Willpower and Mindfulness
Episode #8 of the course Mindful eating by Sanchia Parker
Perhaps you are trying to be more mindful and make better life choices but find it hard to maintain those changes. Many life’s unsuccessful moments are blamed on a person’s willpower or lack thereof. By understanding willpower, we can learn why we sometimes find it easier or harder to be healthy.
Willpower is essentially a person’s ability to abstain from self-gratification. The level, or amount, of willpower varies from person to person: Some have plenty of discipline, while others are prone to poor impulse control.
Challenges That Affect Willpower
Our willpower can be affected by the following:
Ads. We are frequently exposed to adverts promoting unhealthy snacks, sugary foods, or alcohol. Thousands of dollars and marketing power has designed them specifically to compel us to buy the goods. Each time we see an advert for something we really want (maybe an ice cream or cold beer), we have an internal conflict where we decide if we should indulge or not. Our willpower is depleted when we use our mental energy to resolve an internal conflict. This makes it harder to say no the next time we are faced with a food-making decision.
Biological factors. Biologically, we are driven to seek out foods that are high in energy, high in fat, and high in sugar. Historically, these foods would have sustained us for long periods of time, allowing us to survive and thrive in an environment where we were never sure of the next meal. Our environmental landscape has changed and food is always readily available, but our biological impulses have yet to catch up. We rationally know we “shouldn’t” eat certain foods if we want to be healthy, but the biological urge is often stronger.
What Can We Do?
Here are steps you can take to boost your own willpower with respect to eating:
• Believe in your own willpower. Believing you have plenty of willpower and have the ability to reach your health goals will improve your self-control.
• Make important decisions after you have had something to eat or early in the morning when your willpower is higher. Willpower may be lower when you are hungry and low in blood glucose levels. So, plan accordingly by having healthy snacks on hand or packing a healthy lunch in the morning.
• Avoid too many decisions (decision fatigue), as this will drain your willpower. An example of this is Mark Zuckerberg, who allegedly wears the same outfit each day so he has fewer decisions to make in the morning, thus preserving willpower. If you have a big day coming up, make your lunch ahead of time, choose your outfit, decide on a route to work, etc.
• Try to start some healthy habits. Once it becomes a habit, you won’t need your willpower to maintain it, as it will be automatic.
Tomorrow: We will explore how mindful eating and your weight are interconnected.
Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy Baumeister
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