Willpower could be a wonderful thing. If it really exists. I’m not convinced it does, at least as an effective force for many of us when it comes to eating.
To me, willpower is about the strength to do what we want in the face of some weighty temptation (pun not intended). Webster’s leaves out the temptation part and defines it just as energetic determination. But do we ever hear the word used when there’s not some enticement to do the exact opposite of what we’re trying to do?
Seems to me the issue then is about what we really want. Can it be what we really want if we’re so easily tempted to do the opposite?
I stumbled across an old article in Psychology Today that mentioned a study showing college students were able to work 11 minutes longer at a difficult task if they were allowed to sample from a nearby plate of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies rather than having to ignore them (or try to). The researchers concluded that resisting the cookies left the students with little self-discipline to focus on the task at hand. Their willpower to continue working waned quickly in the face of temptation.
The researchers also concluded we can build up our willpower “muscle” through frequent use. But I don’t see any proof of that mentioned in the article. My work with women struggling to avoid foods they think they must, but really don’t want to, doesn’t give me any proof either.
Instead of relying on willpower to help us accomplish what we want, I vote for spending time exploring what we think we want. In the case of eating well, at Green Mountain we find an approach that includes the cookies (or whatever food we think we can’t have) along with the basics of balanced eating makes willpower less of an issue. Perhaps some willpower is involved but only a small amount because the seduction of the temptation is seriously robbed of its power.
Does willpower play a significant role in your efforts at eating well?