Willpower, Motivation and the Power to Change

This is the time of year when people ease away from their New Year’s resolutions. The gyms are less crowded. Spring seems far away and we hibernate. Interaction with friends and family often involves food, which offers immediate gratification until you step on the scale the next morning. Understanding the complexities of motivation and choice may help you stay on track with your New Year’s resolutions.

Have you ever mindlessly reached for a cookie or has your car automatically driven into your favorite fast food drive-thru? It’s like your brain becomes hijacked until it’s too late and you’ve succumbed to the temptation. It boils down to your habits and patterns. Unfamiliar behaviors are challenging until they become new routines. Old habits are familiar and provide satisfaction. We’re hungry, have “cravings,” are tempted and seek relief to satisfy our body and mind. It’s a vicious cycle. How satisfied do you feel after eating a high fat, high carb/sugar meal that you know will not produce an overall state of well-being? How satisfying is succumbing to immediate gratification? What do you say to yourself to justify this behavior?

We know that almost anything in moderation is okay, but those temptations do more harm than good for those who really crave certain foods or need to watch their weight. Understanding what impacts craving, motivation, and behavior, will help you break those habits and make positive changes in your life. This requires setting an intention to make small, incremental changes.

There are many experts that discuss this topic and it’s important to find what works for you. Kelly McGonigal, PhD, has many Youtube videos on willpower, motivation and the neuroscience of change. Deepak Chopra, MD’s book, What are you Hungry For, discusses how underlying emotions lead to unhealthy eating. Understanding why we reach for food helps us deal with the underlying issues directly rather than covering them up with “feel good” food. Dr. Anderson (in Discover Your Optimal Health) states that setting primary goals and developing strategies to resist temptation are important. Other research shows how the brain develops different neuropathways as we change behaviors. So,just because you’ve always done something in the past, doesn’t mean you can’t change! It just takes conscious intention, understanding how to support yourself and focus on your primary goal.

The first steps are to identify what needs to change in your life and the obstacles that stand in your way. What do you need to support yourself in making the change? For example, if you know that you eat poorly when you are stressed, rather than taking the usual route past your favorite fast food restaurant, what about taking a different path? What about identifying the stress leading to the craving and deal with that instead? It doesn’t have to be complicated. What’s challenging is we want to feel better immediately. By identifying the underlying trigger (stress) and the familiar behavior (eating fast food for relief), then practicing stress-reduction techniques while supporting yourself (take a different route to avoid temptation), you will feel a huge sense of accomplishment. Once you succeed, you realize you are stronger than your urges, which usually only last momentarily. It’s all about choice in the moment and how you deal with what’s really going on within yourself. Then, if you choose to eat that chocolate sundae and decide it’s not emotional eating, then you can totally enjoy that treat. You then regain control by making conscious choices rather than reacting based on emotion.

This power will then lead to more positive changes in other areas of your life! I challenge you to give it a try!

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