The Science of Willpower

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Decision or Destiny?

As far back as I can remember, willpower has been thought to be a personality characteristic that some people possessed and others did not. I can remember ascribing to this line of thought. My wake up call was a young girl named Janice. I talk about Janice so often that some day, she may be on some social media site and wonder if it’s her. Yes, Janice, if the story sounds right, it’s you. I’d love for you to know that your health initiative not only changed my life but the lives of many others. Because of you, I realized that willpower is simply a choice.

Janice

I was in my early 20’s and was visiting a friends house, a sort of an unorganized party scenario where everyone was eating and drinking. Janice was a vision of loveliness in this cloud of debauchery, attentively hostessing this barrage of pseudo-hippies that had invaded her home. We were all living it up, eating all kinds of stuff and I noticed that Janice was not. I also noticed, once again that she was a stunner. I said, “Janice, how do you stay so slim?”. She looked at me, and with a measure of restraint, she said.”I eat raw vegetables, a lot.”. I didn’t know what to think. I had always assumed that she was just “one of those people”, you know, the kind that we tend to think just look that way when they wake up in the morning, eat junk and hot wings all day, and never gain an ounce. The kind that often have the phrase muttered over them, “Well, it’s easy for you.”. Guess what. It’s not “easy” for them. They work at it. Every day. All day. Until it becomes a lifestyle. Janice never had to fight the urge to eat a box of Little Debbie’s because she had decided long ago that it wasn’t a possibility. She had a tray of raw veggies in the fridge and that was her default. What appeared to be “willpower” was a simple decision. I know, this still sounds like a personality trait that we don’t all have. It’s not. It’s a willingness to do “hard”, to take responsibility for our lives and put in the work rather than be a victim. Janice wanted the carry-out pizza as much as I did, she just didn’t entertain the thought because she knew that pizza would not give her the life that she wanted. It’s all about making a decision.

Decision

There is a belief that we have a specific amount of willpower and when we have reached the bottom of the barrel, it’s gone. There is scientific evidence that that is not the case. The evidence is that people who believe that they have “X” amount, will work at a task until the difficulty becomes more uncomfortable than they are prepared to accommodate. The evidence also indicates that people who believe that they have whatever it takes to complete a task, will complete a task. [1] This does not mean that it’s “easy” for the ones who complete the task. It means exactly what the research revealed. They believed willpower to be limitless, that they had what it took to do the job. They never, not even one time, believed that it would be “easy”. This experiment proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that what we believe about willpower determines how much of it we have. It is merely a manifestation of what we believe.

 

Epiphany

Fewer years ago than I like to think about, I was craving “crunchy”. I felt like I HAD to have “crunchy”. I had thrown every trigger food that I was aware of having in the house away but as the craving and the vicious emotions that accompany binge eating overtook me, I proceeded to the freezer in the laundry room. I knew that there was frozen gluten free bread in there and , because I was a compulsive, chronic, volume binger, I also knew that it was pretty good, kind of like a crunchy ice cream. That brand of gluten free bread was a little sweet. I felt driven to eat that bread. I had cravings that seemed intolerable. As I neared that freezer, I broke down into tears. I felt helpless in the rush of the cravings and victimized by my own mind but…I realized, in that moment, that I had a CHOICE. That was where the tears came from. I believed that I had a choice. Because I believed it, I asked myself, “Which do you want more, health or frozen bread?” As I sobbed like it as the end of the world, I grabbed that bread, opened the package, dumped it in the trash and covered it with Dawn dish washing detergent. I think that I posted it on WW Connect under my original Connect account. My “willpower” had made it’s debut in the form of what I believed to be true. I knew that I had the power to make a decision and from that day to this, I have been aware of that fact. With David’s Way, I proceeded to lose 20 more pounds and become a power lifter.

Creating Our World

It is common for individuals to decide that they have a given set of beliefs, a “belief system” that works for them. It is not based on truth or reality. It is based on what the individual wants to be true. In psychology, it is sometimes referred to as rationalization, where a behavior is excused based on a created idea or excuse. Some of the most dysfunctional people that I have ever known live their lives this way. The problem is, when these ideas are not based in truth, their world is off kilter, skewed to one side. Behaviors that they want to indulge in, whether for their benefit or their destruction, are forced into place much like a piece of a jigsaw puzzle that doesn’t fit is jammed into the picture. The picture is complete but it’s flawed. A good example is the smoker who believes that smoking will help them lose weight while their doctor has told them that they need to quit smoking. As heart disease develops, this individual will continue to rationalize that the cigarettes help them as their health spirals downwards. We also do this concerning food in that we will believe that we can’t “go around hungry” and grab a candy bar at check-out. If we had believed that we needed to make certain that we make good food choices, we would have had a healthy snack on hand or waited just a few minutes until we could find a more appropriate food choice. Again, our belief was our will power.

Coping

There are difficult circumstances that befall human beings that seem impossible to change, for a season. In these times, we will have to extend a measure of Grace to ourselves because we are not robots. If we do not have money or we are stranded, unable to get to a healthier food option, and we have access to a secondary food choice, then certainly, we will have to eat it. We must survive. A good example is after a natural disaster when everything you have has been blown to Hell, don’t stress about eating the damn candy bar, okay? Stuck at the hospital sitting with a loved one and your relief doesn’t show? It’s 3AM, you’re ravenous and the damn candy bar is the only thing that you have access to because everything else in the vending machine is sold out? Eat the candy bar already. It will see you through. Just because you eat that one candy bar does NOT mean that you are going to go crazy and eat every candy bar in town. It means that you were hungry and that was what was available, nothing more, nothing less. Again, our belief that our strength is limitless will expel the anxiety associated with those types of choices. We can never fall into “All or Nothing” thinking because then we will live with the dark cloud of guilt hanging over us. Knowing that we have the strength to care for ourselves the best that we can in all circumstances will make our Journey to health easier in that we will, guess what, believe, that we are going to make it. Grace is like that. It may look like rationalization but it’s far from it. Grace is the breathing room that is necessary because we are organic creatures with many life systems that work together to keep our minds and bodies up and running. Believing that you can have something that you need in a difficult situation is not anything like simply choosing that as an option. There are situations where we have to avail ourselves of what is available to sustain us and then move on. I eat a ton of meat and eggs and protein bars. I know that these food items are expensive.

Just Do Your Best

If you can’t afford certain foods in large quantities, do the best with what you’ve got. The trick is to always do your best and never use the belief that you don’t have willpower to allow you to do less. If we consistently do our best, our lives will take on the essence of victory. People will look at us and say, “Oh, that’s easy for you to say.” when we’re working our collective asses off to be excellent. Never, ever settle for mediocre. Do your best. If your food budget is limited, please avail yourself of the excellent recipes right here on this blog. David has many recipes on here that are inexpensive, healthy and very good! I eat a lot of his food. I eat bean dishes and call them Davids Way Food. I combine beans with whatever meat that I have, maybe a little rice and throw in whatever sounds good, quite often salsa, guacamole or some form of onions or peppers and I have to hide my food. It looks good and it is good! Everyone wants it! I’m generous to a fault, but don’t ask for my protein. 🙂

Decision Time

I’m asking you today. Are you willing to make a decision to make a decision? What do yo believe? The evidence is overwhelming. We have what it takes to do what is best for us. There is no mystery. It’s not “easy” for anyone. Successful people decide to be successful. Do you want to continue to delude yourself into believing that you don’t have enough willpower or do you want to know with certainty that you have the strength, you just have to do the work. There may be tears. You will have become a new creature and there’s pain with birth, but you will also have a new life.

Support

We’re here for you. We reply to your questions and comments whenever we see them. At David’s Way, you always have “The Personal Touch” ♥ ;-*

[1] https://www.journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0956797610384745

 

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4 thoughts on “The Science of Willpower

  1. Great article Brenda. You speak the truth, Sister. XOXO Going to work on willpower. Health problems don’t help anything and the meds for them just cause more weight gain. Then on with the cycle.

    1. Hi Leah! Yes, Dear, meds can cause cravings which seem to be uncontrollable. Again, just do the best you can. That’s your best. Remember, we are stronger than we know. You will make progress. ♥️

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