Do you struggle with willpower?
Written by Jen Wittman, Founder of Thyroid Loving Care
When it comes to managing thyroid disease, willpower seems to be the name of the game.
To reverse disease and support your body, you have to make important choices every day that say, “Yes, I want this! I want to feel better! So, I’m going to love MYSELF & make a different choice today…one that supports my health.”
These new choices aren’t always easy. Saying no to coffee, stress, gluten, soy, sugar, etc. is not always the fun thing to do…especially when we’re feeling run down, fatigued, fat, flabby and frazzled. Creating new habits and breaking “bad” ones takes some discipline and the true desire to get well.
Have you said to yourself that you are ready to get well, to feel better but not taken the actions to do so? You’re not alone. Shortly after I received my Hashimoto’s diagnosis, I decided to rebel. The to-do list to heal and the research out there seemed overwhelming and much of it conflicting at times. I wanted to heal but I didn’t want to do the things I had learned would make me feel better.
As a trained chef, I wanted to eat my pastries and breads, wanted to enjoy my morning latte, and didn’t want any ingredient off the menu of my life! But one day, I realized that although I was saying I wanted to feel better, I actually wasn’t doing what I knew I needed to do to start feeling better. What was Einstein’s definition of insanity again? Oh yeah… “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”
Well, if I wasn’t willing to change my diet or stop exercising in a way that stressed my adrenals or stop living in a way that produced major anxiety, how could I expect to actually start feeling better? I decided then and there to start making the right choices…. but I know me and I knew it was going to take some serious willpower….it still does.
There are days when my willpower is as tall and strong as the Great Wall of China; nothing’s gonna bring me down, nothing’s going to get in my way. Birthday cake? No thank you! Free donut day? I’ll pass. My favorite brownies warm from the oven? HA! I scoff in their general direction. I am like a stone.
And then there are the days when I will shove every piece of chocolate in a three-county radius in my face if given half a chance or I run around all day from one anxiety producing activity to the next or I blow off fitting in some exercise, some meditation or some me time.
It turns out, on those “don’t get between me and my chocolate” days, I probably used up all my willpower on something else, like not engaging in a battle of wills with my 5-year old, or not getting upset by a hurtful comment or an excruciatingly slow cashier or stupid comments on the Internet.
What do those things have to do with chocolate, you might wonder? Everything.
Willpower is a limited resource
Willpower is an important part of making any change in your life. It takes guts to say “no” to something you’ve always just said yes to in the past. It takes commitment and perseverance to make real change in your life.
But studies have shown that we have a limited amount of willpower. In one study, one group of college psych students were told to taste-test radishes, but ignore a plate of delicious cookies on the table. Another group were also asked to eat the radishes, but they were allowed to eat the cookies, too.
Both groups were then given a challenging puzzle to solve. The radish-only group gave up on the puzzle significantly faster than the cookie-tasting group, because they had already exerted their willpower on not eating the cookies.
Think of your willpower like a piggy bank: every time something negative happens to you — a challenge at work, an argument with a friend, a missed deadline, a grumpy child or spouse — it makes a withdrawal from your willpower piggy bank.
On the other side, however, doing things that are good for yourself, like eating well, moderate exercise, positive self talk, gratitude, and “ta-da” lists, will make a deposit into your willpower bank.
Please make a (willpower) deposit
1. Plan for temptations
Knowing and understanding that willpower is limited, you can make it easier on yourself by recognizing times when you might be tempted before they happen. So, for example, you might plan to go grocery shopping alone, early on Sunday morning instead of late one afternoon, when you’re starving after work, and have a cart full of screaming kids to contend with. Recognizing your times of lowest self-control is a huge step towards changing the pattern.
2. Work your willpower muscles
Some leading researchers in the field believe willpower is like a muscle. Like doing many reps at the gym, you can work and exhaust that muscle. But, over time, that work will cause the muscle to grow stronger. Although you’ll be depleting your willpower in the short term, in the long term you should find you have more. Want to exercise your willpower muscles? Try working on a tough puzzle, like the Sunday crossword or your favorite hard sudoku book. (Just be sure to do it on a day when you won’t also be attending a potluck!)
3. Take it one day at a time
When you’re looking at making a difficult change in your life—like many of the diet changes I recommend to my clients to help heal from thyroid disease—thinking that you have to do it for the rest of your life can be truly daunting. Instead, just take it one day at a time—or even one meal at a time if necessary. And, if you fall of the wagon, do the same; don’t wait for the next week or even the next day to start fresh, but start fresh at the very next meal.
4. Reward yourself (just not with cake)
Have you ever been to a Weight Watchers meeting? Participants get literal gold star stickers for losing weight, changing behaviors, and overcoming obstacles. Seems a little silly on the face of it (grown adults getting excited about stickers!) but where else in your life are you given a gold star? Give yourself a gold star—or a massage, or a dollar towards a fancy new pair of shoes—whenever you have a good day. Feeling like you’ve accomplished something can boost your willpower to keep up the streak.
5. Get some sleep!
One of the main theories as to why willpower is limited is that we’re least likely to exhibit self-control when we’re tired. That’s bad news if you’re suffering from insomnia! The good news is that all the healthy habits you need the willpower for will help you sleep better, too. Don’t treat sleep deprivation lightly, and remember that it’s intimately connected to whether or not you give in to that 3pm cookie craving.
6. Get a buddy
Accountability works, whether it’s announcing to your Facebook friends that you’re off sugar for the month or telling your BFF that you’ll meet her at the gym every morning. It works because you don’t want to let those people down. Finding a buddy who’s going through the same thing you are (in the Thyroid Loving Care and Hypothyroid Mom communities, for example) can be even more beneficial, because you’ll have someone to call when your hand is inexplicably reaching for the cheese crackers yet again. It’s nice to have someone who understands there to talk you off the ledge.
7. Believe you can do it
Whether you believe you can, or you believe you can’t, you’re right. Just putting on a happy face and telling yourself that you can succeed has real, tangible benefits. It’s called the placebo effect. If you believe something is working, it does…usually because you unconsciously do the right things to obtain the positive outcome. So do your hair, put your face on, and then tell that smiling hottie in the mirror that she’s amazing and she’s so got this.
When you’re attempting something challenging like changing your diet, adding the right exercise to your routine, or making the commitment to self-care in an effort to reverse thyroid disease, it’s also important to try to minimize other withdrawals from your willpower bank. Don’t try to quit biting your nails right now, or take on big confrontations (if you can help it), or let yourself get drawn into drama. You need every PENNY in that bank just for you!
Likewise, make deposits whenever you can! Distract yourself with positive “treats” (like a long bath with a good book), start that ta-da list of your accomplishments, and try to get in a few minutes of regular exercise every day (because new studies show that regular exercise makes willpower stronger too, not just your muscles).
Do you struggle with willpower? What tips and tricks have you found to help you get through challenging times? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!
About Jen Wittman
Jen Wittman, CHHC, AADP is a Holistic Health Expert & Coach, specializing in thyroid and autoimmune disorders. She provides one-of-a-kind, long-lasting health overhauls through Thyroid Loving Care.