Weight Loss Beyond Willpower

When we set out to live a healthier life and drop a few pounds we might think that our success or failure depends on willpower. We might then get frustrated if we don’t accomplish what we set out to do, and blame ourselves or call ourselves weak. We may believe that we don’t have enough willpower to make our goals a reality.

Willpower, as defined by the American Psychological Association, is the ability to resist short-term gratification in pursuit of long-term goals. It can be compared to a muscle and when we overuse it, it becomes weary and fatigued. Think of it as a skill like any other that can be practiced, and try the actionable steps below to make willpower easier.

  1. Change your environment. Since our willpower decreases when we are repeatedly exposed to temptations, actively limit the number of them you encounter. Some helpful tips include cleaning out your pantry, packing healthy snacks when you are on the go or at work, prepping your weekly meals over the weekend to avoid midweek fast food dinners, and 150 minutes of moderate activity per week such as hiking, walking, dancing, light gardening, light weight lifting.
  2. Set one small, specific goal. Pick one thing that you would like to change, plan, and then stick to it. Once the behaviors attached to the goal become a habit, move onto another small goal. When your new behavior is a habit, you won’t need to draw upon willpower to maintain it. You’ll be able to shift your focus onto a new goal to conquer.
  3. Focus on what you can add. Avoid focusing on what you can’t have. It’s mentally draining and tests your willpower unnecessarily. Instead, focus on what you can eat. You can have cherries and a cup of tea that you love, or you can have the properly portioned steak with a helping of your favorite veggies.

Implement new strategies and set yourself up for weight loss by success. Willpower is a skill and you can control the strength of it!

Colleen Fairbanks, PhD Health Psychologist

Resources: American Psychology Association