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HOW MUCH WILLPOWER DO YOU HAVE?

How much willpower do you have? Are you very disciplined, sticking to your workout routine and a strict clean eating diet except for the very rare special occasion… or are you the first to crack when someone at work brings in cakes?

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The thing about willpower that many of us don’t realise, is that it’s a finite resource. We wake up each morning with a certain amount of capacity for making sensible decisions, and once that runs out it is really difficult to choose kale over doughnuts.

Every time you make a decision, your brain uses up a certain amount of glucose. If that’s a simple decision about whether to walk or drive to work, that might not use up much glucose, but if you factor in decisions over which shoes to wear if you’re walking, and whether to take a backpack if you won’t have your car to carry things, and do you need to bring an umbrella just in case, and should you walk around the park or through the underpass… it all soon adds up.

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Your brain uses up a lot of glucose during the day just for basic functions. Decision making uses up even more glucose, and so by the end of the day we find ourselves choosing pizza for tea or ordering take away. So what can you do, if you’re trying desperately to stick to an exercise or healthy eating plan?

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The first thing you can do is eliminate the need to make decisions as much as possible. Plan ahead so that there are already healthy snacks laid out for you, and your healthy dinner is waiting in the fridge when you get home. More than this though, you can save precious decision-making glucose by making decisions in advance. For example, instead of waiting until the morning to decide whether to walk to work, decide the night before how you’ll get to work and what that will involve. It’s much easier to make a decision in advance than in the moment, when we can often be plagued by indecision.

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You can even go as far as to prepare an outfit, and pack your gym bag the night before. In the morning it will be more trouble to do something different than to just go with what’s already been laid out for you. Think this is bonkers? Spend five minutes on Google trying to find a photo of Steve Jobs not wearing a black top with jeans. He wore the same outfit every day, and saved his brain power for much more important things!

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The second thing you can do is look at ways of turning your new gym routine or healthy eating plan into a habit rather than a decision. You can do this by creating associations in your mind, so that you automatically go to the gym instead of home after work, or you automatically walk past the health food shop rather than the newsagent. For the first couple of weeks you’ll need to set reminders on your phone or find other ways to ensure you stick to your new plan, but after a while you’ll find a habit forms.

It will take a little while to bed in, but if you can move your food and exercise routines over into habits rather than daily decisions, and cut down the things you need to decide upon in the moment you’ll find things are much easier to stick to and the next time someone brings cakes into work, you won’t even look at them twice.

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