Willpower, the strength to act, or forbear from acting, in the pursuit of a goal.
Self discipline, training and control of oneself and one’s conduct, usually for personal improvement.
Self control, the ability of a person to exert his/her will over the inhibitions of their body or self.

I think most people have a pretty good idea of the basic premise behind losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight.  Don’t eat too much.  Exercise.  Eat healthy foods.  Drink water.  It’s not really rocket science.  There are details and nuances, but the basic idea is there.

So why do people have such a hard time losing weight?  I think it comes down to how much you want it to begin with amplified by momentum once you get going.  It’s so much easier not to change your habits.  This is the simplest physics concept, inertia, in action.  An object at rest tends to remain at rest.

Thankfully, an object in motion tends to remain in motion.  That’s the momentum part of the equation.

A pretty common reaction when somebody finds out I’ve lost an extreme amount of weight is for them to ask me where I got the willpower or say something to the effect of, “I wish I had your determination.”  In some way, I think these reactions come from a belief that in order to lose weight you have to suffer and deprive yourself.  And isn’t it so much nicer to just not do it?

I tried to lose weight many times before I succeeded.  But it never lasted long.  I’d lose 5, 10, maybe even 30 pounds and stall out.  Then I would gain back the weight plus some.  In hindsight, I think this is what made the difference:

1. I had a really good reason.  Every other time I’ve tried, it has been to lose weight for some event, like a wedding, or an appearance based reason, such as making an ex-boyfriend jealous.  I even tried a few times because my doctor said I should.  But I never really cared all that much about being overweight, to be honest.  Society told me I should care and I resented it.  I definitely didn’t particularly like it, but I was pretty resigned to being overweight.  It didn’t interfere with life.

This time, I did it because I wanted to improve my health first and foremost.  I guess somewhere along the way I discovered I cared enough.  Maybe it’s just getting older and feeling like my time is actually limited on earth for the first time.  This time I wasn’t doing it for anyone else.  I was doing it for me, because I actually wanted to.

2. I did not set a time frame.  My goal was to “Lose 100 pounds no matter how long it takes and never gain it back.”  So when I wasn’t finished in a year, or even two years, I wasn’t discouraged.  I finally realized that I had to change my lifestyle for good after yo-yo dieting for so many years.  Something finally clicked.  A “Diet” cannot be a temporary endeavor.  If you change your habits for a bit until you reach a goal then return to your former habits, you will regain the weight you lost. I approached it as a completely different type of goal: a permanent change of habits, not a quick plan to lose weight.

Now that I have made that change, I do not miss my former life one tiny little bit.  The things I gave up, overeating, being sedentary, drinking too much, several hours of TV time, fast food, soda… these are not things I miss.  I gave them up freely because I wanted the result more than I wanted them.

The result is clearly more desirable than the things I gave up.  Unquestionably, I prefer the way I feel now.  Why wouldn’t I want to eat this way and exercise?  I get so many benefits from it besides being thinner.  This is the momentum.  Why wouldn’t you do this?  So you can watch more TV and eat a big pile of greasy french fries every day?  That’s just nonsense.

I don’t think I can tell anyone how to have willpower.  In some ways, I think it’s something you’ll have when the result becomes important enough to you.  Nobody can tell another person what she should do with her body.  It backfires.  I resented every suggestion that I lose weight, until I did it.  It had to be something that came from inside.

I do think, however, that if you have the will to simply try, there are a lot of things you can do to encourage success.  The most important of these is to be kind to yourself and have patience.  Realize that it isn’t as simple as success and failure, but rather a cumulative effect of many actions that will get you to your goal.  Baby steps will get you where you want to be.  Nobody wakes up one day and is magically living a different lifestyle.  Habits can be very difficult to break.  It will take time. I think a lot of people sabotage themselves by being too strict all at once.  Eating too little, exercising too much, setting lofty goals and feeling defeated when they don’t meet them are all too common mistakes.

Of course, you do need a certain amount of self-accountability.  But if you feel like a failure every time you eat that cookie you didn’t mean to eat, it won’t really help anything.  If you’re going to have the cookie, enjoy it guilt free.  Or don’t have it.  It’s a choice.  You will get to make many more choices before the day is over.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” -Winston Churchill

4 thoughts on “Willpower

  1. It only took me 63 years to figure that out! My new lifestyle began this past December. There have missteps and cliffhangers along the way but I am slowly moving forward. Thanks for the “food” for thought.

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