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Will Power

Like many of my middle-aged friends, I am trying to lose weight. I am not as obsessed about it as I was when I was younger and thinner because I am more accepting of my body now. But that also means I am less motivated. It’s even hard to will myself to do 10 minutes of stretching every day. 

In order to improve my motivation, I decided to look at some info on a workshop that I used to give on self-leadership. Good stuff. I ought to try it some time.

Here are some reasons why will power fails us:

1. We are more motivated to take action when things are going poorly than when things are going well. That’s why negative events stand out more than positive events: negative events require us to make some change. If things are going well, we can just maintain status quo. That’s also why anxious people like myself are often highly motivated–because almost everything feels like a crisis.

2. As we make progress towards our goal, we lose motivation because it takes more effort. This is related to the Pareto principle, or the 80-20 rule: 80% of our results comes from the first 20% of our effort. After that, it takes 80% of our effort to achieve the last 20% of the results.

For example, it is often easy for people to lose weight initially with minimal changes to their diet and exercise routine. But it takes a lot more effort to lose the last 10 pounds. So much so that people on diets are often perpetually stuck in the “I just need to lose 10 more pounds” stage.

3. The amount of will power we have is limited. Reseach by Roy Baumeister indicates that trying to exert self-control in one area of our lives leaves us less energy to exert self-control in other areas. So if you’re trying to change your eating habits, you will have less energy available to start exercising and vice versa. That’s why it’s better to focus on changing one thing at a time.

Despite these obstacles, it is possible to reach our goals. People do it all the time. So why not me? And why not you?

Here are some of the things that characterize people with willpower:

1. They try to understand why they’re not motivated. I was not motivated to lose weight for awhile because I just wouldn’t look at pictures of myself so that I could exist in a state of denial. That helped me avoid psychic pain, but now I think I need to be in a little discomfort. I don’t want to beat myself up over it, but I need to be honest with myself about how much weight I’ve gained.

2. They use their values to guide their behavior. Tennis is the greatest motivator for me. I want to play tennis for as long as I live, and doing so will require cross-training. So maybe I will try to remember this when I am feeling unmotivated.

3. They give themselves permission to fulfill their wants without feeling guilty. Because I work with students with eating disorders, I try to be careful about the message that I give about body image and I worry about how they will perceive my weight loss. But the reality is, my reasons for wanting to lose weight as a middle-aged woman are not the same as the reasons that students with eating disorders have. I can allow myself to honor my own needs. 

I know it’s still going to be hard, but perhaps writing this post will help me be more motivated. It certainly can’t hurt.

This tote has nothing to do with weight loss but it required a lot of will power because it was boring. It turned out nicely, though, so maybe I’ll knit another one.

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About Christy Barongan

I didn't know it at the time, but I wanted to be a psychologist so that I could figure out how to be normal. I think many people come to counseling for the same reason. What I've come to learn is that feeling good about myself is not about trying to be normal. It's about trying to be me. But it's a constant struggle for me, just like it is for everyone else. So I thought I would approach this task with openness and honesty and use myself as an example for how to practice self-acceptance.

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