When we opt for the elevator over the stairs, swear we’ll start eating healthier on Monday, or skip that morning workout, we tend to blame our lack of self-control and willpower.
But what if this lack of self-control is just a cop out? After all, any time you engage in self-sabotaging behavior, it’s easy to convince yourself that it’s because you’re weak or lazy to allow yourself to continue doing what you’re doing.
But maybe the underlying reason why you “can’t” just pass the elevator, “can’t” say no to the cookie, or “can’t” get off the couch to go to the gym is that you haven’t recognized your priorities and what you truly value: your why. Without knowing your why, it’s much harder to align your actions—no matter how big or small—with what you want to work.
Self-control still matters
Rather, I merely think blaming the problem on a lack of self-control is like putting the cart before the horse. That is: No amount of self-control is going to keep you from consistently turning down donuts or saying yes to yoga if you don’t know why you need self-control in the first place.
Why do you need to restrain yourself from eating that cake? Because you know it’s “bad” just doesn’t cut it. Why should you get up off the couch and do something active? Because you want to “have a better body” isn’t much more illuminating either.
Find your deepest why
What you really want and value aren’t always immediately obvious. So to find your why, bust out a pen and paper—we’re going old-school with this. The purpose of this writing exercise (borrowed from fitness coach JC Deen) is to help you dig up your deepest motivation for why you want to do something.
Start by thinking about your current goal. Let’s say you want to lose weight. Write it down and then ask yourself, “Why?” Maybe it’s because you want fit into your jeans from college again. Okay. Why? Because you think it will make you look hot. Why? And out comes your real why: You want to feel confident in yourself.
You could even do this exercise for smaller habit changes like “drink more water every day” or “go to bed earlier.” Once you’ve discovered your true why, write it down and keep it somewhere you can see (maybe you post it on your bathroom mirror, at your desk at work, or set it as the background on your phone). This way, when you’re sidetracked by temptations or start to wonder what the right choice is, it’ll serve as a powerful reminder.
Use your why to guide decisions
Once you’ve figured out your why, you can now go forth and use your powers for good! Develop better self-control by doing the following:
Understand the “risks versus rewards.”
The idea of risk versus reward is often used in finance, but it’s applicable in various areas of your life, including fitness and weight loss-related decisions.
By weighing the risk of a decision against your goal, you are teaching yourself to take a step back rather than simply going with the “act now, think later” approach.
Just do things now.
When you say something like “I’ll start my diet on Monday,” or “I’ll work out more when things slow down at the office,” you’re offloading the responsibility of making decisions to change to the “future you.”
You hope that “future you” will miraculously take up responsibility for making the better and healthier decisions. Except in reality, “future you” is equally as foolish and probably just as likely to make similar excuses. And on and on the cycle goes.