What do you do when you just have absolutely no will power? I suppose that I should be writing a blog on gratitude, as today is Thanksgiving and all that. I am in the process of firing up the smoker to start cooking Turkey. My family is coming over, secretly, parking down the street so as to appear like we are NOT having a get together. Anyway, this COVID year it was really hard to sit down and think of a gratitude blog. I mean, I can throw out some platitudes. I am grateful for my health, my family, my job, the earth, the air that I breath, the freedoms that I still have, etc… However, what if I do not feel that grateful right at the moment? So I will not lie to you, what I am really worried about this morning is having enough will power to resist my wife’s chocolate chip pecan pie that is sitting on the counter right now.
I mean it is 5am and I am really tempted to go in there right now and eat a piece of that pie for breakfast. Screw the bowl of filling low glycemic steel cut oats. Now my wife would be a little upset, after all, she has baked a perfectly formed pie and it looks like it came out of a Betty Crocker cookbook photo page. However, she would get over it. It is not like she would fire me for eating one little piece of pie. We would probably laugh about it years from now. It will make for a great story. I mean what better way to enjoy my Thanksgiving morning run, then by digesting a nice yummy piece of pecan pie, especially if I warmed it up first. Hmm……
So what do you do when you just have no will power at all? You know you should not do some bad behavior, but the second the bad behavior confronts you, you give in immediately. You do not even put up a fight. What do you do when you confront a day like Thanksgiving or any other day for that matter, and you want to preserve your commitments and you just do not have will power. What happens when something, like that pecan pie, is tempting you and you just feel the walls of your will crumbling?
Well first off, we need to label things correctly. We are not talking about will power here. We mistakenly think this is will, but it is actually self control. When our active conscious mind wants one result, and we allow the other parts of our brain, usually primal in origin, to take over then what is happening is that we are losing self control. So we need to focus on the right thing, that is the first concept that will help. You are not building up will power, you are implementing self control. These are related, but unique concepts. Will power does go away, that is normal. Will power is always temporary. You will go through most of your life with low will power. Will power helps you overcome initial resistance, but after that, you are on your own. So stop expecting Mr. Will to be hanging out all the time.
Your problem is self control. Here is some encouragement. Self Control gets better the more you practice it, as long as you do not torpedo yourself. More on how we do that in a minute. The more you resist, the stronger you become. The more you give in, the weaker you become. Just like muscles. They get stronger the more they are used. Think of this as a “mind callus.”
Now on to torpedo’s. The first one is the this. You completely deplete your self control by doing too much too fast. You will almost always fail when you have taken on so much that the burden and resistance against you is more than your will can sustain. A prolonged effort like this will cause your self control to crumble. So first guidance, do not pile on too much. Keep the ask of yourself small until you an build up an iron wall of self control.
The second is good ol’ fashioned distraction. You torpedo yourself by focusing on the pecan pie. If I sit here and think about it and think about it, I am eventually going to eat it! So second guidance is very simple. Distract yourself with something else. When I am running for example, and my body is like QUIT, QUIT, QUIT, I start looking around at other things. I start making up stories about what is going on in that house, or what does the person look like that owns that truck, or what if a colony of rats lives in my neighborhood and they are secretly about ready to launch their attack? Do not try to get in my head, it is a DANGEROUS place. Anything I can come up with to distract myself is what I will do. You will be surprised how quickly your primal mind will forget the pecan pie. This is probably the best advice I can give about mastering self control.
Third is habit, habit, habit. You do not need self control when you are in habit mode. I started writing this blog before I could even think about anything this morning. I just woke up, did my 365 commitment process, did my run and now I am in here typing. I do not even remember consciously deciding to start writing this blog, it just happened. That is because it is a habit. a habit that I have kept everyday for over 1000 days in a row. When something is automatic like this, it is really easy to maintain self control. So above all other advice, the biggest one, the third one to consider is building habits. Invest time in to creating habits, they are the start to any program of self mastery.
Fourth is lack of planning. You will destroy self control if you do not have a plan to deal with temptation or the obvious pressure that you will face. My best method for dealing with this is what I have learned to call WOOP thinking. Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan. Any plan that you have for a good outcome needs to have a consideration for the obstacles you will run into along the way. You handle this with If…Then statements. My wish is to have the physique of a greek god, the outcome is to have 10% body fat, the obstacle is pecan pie, the plan is to eat an Apple instead. So the way it works is this. I have an exact plan to deal with temptation. When that pecan pie is calling me, hauntingly from the kitchen then I already have a plan. I am going to get up walk into the kitchen, slice up an Apple and eat it with a tall glass of water. That is WOOP thinking and it really works.
That is good enough for now. I will end with this thought it is easier to have self control when you are in control of yourself. When you are trying to be something someone else wants you to be then it is really hard to control the torpedoes. When you are pursuing something that is genuinely you, then it is a whole lot easier.
So if you have zero will power this holiday season, try my tips for implementing self control instead!