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Willpower is a Lie, Build Habits Instead

Updated: Apr 14, 2021

We all struggle with an impulse, whether it be unhealthy food, Netflix, alcohol, whatever it is, it feels good in the moment, but rarely does it help us in the long-term. By continuously fulfilling these impulses, we form habit. Our habits have the ability to overtake us and completely envelop us into their power if we remain a third party to our own minds. Willpower is merely an idea, a thought, to say you are choosing not do to something, but when you become ravenous or a bad day at work pushes you over the edge, willpower will wane as it always does, and impulse will take over. Willpower is owned by the ego and may be one of the clearest examples of how the ego lies to us. We tell ourselves we will not do something anymore because it is not healthy even though it may feel good in the moment; it takes a bold step of the ego to believe that you can snap a finger and simply change the makeup of your brain when you have wired thought synapses to feed your impulses for some time. Then, when you break and give into an impulse rather than using this fictitious willpower, you feel more disappointed than had you just given into the impulse without ever having thought to fight against it. This is where ego slaps you in the face and says, see I am in control, you can’t get away from me! We feel powerless in our own minds. And instead of facing the ego, we give in, time and time again.

“Indulging in our bad habits doesn’t seem to have any negative effect at all in the moment”

Darren Hardy, The Compound Effect

This vicious cycle can be broken when you shed the light of awareness on what is taking place. Awareness allows you to trick your ego right back. So how exactly does this work? Well, like any good trick, you cannot be obvious, you have to let the ego think it is in control while you slowly take back control. First, do not try to change any of your unhealthy impulses, instead, acknowledge them by simply noticing them, I notice that I want to check my phone right now even though that is not the most productive thing I could be doing, and then counterbalance them with a list of healthy habits. Your healthy habits here should be simple things that make you feel good after completion, for example, a breathing exercise, yoga, reading, or making a cup of tea. When you are triggered and want to engage in an unhealthy impulse, simply move through a healthy habit first; once the healthy habit is complete you are welcome to binge watch Netflix for the rest of the night.

“That’s the first way to break a habit: Block its activation. The other way is to block its execution. In the popcorn study, this was accomplished by surreptitiously forcing the habituated eaters to eat with their nondominant hand”

Dr. Michael Greger, How Not to Diet

The purpose here, is to slowly trick your thinking mind into creating new thought patterns and eventually replacing the unhealthy patterns. While this may take some time, one day after taking a beautiful nature walk, you will no longer have the desire to scroll through Instagram or have that second glass of wine. I have worked this trick in my personal life and with enough clients to know that it works but you have to be committed to starting off every negative indulgence with a healthy habit first. You will always have an impulse or a few toward things that do not serve you, the goal is to weaken these impulses to a manageable amount and to such a tiny size that they no longer have the power to take you over. I personally found myself having several glasses of wine a night, so I decided to enjoy a glass of sparkling water before each glass of wine. At first, I simply had a really full bladder but eventually, I was down to two glasses of wine, and finally one or none. I really enjoy wine and it is not something I want to give up right now, however, I find myself content with one glass every few nights: my impulse to drink for relaxation turned into an appreciation for wine as a compliment to a meal or an already relaxing evening. I was able to turn a potentially toxic relationship into a healthy one. You can change your relationship with things by changing your habits with them.

How it Works

Habit Replacement Practice

Trigger: You find yourself sitting on your third Zoom meeting of the day, your camera is off, and you're becoming distracted

Impulse: To grab your phone and either scroll through Instagram or email, whichever grabs your attention first

Awareness: I am about to grab my phone and distract myself because I am feeling disengaged from this meeting

Healthy Behavior: Practice closing your eyes and taking 3 deep breaths

Next: Either engage with your phone or engage with the meeting, decide how you feel after the healthy practice

If you are interested in learning more, please connect with us @ The Bond Consulting Group - Leadership and Development Training Pittsburgh

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