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Is Willpower a Skill You Can Learn?

Updated: Oct 20, 2023

Dragonfly Transformation & Wellness

May 2021

 

Some people think you either have willpower or you don’t. But actually, willpower is a skill that anyone can learn. It’s a proactive action you can take to power your own life. Like any other skill, it takes practice to learn and intentional choices to perfect.


Willpower is a Skill You Can Learn
Willpower is a Skill You Can Learn


There are two key areas to focus on in order to strengthen your willpower:


1. AVOID & DISTRACT

  • Avoid situations you know you’ll find too tempting

  • When faced with temptation, find ways to distract yourself.

This can be as simple as literally not looking at the temptation, whether it’s a food someone’s eating or an ice cream shop you’re passing by.


FAILURE TO PLAN IS PLANNING TO FAIL


You can actually increase your willpower by pretending you have no willpower. Putting yourself in temptations path and expecting yourself to hold strong sets you up for failure.


Avoiding temptations lets you make healthy choices and gives you more wins.


Tips for doing this:

  • If you’re tempted by the food you serve others (like your children), make sure to eat first before making their food, even if it’s simply a snack.


  • When dining out, choose restaurants where you have many on-plan choices and won’t be overly tempted with your favorite foods. Look at the menu ahead of time and select more than one choice that will satisfy you.


  • When attending gatherings, making sure to bring foods you can eat or even eat before you go.


  • Distract yourself when faced with a temptation by focusing only on positive things that support your goal. When you focus on the positive choices you’re making, less willpower is needed.


  • Keep in mind that throwing willpower out the window is always easier and will give a short-term reward. You want the cookie. Eating it makes you feel good for a few minutes. Long-term goals aren’t always as motivating to keep you focused since there’s no immediate reward. The trick is to give yourself a different short-term reward for staying strong. Substitute the cookie for a healthier option that supports your goal and is also rewarding.


2. CONTROL YOUR ENVIRONMENT

  • Organize what you see and what you can’t

  • Change your circle (or at least add to it)

  • Schedule the hard things when willpower will be strongest

  • Self-care needs to be a priority


Tips for doing this:

  • Say you live with people who keep junk food around the house. Reorganize your kitchen to keep healthy choices out where you can see them. Keep junk food out of sight where you won’t see it (and ask others to support you by eating it out of your sight when possible). Waiting until you’re hungry and responding to what’s in front of you sets you up for failure unless healthy choices are made the quickest option. You will choose the thing that’s readily available and right in front of you. This feels like willpower and creates a win.


  • Spend time around people who share your health goals and support your efforts. If your friends are unhealthy, it is socially contagious, and you are also statistically more likely to be unhealthy. It’s human nature to want to fit in and eat what everyone else is eating. The people you spend time with have a significant influence on you. If you're serious about making a change, you’re going to have to spend at least some of your time with people who model the lifestyle you want to achieve.


We are the average of the 5 people we spend the most time with ~ Jim Rohn


  • Your willpower is strongest when you are rested and feel well. People tend to run into trouble when their resources are depleted. This means, for most people, willpower is typically strongest first thing in the morning after you’ve eaten. Conversely, the later it gets in the day, the poorer our choices and weaker our willpower. When possible, schedule times of temptation when you won’t be tired or mentally spent and can focus the willpower you have into making healthy choices. This might look like scheduling a coffee or an early lunch, instead of a dinner, with your friends.


  • To utilize your willpower with its maximum effect, you need to get proper rest, fuel your body with nutrient-dense foods, and not skip meals. These things make choosing healthy options easier.


  • Use your coach as an accountability partner, when needed, to talk you off the bread ledge. Pickup that phone when you need help!

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