F%*K Willpower!

“My obsessions used to be my protectors, but now they have taken me prisoner.”
Mason Cooley

There is no such thing as will power. You might want to argue that – especially if you’ve been successful at dieting, or quitting smoking, or getting off drugs or alcohol. But the reality is if you’ve done any of these things, yes, you do have to have resolve (which might be a synonym for will power). But it can’t be just a resolve to stop, it has to include a resolve to replace: to eat for nutrition instead of a numb-out or go for a walk instead of hang on the couch, to knit or make instead of smoke, to
go to meetings or call a sponsor instead of drinking or drugging.

Our brains “wire” when they “fire.”  What this means is that our brains change when they get a new stimulus, a new “hit.”  Once the wiring is in place it takes a HUGE amount of energy to rewire, so our brains resist in a way that is separate from our conscious or thinking mind. So when we want to make a change for anything we HAVE to create new wiring, new neural pathways. Our brain can do this – it’s called neuroplasticity (a current-ish buzzword).  And even though our brains have neuroplasticity we are also wired for energy conservation. The energy conservation portion of our brain is wired throughout our DNA from waaaaaaaaaaaaay back in our earliest upright ancestry.  The energy conservation written on our DNA is a major reason why willpower doesn’t work (and also why fat foods taste so yummy to us – lots of calories for very little effort 😉 ).

Rewriting neural pathways takes a ton of energy – think stroke patients, (some) spinal cord injuries or brain traumas. There are miracle recoveries – or small wins – but most of them that involve our nervous system (brain and spinal cord) take many weeks, months, years or decades.

And it is the same, just less traumatic, when you want to change how you consume food, begin a movement program, quit smoking or stop drinking or taking drugs.

At every crossroad it’s a choice. Sometimes it’s a very difficult choice, sometimes we need to choose extra help to get us to a point where we are able to make another choice (for example, my dad needed hospitalization to support his choice to stop drinking).

Planning is really helpful in this regard. Planning lights up our brain and tells it that something new is on the way. As an example meal planning is awesome for nutritional changes, but here’s the deal. You also have to have several plan Bs and Cs about how you are going to handle the inevitable cravings, parties, workroom donuts, and days when you’re hungry and somehow without the food you’d planned. I can’t speak as well to quitting smoking since I never did that and alcohol and caffeine were both pretty easy for me to quit as the consequences of each were way more painful than just letting them both go. But food – sugar especially – well that’s another story 😉

So I beg of you to stop beating yourself up about not having will power – nobody does, really. Some people are just better at planning (which is such a learnable and practice-able skill), and some people are probably in more pain (emotional and mental as well as physical) than you are – which might make them seem more successful, but really they are just more motivated.

Trust me, when you get in enough pain, you will make different choices. Until then, play around with planning and then executing your plan to the best of your ability. Change takes DOING – so when you can, plan – then stop thinking and start doing.

Addendum: Ok – so you’ve make a plan, you’ve executed it, and you’ve blown it. This is a good thing, not a failure. It’s an opportunity to realize that the plan wasn’t exactly right for you. When you get new information you get to make a change. Instead of blaming, shaming or should-ing yourself, take the so-called “failure,” unpack it and make some changes to the next plan. Did you make a plan that worked for someone else (but in reality doesn’t fit you, your family, your life, your likes, your strengths)? There are a billion diet and exercise books on the market for a reason – no one plan works for anyone. You have to find YOUR OWN WAY. Experiment, any action is better than no action. All attempts give you new info. Be kind to yourself, let go of a timeline, trust that when you are really ready to change, you’ll be able to and there won’t be any will power required.

So much love and trust in you,