There seem to be a lot of references to Willpower being like a “Muscle” – the more you use it, the stronger it gets, suggesting that all we need to do to change a habit is to get STRONG! This is an appealing message to people who like a challenge and who like the idea of a “challenge” and “toughing it out”. But what about the rest of us who would prefer change to be easy, not requiring too much effort. After all, we are busy people with responsibilities and commitments that take energy!
I don’t believe the willpower is like a muscle. And research backs me up.
Take the study that puts subjects into a situation where they had to resist a temptation. When they backed this up and asked for the same restraint from two groups, the group who had not previously had to exercise “willpower” fared much better! Simple explanation? We only have so much willpower and it gets used up! It’s exhausting using willpower. Would we really break the Tim Tam habit by taking home a packet and sitting looking at it for 30 minutes without giving in to the temptation to eat them. Then the next night take home, perhaps two packets and resist them for maybe an hour? I think not! There would be some serious chocolate biscuit consumption in my house if I tried it.
To replace a habit, we have to identify the cue that precedes the routine (that we want to change) and also recognise the reward we get. We then have to find a new routine that we can put in place when the cue arises and hope it results in a similar reward.
Example: We feel sluggish in the afternoon. We reach for the snacks to help us get a bit more energy. We feel momentarily energised. New routine – instead of reaching for the snacks we go for a light run. We come back. We feel energised. Eventually we like the feeling of energy that we get from a run, more than the slight lift from eating junk. We start to crave the feeling that the run results in. New habit starts to form.
Sound easy? It isn’t. But it is a better approach than doing Willpower Workouts!