One of the hardest things to do now days is to go to the store and know what you are actually buying. There are so many ingredients with such varying names! It can make it complicated to really get a grasp on what each item is made of. To make the matters even worse is the misleading way some companies package and label their products. Add into that some stores layouts just leading you into traps, of self-indulgence, at some point, you could just say “I have no willpower”, and give in to the temptations.
While many people try and set health goals, it takes a significant amount of work to achieve results. According to American Psychological Association, “The most frequently reported goals that people set for 2012 were those aimed at improving health (57 percent reported a goal to lose weight, 50 percent reported a goal to eat a healthier diet, and 41 percent reported a goal to start exercising regularly) or financial status” (we will skip financial goals for the purposes of this article).
Can we train our willpower? If so, what are the simplest habits for your willpower training when it comes to healthy living?
Willpower, habits, and Healthy eating
Before learning how to find this information, in my previous life, there were a lot of assumptions. Drinking a can of soda, or eating a candy bar ended up being 2 or 3 times as much as I was counting on. Living primally means refocusing on those foods that have little or no processing. Typically the less the better. Although there have been some improvements allowing us to not to be as labor intensive when making our favorite foods. Often, they might not always be the best option for us. Each step is about making incremental improvements and trying to maintain a level that maximizes the best outcome for each of us individually.
It is challenging to learn how not to give in to temptations, and use your willpower to achieve the results you want, but not impossible. Willpower focus may be different for each individual, but knowing some basic information about how to navigate the dreaded maze of the grocery store, for example, can help us train ourselves.
Start training your willpower by learning
The first hurdle is knowing that the old adage of staying to the outside of the store, is not 100% applicable anymore. Stores have learned this, and usually, their most profitable items have been historically on the inner aisles of the store. Just about the time you have broken down your willpower, and you can’t hold back and your hunger starts an irreversible drive, you pick up those cookies, or that fruit pie, etc. not looking back and hoping no one notices.
So, nutritionists everywhere started saying, “stick to the perimeter of the store”. Unfortunately, slowly as stores modified their sales tactics there has been a change to many store layouts. Even in fruits and vegetable sections, you’ll find candy, and cakes, and more. Throughout the perimeter, there will be stands loaded with everything tempting, and everything bad, so that even while trying to remain strong, the most stout of us can sometimes waver. This is the tactic. This is their goal. Knowing, and thinking about the situation beforehand can better prepare you to succeed.
Also, since we are heavily guided by instant gratification and dopamine, it is pretty easy to give in to treats, sweets, and other foods that are not that great for us. Here is a great article on how to resists the cravings in pursuit of dopamine. When you know these facts, you will be less prone to following the urges to eat whatever you just craved.
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The store isn’t your enemy, but they are there to make money. Moderation is the keyword corporations toss about. It isn’t their fault. They just wanted to make sure everything you COULD want is available, in the most convenient possible way, to ensure as little hesitation as possible when your cart rolls by.
Willpower can be trained like a muscle
Willpower is a trained skill. One day of succeeding leads to more. It also can weaken the more you use it. Willpower allows us to resist short-term temptations to achieve long-term goals. If you and I know that we have a problem with willpower around a certain product then until we develop our goals and overcome that shortfall, all we need to do is to change our habits. Don’t put ourselves at that weak point, or only encounter that weakness when we know we are at our strongest.
5 Awesome Habits for Willpower Training + healthy habits
1. Do the most tempting things when you are strongest.
When coming up with a plan to tackle this conundrum, (or any other that you feel weak willpower being an issue) think about when you are strongest. Come up with 3 criteria that define the optimal time, and the way in which you feel the most power/strength within you. Maybe it is after a nap, or a strong cup of coffee, before work, after a workout. If it is difficult, to find three optimal times, think instead of the times that are hardest.
I know that after a long day of work for me, there are no good decisions that will be made as I walk down those aisles. Half the food could end up in my cart before I can even blink. Additionally, I know after a workout whether it went well or not, I know that I rarely want to indulge and “undo” any good I did.
2. Quantify your success.
Whether it is a number of days you did not have sweets, or the number of workouts you completed in a week, or just days a month you felt great working on your health – write it down. Put some numbers to it – in hours, minutes, days, pounds, and quantities. We respond well to results and accomplishments when they are quantified. It is a positive reinforcement and makes it easier to continue working on strengthening your willpower.
3. Be mindful.
Think before doing. I know, at times it does not work. The more you practice it, the better you get. Remind yourself about your “whys”, understand the mechanism of your cravings, stress eating, and manage it. You may not be very successful at first, but the more time and effort you put into it, the better. Sometimes a short pause can make a difference.
4. Plan ahead.
Planning is more than 50% of your willpower training success. Come prepared to the store. Make a list. Plan your workouts ahead, at least the number of them. Of course, you will face harder and more stressful days or the days when your body is unmotivated to do anything. Take it easy, but try to think through issues most relevant to the habit you are trying to build.
5. Tempt yourself but don’t give in.
Carry something tempting with you if you are working on eating healthy. Have alcohol at home but do not drink it. Out of sight – out of mind is a great concept, yet it strengthens our desire to have something unavailable to us. Once you have it but don’t have it – that’s where the real work is. Saying no to something will feel good in a while. Try it for a few weeks with something less damaging than a cheesecake.
Remember: the healthier you eat, the easier it is to train your willpower. And remember, you are human. We learn as we go.
How about you? Do you struggle with willpower?