Three of the Most Misunderstood Words in Health and Wellness: Part 1
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Over the next few blog posts, I will be discussing three of the most commonly despised, yet misunderstood words in the health and wellness field. These words have been used so much in the field that either myths about their meaning have arisen or the images associated with their use creates a sense of dread in those who are trying to live a healthier lifestyle. But when we dig down into their origins and true meanings, we’ll see that the words themselves can provide a renewed sense of meaning to our journey towards eating better and becoming or staying physically active.
Today’s word: Willpower
For some reason many people view “willpower” as this mythic ability that certain people have and others don’t. Some see willpower as this form of supreme “control” that people must exert on themselves to stay “in-line” and keep from going overboard. But if you ask a person who seems to have lots of willpower about their healthy eating and activity decisions, odds are they will tell you it’s not hard at all. In fact, they may even say it’s the easiest part of their day and they feel horrible when they don’t eat well or make it to the gym! They love eating healthy and being active…it makes them feel good! And that’s why they would never give it up for anything in the world!
Can you see how the tasks are the same (eat better and move more), but the perception and attitude towards those tasks are completely different between the two people? In actuality, willpower just boils down to motivation and choice. We choose to eat better or be more active because we are motivated to do it. Why?
Because we want to do it.
Because we know we can do it.
Because we know how to do it. Or can learn how. Or can get better at it.
Because we enjoy how it feels.
Because we value our commitment to doing it.
Because we like doing it.
Does anything in that list involve negative reinforcement such as guilt tripping (placing a sign on your fridge that says, “You’re fat.”) or restriction (no carbs or sugar…ever! If I eat a carb, I’m a loser! I’ve failed!). In fact, those kinds of strategies tend to lead to resentment and relapse. Willpower is a result of having positive thoughts and feelings above about a choice we will be making and then taking steps to make sure we follow through on that choice. The key is finding those positive motivators. Take a moment and consider WHY you want to live more healthfully and write those reasons down. Those are better things to place around the house and office to motivate you.
This is the essence of willpower. It’s not about having to stare down a free cookie when you are hungry or avoiding airport food if you travel a lot. It’s about having the motivation to develop a strategy to make sure that you either are not around the free cookies, have a better, satisfying snack available to keep you from being hungry around that free cookie or planning your own meals/determining the healthy airport food options available to you before you get there! And then practicing those strategies repeatedly until they become a part of you and you know longer have to think about them. You just do them.