Willpower: exercise it like a muscle!

Ever feel like you’re in “Foodaholics Anonymous?”  We are tempted to do the sit around in a circle and introduce ourselves like this: “Hi my name is Chris, I have a sweet and salty tooth and it’s been one month since I last had a chocolate covered pretzel.”  We also do the following to ourselves a lot:

1) Identify the temptation.

2) Obsess about the temptation.

3) Fall flat on our faces when temptation is in front of us.

4) Feel bad about ourselves for failing to avoid the temptation and blame it on our lack of willpower.

5) Repeat step 1.

Sound familiar?  There’s probably a similar dialogue about why we don’t get on the healthy lifestyle bandwagon too but replace the steps with reasons why we don’t have time to exercise.

There is a way of thought that I ran across called Akrasia: act against your own best interest.  Our brains are hard wired to obtain satisfaction through our actions.  So if our brains are thinking: “It feels so good when I eat a chocolate covered pretzel.”  We immediately associate the object or action of eating as positive and when we eat it our good endorphins get released.  It’s a chemical response that is learned; we convince our bodies that it’s in our best interest to eat whatever we’re tempted with.  So, what do we do about this?  Remap our brains and start exercising our willpower.

Willpower is like a muscle, the more we use it the stronger it gets.  So instead of obsessing over the weakness we have we need to start saying “No” or start making the positive change in our lives.  But how about this idea, reward yourself for saying “No” by altering the reward; willpower is your reward.  Akrasia encourages us to accept that our current satisfaction wiring is skewed so what our brains perceive as our best interest is ultimately not beneficial for us.  As we start exercising our willpower with one positive decision a day we start associating the same satisfaction of strengthening our willpower with our best interests and we feel good about it.  It’s not going to happen over night, it’s like any exercise regimen.  Do it progressively, make one good change a day; say no to one temptation a day for a week, and then keep improving on that.

The research convention says that carbohydrate addictions yield similar responses to drug addictions like cocaine.  That’s a learned response.  Willpower actually delivers a similar endorphin release if we train our bodies to accept it as the reward.  So the next time there’s a temptation, say no and feel your willpower strengthen!  Start exercising on a regular basis and notice how it makes you feel after, then exercise in order to get the feeling.

Remap your brain with willpower and you’ll see the awesome results!

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About Chris Tse

I’m a scientist turned owner of Blitz Conditioning, a Fitness Columnist at CBC Radio on Thursdays at 8:20 am, and owner of Tse Social Strategy. Follow me on Twitter or Read my full bio.

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