Throughout Lisa’s experience helping people achieve lifestyle changes she’s learnt a fair bit about willpower. Learn the truth about willpower and a few techniques to overcome the challenge of relying on willpower – because it never works! Lisa mentions her Keep it Simple program to assist you in getting organised around food. Find out more here
Prefer to read? Here’s the transcript:
Okay, so today I’m talking to you about willpower. Because in my work of helping people create lifestyle changes around food, I see, time and time again, the all guns blazing, you know, changing everything overnight, ‘This is going to solve my problems,’ ‘Oh my God, I’m feeling amazing,’ fizzle out. It just fizzles. Or the, ‘I’m so committed to doing this. I know this is the right thing to do. I’m doing so well,’ and then, it gets to 3:00pm and, ‘I don’t know what’s just happened, because all my good work for the day has gone out the window.’ Willpower has run out. And there are two things I want to talk about. One is, you know, actual truth about willpower. The other one is some techniques to use instead of willpower. Because, let’s face it, when you’re making lifestyle changes, especially when it comes to food, you’ve got to have more strategies in place to help you.
Because, as I agreed I would tell you, the truth about willpower. And I learnt this from the amazing Nikki Smith, who is a careers coach. She’s a psychologist, and she helps people find their best role in life. So, whatever the best, sort of, job is, she wants to help you find it. Whether that’s creating your own, or whatever. She’s a friend, she does amazing work, and I’m going to be interviewing her on her experiments idea, because I just love it. But the thing she talked about with willpower is that it’s finite. That it doesn’t actually last, it sometimes doesn’t even last a day. And that willpower is like a muscle that you need to flex. And that made so much sense to me, because it’s not like we don’t want to eat well, and it’s not like the intentions aren’t good, or that we’re just, like, destined to live life as failures. It’s that if we only rely on our willpower to say, ‘No,’ to some of the things that might be in our pantry, or whatever, then we’re not going to be able to sustain it. It’s really hard for humans to do.
And it gave me a really big sense of relief when I heard about that, and you even think about something like Weight Watchers. Like, there’s a reason there’s a coach, there’s a reason why you might go to group meetings. Because what they’re asking you to do is really hard, and they’ve built in the things that they need to, to help you stay on track, right? I’m not going to go into my thoughts on Weight Watchers right now, but I don’t recommend it. So, here’s this willpower thing that all of us seem to rely on, to do lots of different things. And it’s just not going to get us where you want to go.
So, here are a few things that I’ve found really help me when it comes to making changes around food. And the first one, for anybody who knows me, is about taking small steps. I now don’t expect the big overhaul, for myself, straight away. I enter into a ‘getting back on track’ kind of ritual, and I have taken the members in my Small Steps Together membership through this. And it’s really, like, the first day, it’s like, ‘Okay, today’s the day that I’m going to, kind of, draw a bit of a line in the sand, and I’m going to choose one thing that’s crept into my life that I don’t really want to be in there.’ And that’s where I start. I’m like, ‘Yep, cool. I can get rid of the Easter eggs,’ or whatever it is. Easier said than done sometimes, I hear you. But I start with something achievable, and I start to increase the amount of water I drink, because I can focus on that, and I can achieve it. I can drink more water.
So, every day for about the next week, I just choose one thing. I choose one thing that I know I can do that day. And it might be eating more green on my plate, or it might be having more food from the different colours of the rainbow. And I don’t mean, like, yellow Twisties and chocolate freckles that have lots of colours on them. I’m talking natural, found from nature, colours. And that just helps me focus on eating the good stuff. I think about each day, something I can do to help make me feel awesome. Honestly, by the end of the seven days, I’ve made all these little changes, and I’m feeling a bit of momentum, and that is what keeps me going. If I feel like I can achieve it, I haven’t asked willpower to do too much. I’ve been adding a lot of the good stuff back in, but then I’ve also proved to myself that I can actually get rid of. And it’s crazy, but it’s all these mental games that we’re, sort of, playing with ourselves in order to be able to get ourselves back on track.
So, as an absolutely essential part of that little thing, that little ‘getting back on track’ series, is also clearing away the shit I don’t want to be eating, or drinking. Because now that I know that willpower is finite, and if something extremely tempting but not highly nutritious, is staring at me from my pantry, I am going to find it hard to resist. And I accept that, so I get rid of it! I really try to not bring that food into my home. I work from home, I’m with my kids at home, and home is, like, it’s my desk, it’s my refuge, it’s everything. So all emotional rollercoasters, like, had a good day, had a bad day, had a great meeting, had a bad meeting, it all happens here. And there’s no-one else to talk to about it, so those emotional, sort of, reasons why we might eat, it’s all going to happen in my home.
So, I make sure that I pack my house. I firstly try and get rid of the stuff that’s going to trip me up. I just get rid of it. I might send it into my husband, to work, to share for morning tea, or whatever it might be. And then, I make sure that there’s awesome stuff on hand. So, if I’ve got a batch of bliss balls, or if I’ve got some homemade biscuits that I’ve made myself, that I know exactly what’s in there. And I would love having one of those with a peppermint tea, or something like that, at morning tea. I’m not asking too much of myself, because that’s something I’m really going to enjoy, but it’s not going to be the stuff that isn’t serving me. So, it’s not having the stuff close by, so you don’t have to rely on willpower, and it is stocking yourself up with awesome things. You know, when I really feel like I might have fallen off track a bit, I make up some dips, because I find having a basil pesto, or a hummus, or something to dip veggies into, just makes me feel really good. It fills me up, and I’m loving myself sick by this stage. Once I’m doing this stuff, it’s all feeling good, and it’s all rolling. And my willpower isn’t the thing I’ve relied on.
When I go to the shops, I usually go after I’ve eaten. And in saying that, I’ve got so many plans for this podcast, but definitely talking about how I shop these days is something I’d love to fill you in on. But of course, while I don’t buy most of the things that I buy from a supermarket, I have to go there sometimes. You know, there are still things that I buy from the supermarket, and I always go there with a full belly. I think once you’ve been on the journey of trying to eat more real food, and really opening your eyes up to what is in a lot of that processed food that we see at the supermarkets, it’s really, really, hard to go back. It’s hard to not see that food. But, in saying that, I have absolutely been known to grab a little rocky road from Darrell Lea, or something, at the shops. Or, you know, a packet of nice Kettle Chips, or something. If you’re in Australia, they are just your basic potato crisp, or chip, or whatever you call them. And, you know, I’m human, I’m not some sort of superhero. But I’ll choose my indulgence, instead of feeling like a victim of hunger at the supermarket. Willpower doesn’t have much chance there, does it, with all the bright, shiny packets?
So, there are a few tips to help you with willpower. A lot of them are really small steps, to help you get back on track. And just that realisation that willpower is a muscle that needs to be flexed, and to not expect too much of it, especially in the beginning. I love helping people out in my Small Steps to Wholefoods program, and I also have Keep It Simple, which is a one-week menu planning program, where I’m in your inbox every day, giving you a bit of a lift, and just taking you through eating a week of wholefoods. The sort of food that I would eat with my family over the course of a week. And it’s a great re-setter for me, just to have those recipes there, have a shopping list, make sure I’ve got everything I need, prepare ahead on a Sunday, and off we go. I do all of that with you in Keep It Simple.
So, good luck! Don’t rely on willpower as much as you might have before. You are not a failure. No, no, you’re human, and there are always other little things that we can do to help strengthen that willpower muscle, and to get ourselves where we want to be, making a few healthy changes. And remember, everything overnight is not the way it has to be, and that small steps can create very large change. See you soon.