When many of us embark on a health and wellness journey, we tend to think thatall we need is willpower. We mistakenly think that we can stick to our diet, sleep schedule, workout schedule, or meditation schedule as long as we stay “mentally strong.”
But it is a myth. Success in these areas has much more to do with what’s called ‘competence’ – setting realistic goals and creating healthy habits – explains clinical psychologist Gary Foster, PhD, scientific director of WW (formerly Weight Watchers) and author ofThe Shift: 7 Powerful Mindset Shifts For Lasting Weight LossHave.Have
In fact, relying on pure will is a terrible trap that can defeat your goals. Here, Foster explains why white knuckle can be poisonous, and offers healthier ways to meet your health and wellness goals.
Why trusting the will is harmful
Here’s how willpower can be counterproductive – and even harmful – to your health and wellness goals.
“The will, which by definition means to saynoWhat you want to do orYesWhat you’d rather not do is unpredictable and not constant over time, ”says Foster.
“Sometimes it is available and easy to exercise, while other times it is impossible to rely on, especially when you are tired, stressed or faced with situations that go against your goals,” he adds. -he.
In other words, no one can have 24/7 superhuman discipline and control. And let’s be honest: willpower doesn’t match up with children’s cries when trying to meditate, freezing temperatures when you have to take a walk, or a box of donuts at work when you were too busy for breakfast.
All this to say that willpower alone will not help you achieve your long term health goals.
Willpower – which is essentially the opposite of habit formation, where behaviors are automatic and occur with little thought – requires immense intention and conscious effort, says Foster.
“Simply put, willpower is exhausting,” he says. And while willpower may serve you on the good days when you have a mighty drive in your step, it is doomed to falter on other days when your tank is empty, leaving you exhausted and discouraged.
“Willpower is seen as a force, so when it fails there is almost instantaneous self-recrimination,” says Foster. “Your inner critic is set in motion:i am not good enough.What is wrong with me?“
But shaming yourself and berating yourself is not motivating. “In fact, it can seriously undermine your efforts or even derail them altogether,” says Foster.
Willpower isn’t up to the cries of kids when trying to meditate, freezing temperatures when you have to take a walk, or a box of donuts at work when you were too busy for breakfast.
As you work towards a health goal, these smart strategies will help you develop the skills you need to rely less on wavering willpower.
1. Work on habit building
People who favor healthy behaviors often rely on a set of habits rather than willpower. “With practice and repetition, habits become second nature, require almost no thought and can lead to success,” says Foster.
To create a new habit that sticks around, follow these steps (and then keep repeating them), he says:
- HaveIdentify simple behavior.(“I want to start training on my new exercise bike.”)
- HavePair it with a specific tailto which you are regularly exposed. (“I’ll get on the bike coming home from work at 6pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays.”)
- HaveFollow it up with a positive reward.(“I can take a relaxing bath and listen to my favorite podcast after my sweat session.”)
And here’s the good news: “Once established, it takes a lot to dislodge habits,” says Foster. “In fact, they’re likely to keep going even if you lose your motivation or interest – that’s how much they can take hold,” he says.
When it comes to developing healthy habits, it is essential to start with reasonable expectations.
Dr Foster suggests doing an audit of your goals: are they progressive and realistic? For example, “swearing not to eat ice cream when you normally eat it four nights a week is much more difficult than cutting down to one or two nights,” he says.
To set realistic and sustainable behavioral goals, Foster suggests following the STAR method in four steps:
- HaveSpecific:“Be clear on what you want to accomplish – set your intention by asking yourself what, how, when and where,” says Foster. For example: I will eat a salad of greens, red peppers, carrots and avocado for lunch every Monday and Thursday at 12:30 p.m. in my kitchen, and I will prepare the vegetables the day before.
- HaveReally doable:Again, realistic expectations are essential in setting yourself up for success. So, taking the example above, if your week is shaping up to be busy, commit to making one salad instead of two, Foster says.
- HaveActive:“Focus on your goal of doing rather than stopping,” says Foster. For example, getting into the habit of eating a salad twice a week is better than sayingI will not eat pizza for lunch.Have
- HaveRelevant:“Your goal has to be meaningful to you and relate to what you want to accomplish later,” says Foster. For example, you might think: Having a salad for lunch will help me feel more energetic in the afternoon, so I can play with my kids after work.
Instead of taking a black and white approach, focus on the big picture and your progress over time. You are not your slippages. Relax a bit. Give yourself a little grace.
3. Eliminate all-or-nothing thinking
“It’s almost inevitable that every health and wellness journey has setbacks,” said Foster. “Maybe a busy week is coming and you miss a few yoga classes, or a stressful Zoom call at work causes you to finish a bag of crisps without thinking.”
Life happens, and despite our best intentions, sometimes our plans go off the rails. “The truth is, it’s how you think about these setbacks that’s important,” Foster says. The best way to deal with a trip is to shake it up and keep it moving.
But if, on the contrary, you get deeply discouraged and raise your hands (I ate three pieces of pizza – my week is wasted so might as well eat the whole pie), You turn a temporary failure into something that can cause you to deviate completely from the course.
When you fall into this unproductive and harmful all-or-nothing state of mind, Foster recommends taking a step back and thinking about it like this: If you spill a little wine on your carpet, does that mean everything? is ruined? Of course not.
“So instead of taking a black and white approach, focus on the big picture and your progress over time,” he says. “You are not your slippages. Let yourself go. Give yourself grace.”
4. Use support networks
At the start of a life journey towards health and wellness, no one should have to face challenges or walk the road alone. Indeed, research shows that support networks – “people who provide you with recognition, encouragement, specific information and resources to help you succeed” – are essential tools for achieving your health and well-being goals. “Be,” said Foster.
Here are some tips to help you get the most from your support networks:
- HaveBe specific about what you need from someone.“Vague statements likeI want you to support meDon’t give a lot of direction, ”says Foster. Instead, say something like:If you could do the dishes tonight so I can walk around that would be great, Orif you put the cookies in the cabinet rather than on the counter that would be incredibly helpful.Have
- HaveFind your tribe.“Drawing on the wisdom and experience of people who share your goals can be empowering,” says Foster. “For people who are not on the same path, look for those who don’t judge, who listen attentively, who are empathetic even though they can’t understand, and who leave you feeling stronger and happier after you speak. “
- HaveLearn to say no.Setting appropriate limits and putting your needs first is essential for a successful health and wellness journey. For example, you may need to place “safeguards around things essential to achieving your goals, like saying no to requests that conflict with the hours you’ve set aside for exercise,” says Foster. And don’t worry about hurting someone else by saying no. “You are not rude or selfish when you take out asorry I can not“he said.
Examples of healthy support networks
Need some inspiration ? Here are some ways to use your support networks:
- Challenge a friend to see who can walk the most steps in a week.
- Send photos of your meals to a friend.
- Take a virtual tour or take a yoga class with a friend.
- Share healthy recipes and cook meals on Zoom with an out of town friend.
- Create a reading group that focuses on inspiring people and topics.
- Volunteer, tutor, or participate in a community project – expanding your circle by doing good can lead to a positive mindset.
- Join an online community like WW’s Connect or the LIVESTRONG challenge group.
Striving for healthy goals is hard work. That’s why it’s important to take care of yourself along the way. “Self-compassion makes any health journey positive, not punitive,” says Foster.
- Be kind to yourself (rather than engaging in self-criticism) when you have setbacks.
- Pay attention and accept your experiences at this time for what they are without judgment.
- Recognize that imperfection is human – failing to achieve a goal the first time (or the fifth time) is something that happens to everyone, not just you.
In fact, showing sympathy for yourself can help you achieve your aspirations, especially when it comes to losing weight. Research on weight loss tells us that people with higher degrees of self-compassion are better able to maintain a healthy diet, have better overall health, are less afraid of setbacks, and have a more positive outlook. said Foster.
Still, learning to adopt a self-compassionate mindset can be a challenge for some, especially if you’re used to being more self-critical.
“One proven way to improve your self-compassion is to talk to yourself as you would your friend,” says Foster. “What would you say to him?” How would you say it? When you recognize how compassionate you are towards others, it may become easier to apply that compassion inward, ”he says.