In today’s episode, we cover Part II of our mental training and mindset series for runners series with the discussion on willpower. We will identify the difference between laziness and the lack of power, how to boost the willpower, resist the short-term temptations and prevent the lack of willpower by eliminating bad habits.
You'll also find a lot of useful books and articles on how to improve your willpower and get closer to your goals. By following the tips and recommendations covered in this episode, and enriching yourself with additional sources like "The Miracle Morning Journal" by Hal Elrod, you'll manage to not only improve your performance but improve your quality of life.
Willpower is one of the most important catalysts to change habits. Without it, a positive change in habits does not occur. Learning how to preserve it and use it to your advantage is incredibly important when it comes to running.
So, I feel like I have a really good show for you today. It was one that was fun to research and put together and one that I think will help you if you are someone who struggles with running, or goes through phases where it seems like you just can’t, or don’t feel like getting your workouts in. I’ve been there, you’ve been there, we have all been there.
Maybe it is your ability to consistently eat healthy, or be productive after a long day at work. The problem that most of us face from time to time is that there are times when things, like eating a healthy meal or going for a run, is easy. Then there are times when we really want to eat healthy and go for that run, yet for some reason, we can’t just make it happen.
In today’s episode, we are going to continue our series on the mental training and mindset side of running by exploring the topic of willpower and our body's natural tendency to sometimes resist the very things that are in our best interest.
Whether it is going for a run, eating healthier or doing whatever you want to do, we’ll dig into why controlling your willpower can be a struggle. Then I will dig into the tactical steps you can take to increase your willpower to become a better runner, eat better, or just improve your life in general.
But is willpower something we even have control over? As we go through this article, we will get a better insight into when, where and how we can control our willpower.
According to a survey done by the American Psychological Association(APA), a lack of willpower is the #1 reason most people believed they did not follow through with a healthy lifestyle change. But there are people who can follow through with healthy lifestyle changes and are successful. What makes them different? Are they different?
At its simplest level, willpower is the ability to resist short term temptations in order to accomplish long term goals.
Sometimes when we see people (or ourselves) exhibit a lack of willpower we often perceive it as laziness. However, laziness is different than lack of willpower. Laziness goes beyond willpower.
With laziness, there is little ‘intent’ or no intent to do something in the first place. With willpower, there is intent to do the right thing.
Now don’t get me wrong, there are times when being lazy is OK.
We all have those days, where we want to lounge around on the sofa with a glass of wine and chill with some Netflix. This kind of laziness is OK. It is therapeutic, especially after a long stressful day. But if our Netflix and chill day turn into several days, weeks or even months of not doing anything, then this form of laziness is something that will require more effort to pull out of.
Up to this point, I have implied that willpower is something that you have or don’t have. In reality, it is something we have varying degrees of at any given time. In fact, most researchers believe that willpower never truly runs out.
There are times that you can be motivated to tap into it or push through an urge to resist temptation despite feeling like you don’t have any willpower left. Researchers also tend to agree, that willpower can be strengthened with practice.
Most contemporary researchers believe that willpower is the strongest for most people when they are rested and refreshed, and the weakest just after ‘tests of temptation’ to our willpower have been done. In other words, the more we are exposed to the temptation, or situation we are trying to resist, the weaker we become.
If I was to invite you into my home at any given time, most likely you would find fresh chocolate chip cookies sitting on a cookie plate covered in aluminum foil on our countertop. My wife and daughter like to make cookies and I can usually resist them when needed. Usually.
When I go through phases where I get strict with my diet, I have found that the more I walk past the cookies, the less likely I can resist them. But the more I am around them, the lower my resistance becomes and soon I will find myself eating them.
I have also observed that in the morning, I rarely get tempted by the cookies, but by the end of the day, I have a much harder time resisting not just the cookies, but anything I am trying to accomplish. Research backs this up, and if we think about it, it makes sense. Our minds are more fatigued later in our day than earlier in our day. We just don’t feel like doing stuff.
If we look at the research there seems to be a strong correlation between fatigue and lack of willpower. The fatigue, in this case, seems to be mental, not physical fatigue.
Studies have been down that people who were physically fatigued (like through exercise or hard labor) were no more likely to give in to a particular temptation than those who weren’t physically tired. Yet those who had stressful days or jobs that required more mental energy were more likely to give in.
It is well known that our brains consume a massive amount of energy. In fact, studies estimate that approximately 20% of the body's energy expenditure occurs in the brain.
Two-thirds of this energy consumption doing things that control the body like firing neurons to communicate with other neurons and the remaining one-third doing self-care and maintenance activities on the brain itself.
So is willpower depletion simply be a result of running out of fuel?
For those that have run a marathon, you know how important fueling is. Not only do we get physically tired, but we also become mentally tired.
Think about this. If you reach a part of your run where you are physically tired, but not mentally tired, what do you do? You push on for a bit longer, right? You tough it out.
If you train your mind to resist giving in, if you learn to tap into your willpower reserves, you can usually find more willpower in you than you thought you were capable of.
So, can fueling during a run help prevent willpower depletion.? Could it really be as simple as adding a light snack of carbohydrates (mainly sugars) to give yourself a boost?
Well, yes and no.
Studies do show a small boost in willpower when adding a sugary drink or consuming carbohydrates but the same studies also show that adding energy alone through small amounts of food not enough to sustain willpower.
So while we certainly need to fuel during our longer runs whether it is through food, sports drinks, or gels there are other factors that can boost willpower and this was shown when people who did not fuel were able to boost their willpower temporarily through other means.
For example, having a positive attitude or belief system was shown to have a positive effect on being able to resist the temptation to quit or give in than those that just fueled alone.
Yes. Willpower is something that we can train and if we are aware of the common characteristics that we see when we study the subject, we can actually use it to our advantage. Especially when we recognize conditions when willpower will drain and get depleted.
Willpower is often thought of like a muscle, and while it acts very much like a muscle in that it appears to gets tired, it supersedes muscle in that other things like thoughts and beliefs influence it.
Before we get into the tips, I want you to remember these words. Action Changes Things! If we don’t put into action what we learn, then we just wasted time.
To increase your chances of success, you need to establish your motivation for change and be able to express it with a clear goal. This is your ‘what’ and a ‘why’.
The problem I see with many people (and sometimes my own goals) is that they are not clear goals. Many set generic goals like, “I want to run more” or “I want to eat healthier”. What does that even mean and how do you know if you achieved it?
You need to measure your progress. For example, I tend to see positive results when I monitor my progress using MyFitnessPal, and I tend to see negative, or mediocre results when I don’t track my progress.
MyFitnessPal is an incredible app that you can put on your smartphone or use online to track your activities, and it is free. I can’t say enough good things about it.
Meditation or taking a short break is one of the top ways to regenerate willpower.
Practicing meditation for a few minutes each day, or periodically through the day can actually boost willpower by building up gray matter in the areas of the brain that regulate emotions and governs decision making.
The way it works goes back to my earlier comments about the more intense your brain works during the day, the less likely it will be able to resist the loss of willpower. Taking short breaks is a great way to calm the brain and give it a chance to recharge.
It’s easy to make an excuse to not go on a run. But, if you have a friend waiting for you to go for a run, you most likely will go through with it. Seek out others whether it be running clubs, coworkers, or even virtually through the RunBuzz running community.
For me, getting rid of distractions is huge. I get more distracted than a golden retriever on a squirrel farm.
Figure out what your most common distractions are (like TV, junk food, housework, etc.) and find a way to block them out or get rid of them completely. For example, only keep healthy food in the fridge and throw out junk food or put your phone on airplane mode while working or keep a clean and clutter-free desk, etc.
Set yourself up so you will not be able to back out. For example, sign up for a race, pay all the fees, get yourself a partner to race with, tell all your friends and family to meet you at the finish line.
I use a Fitbit to force myself to get 10,000 steps in each day. Not that 10,000 steps mean much in and of itself, but to get in 10,000 steps, you have to be doing something active. It helps me get my runs in because running is a great way to hit my step goal. On the days I don’t run, I walk or use the elliptical.
Using my Fitbit, combined with MyFitnessPal (they are synced) is an easy way to measure and capture the metrics I use for positive lifestyle changes. Then, I use my Garmin Forerunner 235 when I track my run data when training.
We lose our willpower throughout the day. So the best way to combat that is to do your most challenging tasks in the morning.
In fact, if you have never read the book, The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod, do yourself a favor and do so. This book is a must-read. If you do the activities in this book, it is life-changing and I am aware that is a bold claim.
Researchers studying the most successful people on earth have found a common characteristic between most of them and that is one of having a dedicated, morning routine. By putting what is most important to you first thing in the morning, you get the benefits of actually getting them done before other outside influences get in the way.
Since starting my own morning routine, I have never felt better. I was NOT a morning person and it took me several attempts to get it to stick. Now it is addictive. Since starting a regular morning routine, I have been promoted, lost weight, returned back to running after my injury, but one of the biggest things I am noticing is that my mind is not as foggy and I am getting stuff done consistently.
Sometimes the hardest part of doing something is just getting started. Tell yourself you can do something for at least five minutes, whether it’s working out, running, meditating, or any other task that you may be struggling with. Once you get going, it is much easier to keep going.
Change is slow and we often can’t see it from day to day. There are times when using a journal, helps remind us of our progress when we may not see it ourselves.
If we journal before we go to bed, it sets our mind right before we go to sleep. Think about it this way for a minute.
If you look back on your sleep and wake habits the past several months, have you ever had days where you didn’t want or just couldn’t get out of bed? For me, it was on Mondays-Fridays. But on Saturday mornings, I leaped out of bed because I was excited. It was running club day.
I look forward to Saturdays, more than Monday mornings.
But when you combine a morning routine with journalling the night before, you are setting the goals and triggering your brain to what you want to accomplish the next morning
When you journal, you want to list what you accomplished that day and what you are happy for, but you also want to plan out the next day.
For me, I list what I accomplished that day, and put in writing what I will accomplish the next morning before work.
For example, I list what I will do when I wake up, what I plan to eat for breakfast, what exercises I will do, what article I will read (I always try to read at least one article a day as it helps get my brain juices flowing from a creative perspective as well as it is an organized way to learn new things.
I usually do light bodyweight exercises and stretching in the morning and save my runs until later because I prefer to run in the evenings.
Creating this little journal helps burn into my mind what I want to accomplish, and as a result, I am more likely to ‘want’ to get up early because I look forward to ‘my time’ while the world is still quiet and asleep. Before, I just force myself into the daily grind of my life and put my own well being and what I wanted to accomplish, last.
In the recommended book section above I share the journal system I use but you could also just use any notebook. The one I use allows me to do some level of meal planning, exercise logging and gives me space to put some free thoughts down as well.
Looking back, I used to think journalling was total BS until I tried it. Now, it is the most consistent thing I do before I go to bed.
If you are only 99% committed, it is easy to talk yourself out of doing the thing you are trying to accomplish. But if you decide from the start that you are going to be 100% committed to finishing your goal, you will be way more likely to succeed.
This statement of commitment helps burn it our goal into our subconscious mind. It becomes a goal or activity that becomes more focused, and we imprint that commitment into our brain to use during times when our willpower is being tested.
When you give in to temptation, understand that it happens to all of us. It is OK. Just pick up where you left off and continue. No one said anything worth doing would be easy.
But at the same time, do not use self-forgiveness as an excuse to give in. We don’t want to teach ourselves the habit of failure. Just recognize the weakness, learn from it, admit that is was OK and that you will commit to do better and move on. The more you dwell on it, the more willpower you are using up and it serves no useful purpose.
Ok, guys, I have dwelled on it for long enough, I have one last exercise for you…. In the last episode, where I kicked off the series, I had you write down your feelings and things that you struggled with. The purpose of this was to identify the types of challenges you were struggling with as well as the feelings associated with it. Because these struggles and feelings have a way to burn into our subconscious and drive our day to day behaviors.
This week, we are going to take what we learned last week, and then apply how willpower impacts our ability or lack of ability to drive the change we want in our lives.
The key to all this is recognizing how willpower plays into it and using the steps outlined in this podcast drive towards the outcome you want using the support system of the RunBuzz community, email me if you need to, check out the show notes page at runbuzz.com/44 and take action.
If you feel it is a waste of time after 5 minutes then go do something else, but if you can spare, 5 minutes you may find yourself 10 minutes in actually getting excited and after 15 minutes have your day planned and be well on your way to retraining your brain. Like anything that is worthwhile, you can do it. You just need practice, and I know you can do it.
Until next time, keep up the hard work, and Happy Running!
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