Willpower, Motivation, Self-Control…they all suck as weight loss and dieting strategies.    Unfortunately, they are often the default approach we take.  On the surface, this makes sense.  Human achievement would not be possible if it not for these persisting qualities.  It takes tremendous amounts of willpower, motivation, and self-control for feats in athletics, science and the arts.  Why wouldn’t it work for you?

Does this sound familiar, “When things start getting difficult, I’ll just power through and make it work.”?  This is usually said at the start of your journey, when motivation is high and you haven’t encountered any challenges yet.   Fast forward a few weeks, when you’re driving home from work, after a stressful day.  You forgot to plan any dinner, you’re starving, and you just so happen to be passing by your favorite fast food drive-thru.   Your willpower will certainly be put to the test, and more times then not, it will fail you.   Here why:

  • Effort – Think of all the areas in your life that require effort (career, spouse, children).  Add in even more effort at and around every time you eat, and it can become exhausting.
  • Unreliable – Motivation comes in peaks and valleys; it can fluctuate day to day, even minute to minute.   We typically lay out our plans when our motivation is at its peak, believing it will always be that way.   When we struggle, that same motivation is nowhere to be found.   What do you do then?
  • Conscious Thinking – Similar to requiring too much effort, willpower requires our minds to purposely act on a conscious level.   However, our minds much prefer to operate on “auto pilot”, rather than making decisions all day, everyday.   Think about when you’re driving.  Do you analyze and decide on every action you take?   Of course not.  Your mind relies on the patterns and routines that you’ve developed, through consistent repetition, to take the proper course of action.
  • Conflicts of Interest – We are often motivated by conflicting actions at the same time.   Stick to your diet plan and make a sensible last minute meal at home, or stop at the fast food drive-thru on the way home (after all, you’ve had a stressful day)?  Situations like these arise all the time.

Therein lies the problem with willpower, motivation, and self control….they simply aren’t sustainable approaches to long term success.   Relying too much on these qualities often leads to a familiar cycle.   You lay out these grand plans for success that are overly restrictive and don’t take into account all facets of your life.   Challenges arise.  Willpower, motivation, and self-control aren’t enough to overcome them.  You get frustrated that the plan isn’t working.   You “fall off the wagon” and blame yourself.  It happens time and again, but the issue is not you, it’s the faulty system of relying too much on willpower.

To be successful, you need to take the opposite approach and have as low a reliance on willpower, motivation, and self-control as possible.   Will you need them every now and again?  Of course, but they shouldn’t be the default.  Instead, consider the following question before embarking on a specific approach or action…”Is this something I can do 100% of the time, even on my absolute worst day?”   Be honest with yourself.   If the answer is not “Absolutely!”, then you may need to adjust your strategy.  It’s all about the long game…keep it simple, sensible, and sustainable.