We’ve all been in that situation, the one where you are literally face-to-face with an unhealthy choice. One quiet (almost too quiet) voice in your head is telling you to stick to your guns, make the healthy choice, do the right thing. Another, much louder voice is saying “Ah, forget it. I can have some. In fact, I deserve it!” In that moment, we are unable to resist. Our resolve crumbles, self-control goes out the window, and we feel completely overwhelmed by our desires.
Our willpower has failed.
The experience that I just described is a very common one and even has a fun psychobabble name… it’s called Ego Depletion. This refers to the idea that self-control or willpower draws upon a limited pool of mental resources that can be used up. When the energy for mental activity is low (such as at the end of a long, stressful day), self-control is typically impaired, which leads to going off plan or skipping a workout or whatever. Sounds pretty hopeless, right? Well, it would be except that’s not the end of the story. We also know that self-control and willpower work just like a muscle which means they can be conditioned or trained to become stronger and have more endurance. But training your willpower to be stronger and last longer takes one very important shift; you have to reframe how you view those tempting situations.
Instead of viewing the temptation to eat a cupcake or skip the gym as a situation depleting you of your valuable willpower reserves, switch it up to see it as an opportunity to grow and build your willpower muscle! For example, if you’re having trouble finding the motivation to stick to the plan, or you’re tired of struggling with making yourself exercise, try telling yourself that every time you work on a challenging task you are becoming stronger and better at dealing with the next one. This subtle shift in your mindset can make you feel more empowered and more capable of making healthy choices.
Here’s how you can use this strategy on your health journey:
- When you find yourself tempted to eat something unhealthy or skip your workout, pause and take a deep breath.
- Tell yourself that working through this challenge is going build that willpower muscle and make you better, faster, stronger! TIP: Have a pre-formed statement to say to yourself such as “Working through this situation will make me stronger to deal with the next one!”
- If you make the healthy choice, then praise yourself! If you fall back to old habits have self-compassion. Remember that if beating yourself up for mistakes worked, then we’d all be perfect by now.
Willpower is only one of the tools that we have for making healthy and sustainable lifestyle changes. But, we can sharpen this tool by reframing how we view challenges by seeing them as opportunities to improve and make healthy choices in the future.