If you have ever started a diet or exercise program with the thought, “I’m just going to do it this time,” only to go back to your old habits in days or weeks, you know how fickle willpower can be. You are a strong-willed person. How come you have such great control in other areas of your life but can’t seem to keep your diet under control or make it to the gym on a regular basis?
New research (1998 is recent right?) shows we have a limited and set capacity of willpower. Like a gas tank of self control that we wake up with full everyday. As we go through the day when we deal with mental stress, social rejection or resisting temptation it depletes our gas tank of control. If you spend eight hours a day trying to keep your cool with an unreasonable boss your tank of self control will be empty when it’s time to resist a quart of ice cream. That’s right, you only have one tank of resistance for all of life’s situations. Not one for the boss, one for your kids, and another for diet.
You have two options for using your limited supply of self control for a new project. Rearrange your life so it’s stress free (if you figure out how drop me a line) or only use self control for short defined periods to create new habits.
Self control revolves around delayed gratification or saying not now, later. I’m not going to have ice cream now. I’m going to be buff later.
All habits or behavioral patterns have three parts. There is a trigger, a routine (the habit), and a reward. You wake up (trigger), you brush your teeth (habit, probably with the same number of strokes in the same pattern everyday without even realizing it), your mouth feels all fresh and clean (reward).
This is a habit we like and it’s trigger and reward are pretty simple to understand. Trying to figure out why you overeat after 8 p.m. three nights a week could be more difficult. Are you bored, emotionally stressed or really hungry? If you are emotionally stressed and choose a new activity to battle boredom you have compounded your original issue. You’re mental craving for the reward has gone unfulfilled. This leads to frustration. Frustration leads to anger and depression. Anger and depression lead to the dark side of the force, they do. Oh wait, wrong sage. Frustration, anger and depression lead to a loss of self control and the devastation of a nascent habit. And you looking in the mirror wondering, “What is wrong with me?” Nothing. you just picked the wrong reward.
Want to exercise? Put it on your schedule (don’t wait to have time), show up, even if you don’t feel like it, and think about how buff you will look when you are done, how much fun you will have (if you aren’t having fun keep trying new programs until you find one that is fun.)
Controlling the cues, the reward and your environment is the big effort. The behavior will take care of itself. You got this.
• Resident Jake Parent is with Tribal Crossfit, 6170 W. Chandler Blvd. Reach him at TribalCrossFit.com.