For a good 35 years I considered that I basically had no will power when faced with a packet of crisps, or when faced with the choice between going to the gym, or, er, not going to the gym. Doing anything else, other than going to the gym.
What changed, was that I learned there was no such thing as will power.
I didn’t go for a run because I didn’t want to. I made a choice, and that choice was to stay home and play Grand Theft Auto and eat a Cheese & Onion pasty with a snickers bar and crisps for lunch.
There was nothing wrong with that choice. It definitely felt like the funnest out of the 2 options at the time, and I had nothing driving me to do the alternative. Last week I talked about setting goals and why we so often don’t achieve them. Today I’m going to witter on for a bit about a related topic; taking responsibility for your own choices.
The fact is, will power doesn’t exist. There’s no will power gland that allows your friend to only eat one slice of pizza while you (ok, me) eat the whole thing. The amount of pizza you eat is a choice. A choice that is informed by lots of things. How hungry you are, what mood you are in, your long and short-term goals and vision, how bloody delicious that pizza is, whether you will ever get the chance to eat that pizza again, who you are with. Many, many things.
The point at which a lightbulb went on in my brain, was the point at which I realised that none of those choices were wrong. 1 slice or 8 slices, neither of those choices are inherently bad. But I needed to take responsibility and make which one I picked a conscious and informed choice.
So many of us have a downward spiral with what we consider our lack of will power.
We eat too much, don’t exercise, spend too much money on shoes, whatever our particular vice is. Then we feel bad about that choice. We think we want to be thinner, or fitter, or richer, and we made a choice that directly contradicts that, so we say we have no will power. As if there is an outside force that would compel us to make the “right” choice, that we somehow lack. But that’s just an excuse. It lets us make that choice again, and again, and blame our lack of “will power” for the fact that we will never weigh 7 stone because we can’t control ourselves around pizza.
Pizza is nice. If you want to eat 8 slices of pizza then eat 8 damn slices of pizza. Once you realise that there are no “right” choices, and take responsibility for the choices you do make, then it becomes a lot easier to work towards what you really want. It makes it easier not to feel bad for choosing the 8 slice option, and it makes it easier to chose 1 slice more often.
Working out what you really want is key.
It’s fine to not want to weigh 7 stone, no really, it is. No matter how many women’s magazines you buy that list the weights and heights of celebrities, that doesn’t mean that has to be your goal in life.
It’s the choices we make regularly that are important. I might make the choice to eat 8 slices more often than I could. But I make the choice to eat 4 slices rather than 8 even more often than that. So maybe I’ll never weigh 7 stone, but I realised that being fit for purpose is more important to me than societal expectations that I be small. I’m not a model or a bikini competitor, I’m not even a long-distance runner. I’m a Roller Derby player and in my role I think carrying some weight actually helps. I’m also a person with a social life, and the exact amount of pizza I chose to eat each time there is pizza around is based on that understanding of myself and my goals.
I’m assuming that you get that pizza is just an example here. It’s standing in for all the times I chose a burger over salad in a restaurant, or went out with friends instead of going to the gym, or picked out a cream bun instead of yoghurt and fruit for dessert.
For me the trigger point was Roller Derby. I’m a competitive person, and I discovered something that I enjoyed and I wanted to be good at it. So that’s the driving force behind the choices I make every day. I know that if I choose to skip Yoga today I won’t be as flexible, my tracking will suck, the jammer will get past me and I will feel like I failed. So I make the choice to take 15 minutes out of my day to do Yoga, even though I’d probably rather have a beer and watch re-runs of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.
Sometimes, though, I make the other choice. Sometimes I’ve had a tough day, and I’m tired, and I feel petulant and irritable and the long-term increased flexibility from yoga just isn’t enough to make me even pick up my yoga mat.
I choose Netflix and a beer whilst snuggled under a blanket in my pyjamas, and that’s ok, because we’re not robots, and the mental health benefits of that choice are what’s important today.
There’s no magic will power tree that’s going to turn you into the person that you really want to be. You need to own the choices that you make every day and understand where it is that you really want to be in your life.
Be fine with the choices that you make, and remember, that they are just that, choices. There is no “good” or “bad” choice, just the one that’s right for you.
I hope you’ll forgive my decision to illustrate this post entirely with “motivational” memes. It seemed relevant. Also, does anyone else REALLY want pizza now?