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  • Wendy Lee Johnson

Willpower: Friend or Foe?

Updated: Jan 9

Ever wonder why it’s so much easier to stick to your plan in the morning?

Willpower may just have something to do with that.

It is no problem to eat well at breakfast. It even feels pretty easy to eat on plan at work. Then, when you get home in the evening, the eating plan goes right out the window. Where is willpower when you really need it?


What if you could just dial up the willpower when you needed it?




What we know about willpower


1. Everyday we start with a finite amount.


Imagine for a moment that willpower is measured in points and everyday you start with, say, 150 willpower points. Possible point usage:

  • 15 points--Getting out of bed

  • 5 points--Getting out of bed, after 2 snooze buttons

  • 40 points--Going to the gym in the morning

  • 25 points--Packing a healthy lunch for work

  • 20 points--Not getting visibly upset at a co-worker or family member

  • 30 points--Finishing an assignment on time

  • 20 points--Passing on treats in the break room or on the counter

  • 30 points--Still passing on treats in the afternoon

  • 40 points--Not reacting when hubby calls and complains

  • 40 points--Eat on plan for dinner

  • 30 points--Resist treats in the fridge


2. When we do hard things, we use some of our willpower up.


If going to the gym is important, but not a regular habit, it will require a lot of willpower to wake up early, change clothes, get in a cold car in the dark, drive to the gym and work out. Each time we use some of our "points" up, we have less willpower for the day. As new habits become more established, they require less and less willpower. In addition, the more we start liking something, the less willpower it requires.


3. When the willpower is gone for the day, it is gone.


I recommend you look at where your willpower is going, so you are aware. Sometimes we waste our willpower on things that aren’t important. The important thing to notice is if it feels like your caving to cravings everyday around 3pm, you maybe maxing out your willpower right about then.


4. We will wake up tomorrow with a new bundle of willpower at our disposal.


The best news is that our willpower is restored each night.



Relying on willpower is risky


Willpower is amazing when you have it. It's that amazing feeling when you walk right by the treats on your own counter (10 points every time) and can say "no" to dessert at lunch with friends (25 points). But when you have a complex day and use all the points up early, it feels like your self-discipline is nonexistent.


How not to rely on willpower


How can you tell if you are relying on willpower? If you feel restricted or deprived, it definitely takes willpower to stay with your plan. If you have the thought, “If can just hang on a little while longer,” you’re for sure trying to use willpower. It’s what you think about your plan that makes all the difference. If you make a 24-hour plan and when you look at that plan you choose to think thoughts that bring feelings of restriction or rebellion, then you will be trying to stay on board with willpower. This is why making a plan for yourself that you think is in the zone rather than you think is exotic or unrealistic is a big key.


It is never about the food you plan to eat. It's always about what you think about it.

If you make a 24-hour plan and believe thoughts about it like, “this is totally in the zone” or “I got this,” your need for willpower disappears. You shift to a belief pattern that serves you and your actions are completely different. When you have the thought, "I have totally got this," you might feel empowered or confident. Often the actions that come from empowered or confident are: staying on plan, packing a lunch, deciding a menu choice before arriving at the restaurant or dropping by the market for that prepackaged salad that you love. All of this comes from a place of "I got this," rather than "I have to stay on this diet," which usually brings feelings of rebellion or deprivation. Anytime you feel rebellion or deprivation, it will require willpower to stay on plan.


A woman over 50 years old has, on average, tried dieting over 60 times.

You see a diet plan and want it to work. You have a friend or sister that has had some success with it. You want to lose the weight so badly. But already you are having thoughts...


"How will I ever stay on it?"

"This has to work!"

"This time will be different."


At the same time you are trying to queue up all the willpower you can muster in hopes that it will be sustainable this time. Diets are often successful for awhile, but isn't it time for permanent success? Isn't it time to quit the struggle with food? It's time to let go of willpower as an ally.


The truth is that willpower is that unreliable friend that shows up sometimes, but when you really need her, she is nowhere to be found.

What you really need is a sustainable lifestyle change, that brings thoughts like, "I love how I feel when I eat like this," and "I could do this forever." These are the changes that put you back in touch with finding what's really right and true for you. You are the one that knows you. You are your best friend, that can show up for yourself and have your own back. Give the job back to you and not to willpower.

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