What’s Your Will Power?
I recently saw a motivational poster which proclaimed, “will power is like a muscle – the more you use it the stronger it gets”.
So this should apply to eating and well-being, right? And the data should back this up.
But it doesn’t. In fact, like most things in science and life (especially nutrition!) the opposite is pretty much true. I reckon that will power is a limited resource, and when you use it lots you will lack it afterwards.
The current theory (called ego-deletion) is that indeed will power is like a muscle – if you use it too much it just tires out. Then your ability to have the self-control to resist sugary treats and so forth is weakened and you’ll succumb.
This leads straight to a basic, but overlooked principle of healthy eating. There’s a subtle but powerful difference between:
1. Not eating chocolate biscuits, not in your cupboard, and
2. Not eating chocolate biscuits which are in your cupboard.
One is easy because they aren’t there and requires almost no use of will power – except when you do the shopping. The second requires lots of will power – and if you’ve already used that too much in the day then you’ll be weakened and will succumb.
So the idea is to get organised – we’ve called that “diligence not effort”. That means have the healthy food on hand and the junk food right out of the house. A related concept is “full fridge, empty pantry”. Both really mean fresh, real food is in your face, processed high carb/sugar food is not.
So that’s a great principle, but new research shows that beliefs about will power being limited or limitless might affect our will power. They showed that when you believe will power is limitless you actually have more will power! See http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20876879
What’s the answer?
I think we have a limited capacity. Sure you might be able to change it a bit by changing your beliefs, but let’s use what we have in pursuit of worthy goals, not just avoiding crappy food.
Get organised, get diligent and less effort is required!