I’ll cut right to the chase. I’m at the lowest weight that I’ve been in twelve years or so, but I don’t want to stop losing weight – so much so that I’m looking for help to keep my momentum going.
I love the idea of ‘returning’ to the body that I had in university. Or at least my 44 year old, post three babies, version of it. I’m well on my way there – I’ve lost about 40lb. in the past year, 30lb. of that since I started following a ketogenic based food plan in July. Yet, while I feel wildly successful about this change and very happy about fitting into clothing that I had almost given up on every wearing comfortably again, I’m scared of stalling. Worse than that, I’m worried about boomeranging back to my state before of feeling uncomfortable, out of shape (well, a rounder shape) and demoralized about my ‘inability’ to stay at a healthy weight in my adult life.
This past Saturday night, my friend Rachel inadvertently gave me a plan (she joins the ranks of Ian, who inspired me similarly last week). We were talking about eating and weight loss and she said that it is an area that she has little willpower. Well, I have the book for that! (I have a lot of books and sometimes I even read them.) The book is called The Willpower Instinct, How Self Control Works, Why it Matters and What You Can Do to Get More of It by Kelly McGonigal, PhD. She is trained as a Health Psychologist and her course, The Science of Willpower, at Stanford University has attracted thousands of people to change their thinking about willpower. My biggest take home from McGonigal’s book is that willpower is like biceps. We all have them and if I want to have stronger willpower, I need to exercise the muscles involved (in this case, brain areas).
This is where you come in. Everyone knows that if you want to do something, it’s easier if you have other people to do it with (my husband is snickering when reading this, I’m sure of it). So, join me by also pursuing a goal or simply by cheering me on.
Is there a goal that you have that you think requires willpower to achieve? It could be weight loss, like me. It could be preparing for a 10km race; reducing your phone addiction; increasing your workout time; spending more time with your family or spending more time by yourself. Something that you have tried to do a few times and don’t feel that you’ve been successful at (yet).
Here’s my plan: I’m going to follow Kelly McGonigal’s 10-week Science of Willpower course. If all you do is read my blog each week and cheer me on, I’ll be very grateful. I believe that will be enough (for my own success and possibly as well to spark some motivation for you). However, if you also have a goal that you want to pursue over the next 10 weeks, hop on board and we’ll work on it together. If you’re keen to read the book, feel free to pick it up. If you’re like my friend Ian and would rather read the article, then I’m going to provide the ‘Coles Notes’ version of the book in weekly segments, personalized to my own goal (this is a pretty selfish post, if you haven’t figured that out yet).
Week One Highlights
- It is best to pick one specific challenge that you want to focus on. McGonigal divides willpower challenges into “I won’t”; “I will” or “I want”. Being an overcompensater (a word I just made up), I have formulated my goal with all three:
I won’t eat compulsively
I will eat mindfully
I want to have a healthy, strong body
- Take on this project as a scientist. It is not all or nothing. It is not about success or failure. I will be focusing on increasing my capacity to exercise my self-control when eating and try to uncover what my stumbling blocks are and where my strength already lies. Curiosity and openness are key. Thinking in terms of success/failure are barriers. Scientists set goals but are looking to discover and learn. That’s what I want to do.
- I am training my brain. I can’t expect to run a marathon just by setting the goal and having the desire. The same is true for willpower.
Here are the two brain training exercises for Week One of the course:
- Try this for one day: Increase your awareness of the decisions you’re making related to your goal. For example, if you want to spend more time doing physical activity, pay attention to the choices you’re making in that area for as you move through your day. Write them down or put them into your phone. You’re a scientist – collect data.
- Practice mindfulness meditation for 5 minutes each day. Mindfulness builds strength for a lot of heavy lifting in our brains. It gives us perspective and it gives us focus. Just the same way I need to increase my cardiovascular capacity and my quad strength to run long distances, I need to increase my perspective taking and focus abilities to gain more self-control (aka as willpower). There are a ton of mindfulness practices all over the Internet. Here is one of my favourites.
Thank you in advance! See you next week for Week Two.