, and don’t bring your triggers into the house. You are less likely to grab that bag of cookies after work if you have to go out to get it. Put the things you would like to be eating in plain sight, and prep healthy snacks ahead of time so minimal effort is involved.
  3. Be Regular – Devise a routine that you can live with. Make choosing healthy choices as simple as possible For example, you can find easy ways to workout at home or experiment with a food delivery service that takes care of most of the prep. These can be useful short- term solutions while you train your mind to look forward to cooking fresh, healthy meals. As you begin to feel better you will want to continue the behaviour until it eventually becomes a habit you want to keep.
  4. Be Mindful – Outwit your tired, impressionable mind. If your go-to activity after work is plopping in front of the tv and zoning out, at least make sure that you aren’t watching endless food commercials that entice you with impossible to ignore food porn. Don’t test your willpower in this way! Grab a glass of water and prep a salad before dinner, and then commit to taking a walk after eating while doing something you enjoy, like listening to a favourite podcast. Make this a routine you look forward to and it will cease to be such a struggle.
  5. Make It Easy! – And finally, don’t be so hard on yourself! We are human, and we will all give in to temptation from time to time. One lapse doesn’t mean that you have to go into a full- blown frenzy of bad behaviour! Promise to do a little better each and every day, and before you know it you will be the person with the good habits who you always dreamed of becoming!
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