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Achieving Goals Through Willpower

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That first week of successful meal prepping. The stretch of great workouts and PR’s. Motivation is sky high and you’re excited thinking about the results to come from clean eating and consistent exercise. But then a stressful week at work happens. A sick child keeps you up all night. Social obligations interfere with your workout schedule. Before long you are saying to yourself, “I’m not feeling motivated to do (x).” It is a line I often hear when someone’s class attendance has been down or they are struggling to adhere to meal prepping and healthy eating habits. Motivation is a great tool when things are going well. But if motivation is your only strategy for success when inevitably having to face life’s adversities, it will fail you.

Why is motivation not reliable? Motivation is often not reliable because it is a strategy largely dependent on a person’s feelings. When you’re tired, in a bad mood, or stressed out it is difficult to ‘get yourself motivated.’ The path to success is creating habits that align with your goals. Having only an unreliable strategy in place will not help you build habits as building habits require deliberate and most importantly, consistent efforts. The good news is, you are not the problem. Not feeling motivated at times is natural and escapes no one. The problem lies with the over-reliance on motivation and thinking motivation can be turned on like a switch.

If not motivation, then what? Willpower. Willpower can be defined as the ability to resist short-term gratification in order to meet long-term goals as well as the capacity to override undesired thoughts, feelings or impulses. Having willpower helps you to take action when you are not feeling motivated. But how do you harness or attain more willpower? Think of willpower as ‘the muscle of the mind’. Just as the right amount of physical stress is beneficial to your muscles, too much can be detrimental to progress. The same is true for willpower. Consistently making small but meaningful decisions toward aligning your actions with your goals will strengthen your willpower. For example, choosing to wake up 20 minutes early to make a quick breakfast and pack food for the day over sleeping a little longer and ‘winging’ your food choices for the day. Small decision, big impact over time. But keep in mind, willpower can be fatigued just like our muscles if you constantly put yourself in situations where seemingly difficult decisions have to be made. A great example is eating out frequently. The constant temptation of appetizers, drinks, and desserts will eventually fatigue your willpower to the point of no return.

At some point we have all gotten caught up in the fallacy of motivation and believing that without that stimulating feeling motivation brings, we are somehow powerless to act. You CAN take action without motivation. Remember what it was that motivated you in the first place. It wasn’t skipping the gym to lay on the couch, it wasn’t making poor nutritional choices, it wasn’t succumbing to your ever-changing feelings. Ralph Waldo Emerson famously said, “do the thing and you will have the power.” By forcing yourself to take positive action through willpower (going to the gym, prepping meals), motivation will quickly follow. When you’re not feeling motivated just remind yourself that feelings are merely visitors, let them come and go. Take action first with your body and your mind will ultimately follow.

The path to reaching your goals will be paved with habits forged through willpower. Motivation will be one of the tools you will use along the way. Assessing the self can be difficult at times, but is crucial for success and long-term adherence to a healthy lifestyle. Be reflective. Routinely ask yourself if your daily actions and decisions are aligning with your goals and where you want to be. Strengthen your willpower, build proper habits, sprinkle in some motivation.