Willpower is great. It works perfectly when we hit a deadline or need to do one specific task. Think tax return. Ironing your shirts. Taking the do for a walk. If you don’t do it, you will face immediate consequences: a fine from HMRC, no shirts tomorrow or.. (well, you can guess!)
But if you want to make long term changes like eating healthier, or need to do something on an ongoing basis like adding some exercise to your life, willpower doesn’t work. It’s like a muscle, it wears out.
Everybody got willpower between breakfast and lunch. Then, life happens: your meeting runs over, you don’t have time to eat well at lunch, maybe you are stressed. Other things take precedence, you lose your focus and your willpower weakens.
Long term changes need a different strategy, because the benefits are not visible or measurable immediately. Food does not work like a paracetamol and change doesn’t happen overnight. You don’t see any immediate effects of eating healthier or going to the gym. No matter how hard you try or how well you do. Working out in the gym for 4 hrs will not change your body. But if you go 3 times a week, you will see results. It’s not about intensity, it’s about consistency.
Here are a few strategies that can help:
1. Make a decision.
There’s no room for ‘I really should…’ Find your very own motivation, why you want to change. What does reaching your goal mean to you? My clients always come up with great reasons: fitting in the perfect suit, finally having the confidence to go for that dram job, getting more done in less time and impress the colleagues, playing with the kids for hours... the list is long! Find your own 'Why"!
2. Make your new behaviour a habit.
You don’t need willpower to brush your teeth. You do it automatically. If you adopt micro habits (a tiny little behaviour which can be bolted on to an already existing habit), it gets easier:
3. Hold yourself accountable. Or find someone who holds you accountable. My clients appreciate that I provide this positive accountability – it’s not about judging or telling you off. It’s about finding strategies that work for you. For good.
4. Prepare your environment (Benjamin Hardy has written a great book about it) and change it if needed. Go through your cupboards, remove all unhealthy foods. If you decide to work out in the morning, pack your gym bag the night before. Surround yourself with people who eat well, live healthy and infect you with their enthusiasm.
5. Believe it. If you fundamentally believe that what you do is the right thing, you can completely forget about willpower and stick with it. And your consistency will pay off.