Of late I have found myself having quite a lot of conversations in which the topic of willpower has come up. It’s got me thinking about the wider implications of the word.
There is a widely held belief (or certainly it’s portrayed in the language we use) that things fall into “good” and “bad” or “naughty”. Take food, for example: I regularly have people confessing to all the “bad” or “naughty” food they have eaten recently, as though in telling me they’ll somehow absolve themselves. Or maybe I’m expected to berate them and be pious about the fact I never eat anything “naughty”. This conversation inevitably leads to the confessor reaching their own conclusion that they have no willpower and therefore they’re a failure.
Here’s the thing. I don’t ever eat anything “naughty”. I enjoy salads, I enjoy pizzas, I enjoy wine, I enjoy chocolate. I don’t like coffee or tea. I don’t like pineapple. The difference is in my labelling of these things. Over the years I have learnt that my internal language is the only thing that helps or hinders me. If I tell myself I have no willpower because I eat chocolate, I will eat more chocolate, feel guilty, feel a failure, eat more chocolate. And repeat. If I tell myself I can have some chocolate, I will eat the amount I want AND THEN STOP. Because I have permission to eat all of it.
The same goes with exercise. I don’t have any willpower for exercising. I go for a run because I enjoy running. But (unless I’m training for a specific event, and need to cover a specific distance) I am allowed to turn around at the top of the road. If when I get to the top of the road I want to carry on, then that’s what I’ll do.
Am I rambling? The point I’m making is that the word willpower needs to go in the should box. It’s an external pressure “oh well I should do some exercise, because, you know, society thinks I should” vs “I want to do some exercise because I want to be more active”. External pressures inevitably lead to guilt because we can’t ever meet the expectations of this external someone who is applying the pressure. And so we believe we have no willpower. And so we feel guilty. And so we have some more chocolate and do no exercise. Cos, well, we have no willpower, right?
My biggest piece of advice for having willpower is to stop requiring willpower. Reword your inner monologue. Get rid of ALL SHOULDS. Replace the ones you like with WILL, and get rid of the ones you don’t want in your life.
I should go for a run = I won’t go and then I’ll feel guilty and tell myself I have no willpower.
I will go for a run = I will run because I have chosen to, and I didn’t need willpower.
Everytime you catch a should creeping in, ask yourself if the sentence is right with will in place of should. If it isn’t, don’t do it. There’s no guilt, it just wasn’t right for you right now.
Permission granted to say no when things aren’t for you and to feel zero guilt for it.