We all have issues with willpower from time to time. Regardless of how important our goal is to us, it’s easy to be tempted by our desire for immediate gratification. Picturing ourselves effortlessly slipping into our favorite pair of jeans isn’t always enough motivation to do our workout instead of heading to the couch with a pint of ice cream.
I recently came across a fantastic book, The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It, by Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D. I’ll be sharing lots of insights from her book over the coming months, but I highly recommend reading it cover-to-cover if you’d like to dig deeper in the this area.
Today I’m going to focus on how exercise improves willpower in all areas of our life. In her book, she mentions a study that was done by Megan Oaten and Ken Cheng at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. The study shows that participants who were asked to exercise, but make no other changes in their lives, also started eating better, saving more money, and procrastinating less, among other things. McGonigal notes that after sharing this with one of her clients who had no interest in working out despite having health issues, the client taped a piece of paper that read “willpower” over the typical “calorie” reading on his gym equipment and started exercising regularly. He had no interest in burning calories, but wanted all the willpower he could get to succeed at work.
What’s the takeaway from this? Next time you’re struggling to get in your workout for the day because you’re just not in the mood, take a few minutes to remember why exercise is important to you. If that doesn’t work, remind yourself that you’ll have more willpower in all areas of life if you get in some exercise. Imagine yourself creating an amazing client proposal, skipping the donuts in the break room, dealing with your child’s tantrums more calmly, and being the person you want to be.
My favorite line from the book on this topic is “If you tell yourself that you are too tired or don’t have the time to exercise, start thinking of exercise as something that restores, not drains, your energy and willpower.” These little mindset shifts all add up. Keep adding these strategies to your mental toolkit and keep me posted on how they’re working—or not working—for you!
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