Health & Fitness: How to Succeed When Willpower Fails

August 2, 2012

Can you remember a time when you were eating out of control? When you weren’t actually hungry but you kept stuffing food into your face anyway?

I can… It was this past Saturday.

It was an “all you can eat” situation at an outdoor festival and I PIGGED out. I got so full and bloated that I started jokingly sticking out my stomach and asking my friends if they wanted to feel the baby kick.

Yes, I hide my shame behind humor, just like you.

Now what happened? Why was I so out of control? Was it a lack of willpower? That’s what most people think to themselves: “I just need more willpower.”

But willpower is a lie. Think about it. Do you really believe in some magical force inside of you that you can somehow conjure up to make you do the things you don’t want to do?

We do things for REASONS, not because of magical forces like “willpower.”

We have internal reasons and external reasons. External reasons are things like wanting a promotion or fearing someone’s negative opinion of you. Internal reasons are things like your values and beliefs about life.

BOTH the internal and external are important, but consider this…

Bucky Fuller (arguably one of the smartest thinkers in the world) said that “environment is stronger than willpower.” What he meant is that if the forces that surround you are pushing you in one direction, it’s extremely difficult to sustain the inner motivation to go in a different direction.

For example, if you’re trying to eat healthy and you’re surrounded by all-you-can-eat desserts and fried food, it’s going to be very difficult to stay on the healthy path.

So you want to align the external forces in your life to point you in the direction of your goals. When you do that, you almost don’t even need inner motivation. Life will move you forward naturally.

I like to call these external forces STRUCTURES.

So what happened to me on Saturday that I “lost control” of my eating choices?

I didn’t have strong structures to support me. There was no lack of structures, of course. But they were pushing me in the direction of overeating:

  • Peer structures: All around me people were eating and drinking to excess.
  • Financial structures: There was no extra cost for eating more, and no savings for eating less.
  • Linguistic structures: Phrases like “get your money’s worth” and “all you can eat” created a positive connotation for over-consumption.

Now before I make too big a deal about this, let me acknowledge that, yes, it was just one day. I don’t eat like that every day. But that’s the point.

Why don’t I eat like that every day? Partly because of my values and beliefs, yes.

But another big reason (maybe even BIGGER reason according to Bucky Fuller) is because of the structures I’ve consciously chosen to support a healthier way of life.

Here are some examples:

  • I only keep healthy foods in the house. This makes it harder to eat unhealthy because it means an extra trip out to go get the junk food.
  • I have several standard meals I love to eat that are also very healthy. I don’t have to struggle with the question “What am I going to eat?” at every meal. It’s easy to make a healthy choice.
  • I often use a “100 Days” structure where I commit to some habit or way of living for 100 days and I blog about it. It makes my goals public, so people will see me whenever I “cheat.” I can’t hide.
  • I often seek support from a coach or mentor. This is someone who can help me through the challenging times when my choices seem murky or confusing.
  • I follow proven programs and strategies (whether it’s an exercise program, dietary guidelines, or a deliberate stress-reducing practice like meditation). It’s a simple matter of following the steps, which takes a lot of the anxiety and doubt out of the experience.

Can you see how all of these structures support me in my goal to eat healthy? And how much more difficult it would be without them?

Here are some questions for you to consider:

  1. What are your favorite structures that support you in living the way you want to live?
  2. What structures tend to steer you off track and away from your goal?
  3. Where in your life are you stalled and not making the progress you want to be making?
  4. Where in your life do you feel out of control?

Email me your answers to these questions and I would be happy to suggest structures that will support you in pursuing your goals with greater ease and flow.

©2012 Curtis G. Schmitt

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How to Control Your Eating Choices

November 25, 2009

Listen to a short podcast on how your brain works and why you lose control of your eating choices:

[ Or, download this podcast. ]

This podcast is an excerpt from the CD Control Your Eating & Achieve Your Ideal Weight. Click here to buy this CD and learn the simple and effective 6-step process for gaining control of your eating choices.

Or get this CD free by joining the Peaceful Productivity Group coaching program.

How to Control Your Eating

Tell me if you’ve had this experience: You stuff yourself at some meal or event, and afterward when you’re thinking about what a glutton you were, you promise yourself that you’ll never do that again. Starting now, you’re turning over a new leaf. Things are going to be different! And they are…for a few days, maybe. But before you know it, your old eating habits have returned. Why?

A few years ago, I restricted myself to a special diet — vegetables and fruits only — for 6 weeks as part of a cleanse program I was doing. I was shocked by how difficult it was. I craved things like pizza and cookies, not out of hunger, but out of an emotional need for them. I had no idea just how much my emotions had been controlling my eating choices until I tried to stop eating my “comfort foods.”

Maybe you’re aware of your emotional attachment to certain foods, maybe you’re not. But food choice is just one of the ways we are controlled by our emotions.

To understand why, let’s look at how the brain works.

Whenever you experience something with any of your five senses, that signal travels through your nervous system to your brain. It enters you brain at the back and travels across the brain to the front, where rational thinking takes place. But before it reaches the front of your brain it travels through the limbic system. This is the emotional center of the brain.

If these details don’t interest you, then pay attention to this:

Every experience you have goes through the emotional center of your brain before it gets to the rational center!

This has two stunning implications:

  1. Every experience has an emotional component whether you’re conscious of it or not.
  2. If your emotional reaction is strong enough, it will determine your response before you even have a single rational thought about the experience.

As logical as you think you are (I know some of you think you’re Spock, but you’re not) you are first and foremost an emotional creature. To be successful in life — whether it’s food or business or relationships — you must learn how to manage your emotions. The extent to which you can manage your emotions is referred to as Emotional Intelligence (EQ for short).

In order to make a lifestyle change like changing your eating habits, you must have a high level of personal EQ. Without it, your actions and reactions become emotional compulsions instead of rational choices.

Personal EQ consists of two parts:

  1. Self-awareness
  2. Self-management

Self-awareness of your emotions is increased simply by asking yourself throughout the day, “What am I feeling right now? Why am I feeling this way?”

Self-management of your emotions is increased by asking yourself the additional question, “What am I going to do with this emotion right now?”

If you ask yourself these questions, you might still choose to eat a piece of chocolate to cheer yourself up. But the key difference is that you’ll do it consciously.

At the very least, by being conscious of your choice you’ll end up eating less chocolate. With each bite you can repeat the questions: “Okay, now what am I feeling? And what do I choose to do with this emotion?” You won’t get lost in unconscious binging.

And over time, you’ll find yourself making different choices in similar situations.

Increasing your self-awareness has a snowball effect (it gets easier the more you do it), and it leads very naturally to increased self-management. Make it a daily practice to ask those questions and you’ll soon feel like an expert.

For training in a simple and effective 6-step process for gaining control of your eating choices, buy the CD Control Your Eating & Achieve Your Ideal Weight.

©2008 Curtis G. Schmitt