Why Do I Have No Willpower?
“There is only one real power and that is the ability to make things happen.” ― Wayne Gerard Trotman
- Have you ever wondered why you just have NO WILLPOWER to change your eating habits?
- Maybe you are someone that feels very in control when it comes to your professional life and your personal life and that doesn't understand why you don't have that same level of control when it comes to food?
- Maybe you are fed up of promising to "start tomorrow" or "start on Monday" and just don't understand why you just can't seem to follow through when tomorrow or Monday arrives?
- Perhaps you are able to find the willpower to make changes to your diet for a few days or even a few weeks but then you find that you slip back into old unhelpful behaviours?
- Or perhaps, things go well for you with your lifestyle choices until you hit a moment of stress or are feeling sad or anxious and then you find yourself reverting back to old, unhelpful behaviours?
When it comes to your food and lifestyle choices, unfortunately, willpower will only take you so far. There are a range of things that can negatively affect our willpower and therefore cause you to default back to old unhelpful habits. Here are a few factors that can have an influence on your willpower:
Everything just feels more difficult when we are tired. Do you remember how you felt when you last woke up tired and sleep-deprived? Perhaps you found yourself feeling completely unmotivated to do anything, perhaps you were more irritable and annoyed or perhaps you just found yourself naturally reaching for caffeine and sugar just to give you the energy to get through the day. Unfortunately, sleep-deprivation has a negative effect on the part of our brain (the pre-frontal cortex) that drives our willpower. So when you are tired and not sleeping enough, you really just don't have the ability to make changes to your diet or lifestyle.
In times of stress, we tend to default back to our old ingrained habits. If these habits are helpful, then this works well. However, if these habits are unhelpful, then it can be very difficult to change our behaviours in stressful times. Stress has a similar effect on the brain to sleep-deprivation in that it impairs the effective functioning of the willpower part of the brain (the pre-frontal cortex). This means that trying to change your behaviours in times of stress can be very challenging unless you have appropriate help or support to do so.
We all know that alcohol lowers our inhibitions. We have all found ourselves saying or doing things that we may not usually do or say after a few drinks - whether this is dancing at a wedding (when we would NEVER dance in front of others), saying something embarrassing to colleagues at a networking event (when we are usually very reserved at work) or stopping off for some very indulgent food on the way home from a night out (when we have eaten healthy and nourishing meals all week) - alcohol can drive us to make choices that we wouldn't usually make. Again, the reason for this is that alcohol has an impact on the part of our brain that controls our willpower. Alcohol typically also negatively affects our sleep quality and so when you wake up tired and groggy the next morning, it can mean that you don't have much willpower the next day either.
INGRAINED HABITS AND OVERWHELM
A lot of our behaviours are just ingrained habits that play out on loop without us really thinking about it. The time that we wake up, the foods we choose to eat, the places we go to and a lot more about our day-to-day lives tends to just play out on autopilot. In order to change any of these habits takes some willpower. However, we only have so much willpower and the mistake that many people make when trying to change something in their life is to change too much too quickly. When we try and overhaul our diet overnight, we may be able to sustain this for a little while but eventually it will feel like far too much work and take far too much effort. It just takes TOO MUCH willpower to change too many things in one go and this is where we will typically give up altogether and just go back to our old unhelpful habits instead.
You would never suggest to someone that was trying to stop drinking alcohol to spend their days in a pub or bar. You would never encourage someone that had just given up smoking to spend their days selling cigarettes. Our environment and the people and things we surround ourselves with can either help us to get to our goals or hinder us from getting to our goals. Our environment can either support and reinforce our willpower or gradually and slowly break it down.
YOUR IDENTITY AND SELF-CRITICISM
You will live up to whatever you believe to be true about yourself. If you identify as someone who doesn't smoke, you won't make the decision to go and smoke a cigarette. If you identify as a dedicated runner and athlete, you will put on your running shoes and go for a run even though you don't feel like it sometimes. If you are trying to make a change to some new habits but still identify with and define yourself according to your old habits, it can be very difficult to make long-term change. For example, if you still think of yourself as "an over-eater" or "comfort-eater" you are effectively giving yourself permission to over-eat or comfort-eat. This is why real behaviour change often requires identity change. How you talk to yourself and coach yourself when making changes in your life also has an impact on your willpower. When you are very critical and harsh on yourself this can affect your mood and cause stress and as we have seen, this can have a negative impact on your willpower and motivation to bring about change.
If you would like to understand what else can influence your ability to make helpful choices around food, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org to book in a free consultation. We can help you to find that sustained motivation to shift your eating patterns and make changes to your diet and lifestyle that you can sustain over the long-term.
“The biggest enemies of willpower: temptation, self-criticism, and stress. (...) these three skills —self-awareness, self-care, and remembering what matter most— are the foundation for self-control.” ― Kelly McGonigal