You meant to go to the gym today, but then that pile of work was calling your name (along with reading this article of course! :P).
If only you had more willpower, right?!
It’s the roadblock standing between you and a fitter body. Why can’t you have unbreakable willpower like all of those crazy-fit and healthy people have?!
Well actually… they don’t have unbreakable willpower.
Before I dive in, let me tell you this first:
You are NOT failing at become fitter (or anything else in life for that matter) because you don’t have enough willpower. Plus lack of ‘willpower’ does not beget future lack of ‘willpower’.
Meaning, even though you struggled with getting fit in the past this does NOT mean you can’t become fitter and stronger going forward.
Because willpower IS A WASTE OF TIME!
Willpower has been a bit of a buzzword over the last 5-10 years, which I assume is in part because of the research that was done and the fitness industry blowing-up the word. Some of the key findings of this research, primarily done by psychologist Roy Baumeister, included the fact that we have limited willpower each day and so we must use it wisely. He also found that willpower is like a muscle which can be strengthened with time and practice, which means you could grow the amount of ‘willpower reserves’ you have each day.
This was fascinating research, well I thought so at least (*self-proclaimed willpower nerd over here*) and so I wrote a post about how you can ‘hack’ willpower to avoid the cheesecake in the fridge and get your butt to the gym.
The thing is, this research didn’t fully make sense to what I witnessed in my own life and what I heard from others.
If you start each day with full willpower reserves then why is a morning workout such a struggle? On the flip-side, after a day of using up willpower reserves, why do some people workout at the end of the day almost effortlessly? And why when I used the willpower ‘hacks’, did they not make getting to the gym (or other things in my life) easier?
Lucky me, I stumbled across an excellent podcast episode from the Art of Charm and was introduced to the research of David Desteno. My mind was a little blown when he presented his new findings and said willpower is a waste of time and well, should just be avoided!
(^^ I bet you’re thinking the same!)
I can’t say if the new or old research is 100% correct as I believe there is truth in both. Plus with science there are always new studies being done and findings being found, so perhaps all of this will be turned on its head in a few years? One thing I do know is that this new research better explains why the ‘hacks’ I’ve used to stay consistent with exercise have worked and are in fact, rooted in science.
(Yes, hacks that have worked even on those ‘blah’ days).
Let’s dive in, why should we completely avoid willpower?
1. It’s a Waste of Time
Rationalization and willpower are partners in crime, so as soon as we try to ‘will’ ourselves to do something (or not do something) our brain begins to rationalize. It will argue with us about all the reasons we shouldn’t (or should) do something.
It may sound a bit like this:
Smart Brain (SB): I should go workout after work.
Rationalizing Brain (RB): But you’re feeling tired today! It’s better to just relax after work.
SB: But I didn’t go yesterday…
RB: Think of all the chores you need to get done at home still!
SB: I really should exercise…I’ve seriously been wanting to get in better shape for the summer….
RB: You’re tired, you won’t get out of the office until late, you have stuff to do at home, so you might as well skip the gym and just enjoy a relaxing evening.
SB: Yes! Good plan, Rationalizing Brain!
And there you have it folks, you just had an argument with your own brain.
That was a waste of time.
Oh and exhausting.
Come to think of it, it was a bit stressful too.
Does this sound familiar?! How often has this happened to you? (Yes, raise your hand over there). We’re smart, we know what we should do but too often our brain rationalizes why we should not do it and well, that begins a long battle with your own brain.
Since your rationalizing brain wants immediate pleasure it will work hard to fight you and your willpower, convincing you to give up on your ‘shoulds’.
“Skip the gym, you’re tired! Go home and relax with a glass of wine instead!”, it says.
You should go to the gym but boy, does your brain make a good point there. And you can always exercise tomorrow!
I’m sure at times you’ve been able to win the battle against your rationalizing brain, but have you been able to consistently do that?
I bet it’s rare.
Since your rationalizing brain only cares about the present moment it could care less about the consequences of your actions today. Especially not for the long term, say your health in 10 years time?
But I can’t forget to add, in that hour you spent debating with your own brain you could have finished a workout, finished those house chores, or even had your ‘chill’ time with wine in hand. And since we’re busy ladies, who has time to waste like this?!
Your rationalizing brain wants immediate pleasure and so it will work hard to fight you and your willpower, convincing you to give up on your ‘shoulds’.
2. It’s Exhausting
Yep, a lengthy debate with your brain is exhausting! No wonder the studies show that we need to limit our decisions to conserve willpower, who has the mental energy for constant brain debates?
At this point you’ve now skipped your workout AND are struggling with getting any work done that requires mental energy. Sounds like a lose-lose scenario to me.
3. It’s Stressful
Finally, and probably the icing on the cake, relying on willpower is stressful. When you get stressed your body releases cortisol, which is meant to give you an energy boost to help you in a fight or flight scenario.
But what goes up must come down.
As adrenaline dissipates and cortisol helps bring your body back down to normal, your body thinks it needs to refuel itself after that stressful situation (i.e. it needs food; carbs and fat!) (source). Now you’re mentally exhausted and possibly over-eating. We’re not doing so well here.
The long-term effects of increased cortisol are worse. In the case that you are consistently able to will yourself to do things over a long period of time, it has been found that this can lead to abdominal fat gain (the opposite of what you’re working towards), cognitive decline (not great for your career performance), and compromised immune function (a step away from feeling and being healthier). (source, source)
So when you assume that those crazy-fit and healthy people have rock-solid willpower, you can bet it’s something else that’s keeping them going.
(Keep reading…I’ll tell you what it is!)
You are NOT failing at become fitter (or anything else in life for that matter) because you lack willpower.
By now I assume (and hope!) that I’ve convinced you to just abandon willpower.
“What’s the better option?!”, you ask.
It’s to completely avoid it. And instead to,
(You’re not going to like the sound of the answer but trust me, it works and it’s easier than you think;)
Yep, good ol’ discipline. Not a sexy word by any means, but it works. And remember, this doesn’t mean “just will yourself to do something’, that’s willpower not discipline.
It’s hard work at times but it’s the secret to becoming fitter, healthier, and more confident (i.e. unstoppable!). By putting the effort in today and delaying immediate satisfaction we create a strong framework for a lifetime of health success.
Can I get a, “hooray”?!
Plus with focused efforts over time, discipline can become rather, EASY. I tell you HOW in Part 2 of ‘Why Don’t I Have Willpower to Exercise?’ where I give you the EXACT ‘Discipline Hacks’ I use to make it simple and even easy.
Whats ‘hacks’ do you use to stick with exercise, even on those ‘blah’ days?
Do today what others won’t, so you can do tomorrow what others can’t.
-Mark Divine (Former US Marine SEAL)