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Establishing a new (good) habit is HARD. Whether it's eating better, starting an exercise routine or waking up earlier in the day...willpower can be a struggle and sometimes extremely hard to muster up (Snooze button, anyone??)...

So how do we learn to KEEP new habits and get rid of that little voice in our minds that wants us to start tomorrow....again?

First of all, what IS willpower? We have a lot of common names for it: self-control, discipline, determination...however, "according to most psychological scientists, willpower can be defined as:

  • The ability to delay gratification, resisting short-term temptations in order to meet long-term goals.
  • The capacity to override an unwanted thought, feeling or impulse.
  • The ability to employ a “cool” cognitive system of behavior rather than a “hot” emotional system.
  • Conscious, effortful regulation of the self by the self."*

So, how do we take control of our willpower?

One way is to avoid the temptation all together. Want to eat healthier? Don't keep unhealthy foods at home. Out of sight, out of mind is definitely a concept that works for many habits. Another suggestion in situations where temptation is harder to resist is to plan how to react if someone offers you something you are trying to avoid. In essence, telling yourself - "if someone offers me X, I will say X". This is called an "implementation intention"*, research has found that techniques like these can help to strength self-control, or, willpower.*

I have found that accountability (to someone else) is a major factor in helping stick to my routines. By telling someone that you are going to do something makes it harder to back out. It's easier and less stressful to just stick to your promises then to make up an excuse as to why you can't. Establish a support system and ask them to make you accountable. Little by little, sticking to that healthy routine becomes easier and eventually it's habit.

In this day and age, we have everything at our fingertips, almost everything is instant...and we want to go from fast food diets to plant-based one day to the next and couch potatoes to a marathon runners instantaneously! These plans NEVER work.

Let's recognize the SMALL wins. Major lifestyle changes do not happen all at once. Baby steps are the only way we eventually learn to run.  Your goal is to get to 10,000 steps every day? You started at 5,000 and today you're at 6,000? YOU ALREADY DID AN EXTRA THOUSAND STEPS! Tomorrow, maybe you will do 6,500! You aren't at your goal yet, but you are getting there. Every day is a new opportunity. You will eventually get to 10,000. After that? Reach for 20,000 and start again! Every day is a chance to improve, to be better than yesterday.

Eventually you will reap the benefits you envisioned, and maybe even some you didn't expect.

 

Sources:

*http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/willpower.aspx

**http://scopeblog.stanford.edu/2011/12/29/a-conversation-about-the-science-of-willpower/

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