So you think if you could only increase your will power, you’d do more workouts, lift more weight, do more cardio and improve your overall fitness. Well, that’s one theory. Problem is, it doesn’t seem to always work. And it sure doesn’t work for everyone.
Here’s why. Will power works best, it seems, after you’ve started on your plan. The old, “I will,” is a fine piece of self-talk after you are on your way to showing up more and doing more.
But if you are looking for the kick-start, it’s all about true desire more than just will power. It’s more about self-empowerment and less about feeling overpowered. Not too many of us enjoy doing things we have to do. In fact, powerlessness usually leads to resentment. So forceful change loses out to “desirous” change.
Research demonstrates that we certainly can talk ourselves into doing more exercise. But as soon as our self-talk leads us to feel forced to continuing, will power, “I will,” ceases to work.
Think about how you feel after you say, “I will.” It begins to feel like coercion if you say it enough—even if it’s your own words. And coercion is a nasty concept when compared to choice.
The point I’m making is there is a difference between self-discipline, “Will I?” and will power “I will.” One allows us to get started in overcoming laziness and procrastination. It helps us control our impulses, up to a point. The other keeps us going. It adds perseverance, and the ability to overcome difficulties that otherwise blocks us.
Will power keeps us going. Self-discipline gets us going. The former is following an order, “I will.” The latter follows our heart, our desire, and our choice. The former is force. The latter is autonomy.
Here’s the simple way to develop your choice. Don’t say, “I will.” Instead ask yourself, “Will I?” Then the answer is your choice to make. You create a decision not a declaration you may feel forced to live up to.
Surprisingly we all have, according to research, a limited amount of will power. Roy Baumeister, a psychology professor at Florida State University, noted that it is, “…a limited resource. People make all these different New Year’s resolutions, but they are all pulling off from the same pool of your willpower. It’s better to make one resolution and stick to it than make five.”
Strategies to improve your “stick-to-itness” recommended by Boston psychologist Eric Endlich, PhD and exercise scientist Kathleen Martin Ginis, PhD, of McMaster University include:
• Schedule exercise. Plan your exercise, including trips to the gym and the classes you want to take, ahead of time and have everything ready to go to avoid that 20-minute search for your running shoes. “If you’ve planned what you are doing and have everything ready, you avoid the big debate with yourself about whether you will do it or not,” Endlich says.
• Get a trainer or an exercise buddy. Being accountable to someone else is a great motivator.
• Get it over with. If you know you can’t make yourself exercise after an exhausting day, do it first thing in the morning. I’d add, ask yourself if you will do it the first thing in the morning.
Get in a good mood. Studies suggest that people can muster more self-control when they are in a good mood. So listening to music that makes you happy or watching something funny online could be just another motivator you need.