Wean Yourself From Willpower

Wean Yourself From Willpower

Have you ever wondered about those people who can stick with healthy habits? People who exercise daily, year after year? People who eat healthy consistently, not just when they are on a diet? How do they do it? How do they stay motivated? How does their willpower last so long?

Let me tell you a secret. They’re not using willpower. WHAT?? They have TONS of willpower, right? No. They’re just really not using it. Not often anyway.

So now that you are confused, let’s define willpower. Willpower is the ability to take actions that go against our emotions. So willpower is exercising when you really don’t feel like it. It is not eating those cookies when you really want them. It is getting out of bed at 6:00 when what you truly want is to just lay there. That is willpower. And it is in limited supply.

Remember Brooke Castillo’s model?

Brain talk ahead. Stick with me! I’m going to make it as simple as possible. What is natural and easy for the human brain is to take actions that follow naturally from the feelings we have. These kinds of tasks become habitual and can be done automatically by our cerebellum, or “lower brain.” This is the part of the brain that does things subconsciously. However, when we want to change a habit, we have to really think hard about it. This uses a different part of the brain, the cerebral cortex, or “upper brain,” as I’m going to refer to it. Our upper brain is used for rational thinking. It knows what we truly want and can override our lower brain. But it also requires much more energy to use it. Like literally, it has a higher caloric requirement. Our brains are designed to be efficient, and so they want to work from the lower part as much as possible. Using willpower is a higher brain activity, and one that requires large amounts of energy because it is so unnatural for us. That is why willpower is limited. I may be able to get through a 6-week diet plan on sheer willpower, but then I run out.

So back to those people…the ones you thought had extraordinary willpower. If they aren’t using willpower, what are they using? Commitment. When our thoughts create positive feelings, positive action naturally follows and we don’t have to expend a bunch of energy working our higher brain for it to happen. Commitment is a feeling that comes from positive thinking about our lives, our goals, and what we truly believe we can and will accomplish. It comes from a place of love, not fear.

Before the birth of my first baby, I thought I wanted to experience childbirth without the use of drugs. Women for ages had had babies this way, and I wanted to know what it was like. I practiced some labor breathing a few times, but mostly “prepared” for childbirth by worrying about what it would be like, how bad it would hurt, or how scary or intense it might be. Needless to say, about 16 hours into labor, I ran out of willpower and opted for the epidural. I don’t think there is anything wrong with having an epidural. It just wasn’t the experience I wanted to have. Pregnancy #2—same desire for drug-free childbirth, same preparation, same result. By the third one, I just resigned myself to the fact that I would have an epidural. I simply didn’t have the willpower needed.

While pregnant with my fourth child, I knew that this might be my last chance to have that childbirth experience I had always wanted. And I finally understood that if I did what I had always done, I would get what I had always gotten. I didn’t understand the difference between willpower and commitment yet, but I knew I had to try something different. I started reading books and listening to recordings about natural childbirth. I thought through every aspect of it and exactly how I wanted it to go. I listed the reasons I wanted to have a drug-free birth. I talked to my husband, my sister, my mom, and my doctor about my wishes. I practiced visualization and breathing and recited affirmations to prepare my mind. And something magical happened. I shifted from FEAR to LOVE.  My thoughts were creating positive feelings—the exact feelings I needed to have the exact birth I had prepared for. I never asked for an epidural or even really wanted one. I was committed to it, and didn’t need willpower any more. It was a wonderful experience, and I repeated it with baby #5 as well.

And this is why I think this project is so important. Do you see it? If you can think positive thoughts about your body, you will have the good feelings you need to drive your actions toward healthier results. Exercising consistently when you are feeling hate for your body takes a LOT of willpower. But exercising because you love it and want to treat it right does not. Eating foods that fuel your body when you are afraid that you will get fat, or trying to not overeat when you are running from negative emotion takes willpower! But eating healthy because you love your body and you want to take care of it does not. Willpower is not a bad thing, and sometimes we need to use it. I am one of those people who exercises regularly and it doesn’t take any willpower. But I am working each day to change my thinking around food and eating right. Sometimes I don’t do very well, and I have to use willpower to get me through. And I’m glad that it is available. But I know that it is limited. And so I continue to work toward commitment instead.

Keep thinking those positive thoughts. Do it until your lower brain takes on that task. Thought by thought, day by day, you can wean yourself from willpower.  You are amazing!

Love your body, and your body will love you.

3 thoughts on “Wean Yourself From Willpower

  1. Thanks for this post. I really enjoyed it. I have been really frustrated with myself for over a year and especially lately about how I feel like I have no self discipline or self control when it comes to eating more healthy foods. I just need some time to process this information and use it. So thank you!

    1. Kandyce, this new understanding of willpower has helped me so much! I hate housecleaning, but when I can find the reasons that I truly want to do it–love for my home and my family–it suddenly doesn’t seem so bad. So I know there is something to this weaning from willpower. Good luck with applying it! Thanks for your comment!

  2. I just have to say that your project is really helping me. I have a long ways to go but thank you for putting yourself out there and sharing all of your experiences and knowledge.

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