Remember that annoying article in Time Magazine claiming that exercise won't help you lose weight? Well, I still think they cherry-picked the research, ignored lots of relevant studies, and came to a silly conclusion. However, they mentioned some research along the way, in the course of causally discouraging millions of overweight sedentary folks from getting more active, that I thought was quite interesting. Did you catch it?
According to Time, self-control studies suggest that "self-control is like a muscle: it weakens each day after you use it. If you force yourself to jog for an hour, your self-regulatory capacity is proportionately enfeebled. Rather than lunching on a salad, you'll be more likely to opt for pizza."
So we only have a limited amount of willpower and then it runs out? And if we use it up doing one set of "good" things, we won't have any self-control left to accomplish other virtuous goals we might have?
Well, I'm not sure the research is in unanimous agreement over this--I seem to recall a study that suggested the opposite. It found that people who tried to make a whole bunch of healthy changes at once (diet, exercise, quitting smoking etc) actually were more successful meeting their goals than the folks who concentrated on a single thing at a time.
But of course I can't find that study anymore! And at the time, I remember thinking it was hooey.
Because I actually do wonder if we have natural limits on our willpower, and can only tackle so many challenges at once. At least I observe this phenomenon in myself all the time.
Anyone else find that if they're putting a lot of mental effort into one goal, the other stuff starts to slip? If I've been keeping up with my cardio and weight training and eating lots and lots of vegetables and no cupcakes, then I might start forgetting to floss my teeth or work on my novel or correct my crappy posture. There'll be tumbleweed-sized dust bunnies drifting lazily across our bedroom floor and I will see them and say "hi, dust bunnies" instead of chasing after them with a mop or a broom.
It's like there's a concrete amount of willpower in my psychological bank account. And if I try to write too many self-improvement checks? The damn things start bouncing.
So, would you like some tips on maximizing your self control and getting the most out of what limited willpower you've got? Well then what are you doing reading Cranky Fitness instead of a real self-help blog?
But hey, while you're here, I'll pass on a few ideas. I'm hoping that people who are not known McSlackers can contribute better tips in the comments.
Crabby's Tips For Conserving Precious Willpower
Dreading something? Then Stop Rehearsing It. Well, not if what you're dreading is a your acting debut in a Broadway play and you haven't bothered to learn your part yet. In that case, rehearse already, dumbass!
But, to use a completely hypothetical example: say you're trying to muster up the willpower to go to the gym, even though you've recently decided you hate the gym. Then why on earth would you keep going over in your head how much you hate doing leg presses and rows and all the rest of it, and then remind yourself how crowded and hot it's going to be when you get there?
Every time you envision something you're not looking forward to, you are giving yourself an opening to bail. And then you have to squander precious willpower to say "no, there's no backing out, you must go. And goddamnit that sucks!" Instead, tell yourself once that you're going, then forbid yourself from dwelling on it and imagining it in vivid, unpleasant detail. The only thing you're allowed to rehearse in your mind is how good you'll feel when your done.
Avoid temptations. Gosh, what a fresh, original piece of advice! Yet I still struggle with this one sometimes. I see some lovely junky treat at the grocery store or the bakery, and I buy it just in case I might feel like it later. Well, duh. If it's in the house, and it's junk, I'm gonna feel like it later. I've learned it works much better for me to keep a semi-healthy reasonable treat like dark chocolate in the house, and save the more decadent treats for when I'm having a total craving. In that case, I can make a special trip and go out and get it--ideally, on foot.
But if I know there's a container of super-premium chocolate ice cream in my freezer, I use up willpower every time I think about it and tell myself "no." And I might say "no" twenty times in an evening, then finally say yes and eat a huge bowl. All that wasted willpower, and I still end up eating the ice cream! Arrrgh!
Prioritize. Don't waste will power on unimportant stuff. So many folks squander buckets and buckets of their limited willpower keeping up "appearances," whether it's their personal appearance or the state of their houses or their gorgeous shiny new automobiles or whatever.
Of course if you love car detailing, or housework, or personal primping, then go ahead! Obsessively waxing your convertible or your kitchen floors or your legs will not use up any precious self-discipline if you like doing it. But if you hate these chores and are doing them so frequently because you're "supposed to?" And then, perhaps, rewarding yourself with half a pan of brownies because you were "good"? Bad bargain! Instead let all the superficial stuff go mostly to hell until there's a special occasion, like a hot date or a dinner party or a sincere threat of divorce.
Accentuate the Positive: Well, as is probably obvious, I'm too Crabby to have thought of this one. Mizfit has a great video about thinking about it as "Willingness" instead of "Willpower."
Build Up Bigger Willpower Muscles: Oddly enough, the Time Magazine article that was citing the research about our self-control "muscles" getting "enfeebled" from too many demands forgot to mention another section of the same article. The author also says:
"Not only does self-control show short-term fatigue effects like a muscle does, it also shows long-term improvement, just as a muscle gets stronger through exercise. In other words, there is a long-term effect of gaining strength with practice."
Aha! That's much better news. You may be stuck with a limited amount of willpower on a given day... but if you practice saying "yes" to lifting weights and "no" to eating banana splits, you may find that "willpower" muscle getting stronger.
And common sense tells us that as we move further away from a mindlessly self-indulgent lifestyle to a mostly healthy one, a lot of what seemed like a "sacrifice" starts to feel normal. Because as exercise and nutritious foods become habit, they don't take nearly as much self-control to stick to.
Er, most days, anyway.
So what about you folks, does it feel like there are only so many self-improvement projects you can tackle at once? Or do you have unlimited willpower? Any tips or tricks?