Most people assume that their inability to stick to a healthy diet or exercise regularly is simply down to a lack of willpower. I often hear people say “I just have no willpower” as if it’s something we either have or we don’t. But willpower isn’t as simple as that.
We all have some willpower, but it’s a finite amount. It’s like a muscle, it can only be flexed so many times before it starts to fatigue.
Willpower and decision-making are interconnected. Each time we make a decision our willpower is called upon, and the muscle is fatigued a little bit more. Unfortunately this means that, by the end of the day, our willpower muscle can easily be worn out. And no wonder. Apparently, on an average day, we make around 35,000 decisions – that’s a lot of decisions.
And once we’ve worn out our willpower, our brain starts to looks for decision making shortcuts. This is when we start making becoming reckless and make impulse decisions rather than using the energy to think through the consequences….cue the burger and chips for dinner or the half packet of Tim Tams before bed….
Follow Obama’s lead
Our days are filled with food related choices – should I have the chicken and salad sandwich for lunch or the pie and chips?, Should I have a piece of that cake in the kitchen?, Chocolate or vanilla? Obama wears the same blue suit every day so that he doesn’t have to waste any of his decision making capacity on deciding what to wear – a decision with a relatively unimportant and inconsequential outcome. His decision making and willpower is then saved for the many more important decisions he has to make each day. And while we might not be making quite such important decisions each day, we can certainly benefit from cutting down on these constant decisions about what to eat.
Put it on autopilot
By putting some of your meals and snacks on autopilot – choosing a few healthy meals or snacks and repeating these regularly – you can avoid decision fatigue while ensuring that you’re including at least one healthy meal each day without having to call on your willpower. For example, find a healthy breakfast you like and have this Monday – Friday. Having the same meals every day may seem boring, but it can make healthy eating a lot easier. And of course it doesn’t have to be exactly the same – vary a few ingredients depending on what’s in season etc so you mix it up a little bit and also get the benefits of a range of different nutrients from different foods.
Habits require no willpower
Before you know it, these actions will become habits, and will just be part of your everyday life that you don’t even have to think about, meaning zero drain on your precious willpower. Meanwhile, you’re a big step closer to maintaining a healthy diet, and you can save your willpower for that run after work…..
And the good news?
Luckily willpower, like a muscle, strengthens with repeated use. So by using your willpower for those important tasks and decisions, over time it will become stronger.