brain health, habits, healthy lifestyle, microbiome, nutrition, probiotics, research

Willpower and Healthy Choices

The Power of Will (power)

diet, weight loss, healthy choices, power, controlMeet “Mr. Will,” a fantastic friend or foe, depending on your experiences.  Those who have met Will under poor circumstances often say that they “have no power over Will” whereas those who enjoy his friendship are happy without needing to analyze the relationship.  Food for thought 😉

Willpower is tied to a “sense of self-worth coming from accomplishment and recognition,” [i] which is why I stated that those who have Will(power) as a friend usually have a strong feeling of control over their life.  Dr. William Glasser describes this relationship through Choice Theory, which identifies four basic needs that motivate behavior, finding that the primary motivating desire is to feel control over life.

Choices are the means of satisfying that quest for power while also giving a “feeling of responsibility for making the decision to control the behavior.”

Don’t Worry, Be Happy

Mirroring the brain’s craving for novelty is another Choice Theory factor for motivation: the need for fun.  This need for fun is like the counterbalance for the serious nature and emotional weightiness of losing weight.  “Dr. Glasser defines fun as the genetic reward for learning, which helps motivate us to make good choices that lead to weight loss.”

Taking the emotional edge off the desire to lose weight is best done through fun!  This actually triggers the release of what I like to call happy hormones in the body, which is a natural booster of motivation.

Exerting power over our own choices is a difficult thing, and for many people, it has subconsciously given way to a form of addictive behavior.  One research team found that “people are willing to trade one source of control for another.”

Power and choice are contradictory behaviors: “power is control over what other people do” whereas choice is “control over your own outcome.”  Interestingly, the study concluded that power and choice are interchangeable, but the “having neither” will definitely lead to being “distinctly dissatisfied.” [ii]

Responsibility

As with the need for help in making choices, it is common for people to choose to put that “power” into the hands of a diet plan so that they are therefore not responsible for making personal choices; it has all been done for them.  While this decision can have immediate and short-term gains, it is not changing the behavior, only transferring power to another.

Eventually, this “gets old” and the person craves independence from this power, craving their individual choices back.  Viscous cycle!

It is best to not even step into that area.  Understand why those cycles are immediately successful but counterproductive in the end and take from it what was desired in the first place: the power over your own choice.  Own it and break the cycle.  Reset Your Weight puts the power of choice into your hands, where it will end back up, anyways.

Our friend or foe, Mr. Will, likes to have parameters on the relationship.  A study published in 2011[iii] tested the effectiveness of providing an “alternative active choice” where the person is required to make a decision.  What I find interesting about the results is that they are able to provide an enhanced active choice that favors one alternative just by “highlighting losses incumbent in the non-preferred alternative.”

Let’s apply this to weight loss and food choices. If we have two or more choices, then if we were to use self-talk and highlight the negatives in the non-preferred alternative choices, the study dictates that alone would make us favor the preferred active choice. So, while you are talking down the “bad choice,” make sure you have fun with it as humor will help diffuse the emotional pressure.

Perception

They go on to talk about “present bias on the immediate costs and benefits” of the choices. What this means is that if we are in the middle of wanting to make a choice, more than likely we will choose the choice that has immediate rewards or benefits despite our long-term goal of losing weight. I propose that in order to be successful in a Reset, based on this research, we should try to alter our perception of what is beneficial.

We can do that by looking at or evaluating our choices logically and then discussing the downfalls of the choice that provides the least amount of weight loss in the end.  Don’ forget to remove the emotional neediness from the equation with humor; laughter really is the best medicine and starts to change your brain’s pathways toward a positive outcome.

The article also discusses procrastination, which is a huge issue in achieving weight loss, by discussing how having a readily available “default choice” is an effective method for changing behavior.  Therefore, providing yourself with one or two good choices in with one or two of the least effective food choices will increase your own chance of choosing a good default, or “tried and true” choice that will outweigh your desired immediate selection that will not benefit weight loss.

Options

From a business standpoint, the article coins this as an “opt-out.”  An opt-out is used to steer people who are behaving mindlessly in a beneficial direction without constraining the choice that you know will have a long-term beneficial effect.

How does this apply to immediate food choices? Have good choices always ready and available that you put into your mix of choices.

Start talking to yourself about eating those if you can’t make a decision and you will be adding another successful layer of success to your Reset.  Personally, I’ll have as an option in the back of my mind a favorite meal that is easy to make, or a more immediate tasty fruit choice that I don’t normally purchase (dried, unsweetened mango).

Making Decisions

A flip side to “Will” offering choices is that research [iv]  has also determined that simply knowing you have many options even if they exist only in theory will become overwhelming. Contrary to popular belief that more choices available should be a good thing in satisfying needs, research has found that to be an illusion.

The more options a person has, the less likely they are to make a decision at all. This is important to eating because when you don’t make a decision, you tend to act out of hunger instead of out of knowledge.

I love brain-based explanations, and they have found that human cognitive ability cannot efficiently compare more than five options. Therefore, most people will stop looking after the first few, which is very similar to the toddler presented with too much food on their plate.

Keep It Simple

Most people simply do not engage in an elaborate thought out process required to compare and contrast all of the available alternatives; thinking actually makes you hungry, which is NOT helpful when trying to not think about food!

They have found this to negatively impact perspective because the reference point is always changing. Relate to this to food choices and you can see how easily it is to get distracted from the goal of losing weight through good choices.  They discuss putting limitations on the choices so that they are all on the same level playing field because it changes your reference point.

Too many available options interferes with our ability to make a decision.  Limit the choices to significantly increase your ability to make a good decision without harming the decision making process.  In the end, too many choices will essentially shut you down, leading to a poor choice.

And again, research gave the answer to the conundrum as providing a default or suggested option as a way to help stay focused. Structuring the choices through filtering and providing social comparisons also are good ways to arrange the choices and have them be more relevant.

For example, knowing another person who is doing the Reset or surrounding yourself with people who enjoy making fermented foods and drinks will positively influence your decision to choose bone broth or fermented foods on a daily basis.

Power

The previous discussion targeted the environmental aspects of willpower. Now I’d like to reveal some great insights into how to influence and change Will, especially if you haven’t had such a great relationship with him thus far.  I’ll also explain why, for many people, he seems quite fickle-there sometimes and then leaving you high and dry the next.  He can explain himself and even offers suggestions for how to strengthen the friendship.

A great informative article on the American Psychological Association (APA)[v] stated that in 2011, 27% of stress survey respondents in America “reported that lack of willpower was the most significant barrier to change.” Fortunately, willpower can be learned and strengthened with practice. They define willpower “as the ability to resist short-term temptations in order to meet long-term goals.”

What have these studies shown as the relationship between willpower and weight loss?  Self-controlled people binge eat less and can achieve their goal of weight loss easier because they have learned to delay gratification.

Psychologists state that delayed gratification is essentially a thinking task where you are actively choosing to apply your knowledge about “sensations, feelings, actions and goals” in order to override the emotional response that influences behavior.   While adapting or modifying the environment that surrounds your choices is very helpful, the boost comes from within.

Energy

The downside and downfall for many people is that this boost can be depleted; research has found that willpower is a “limited resource in that once you have resisted temptation after temptation, it becomes fatigued from overuse.”  The biological response from using the pre-frontal cortex, which is the thinking muscle, is the depletion of fuel.

Remember that we discussed that the fuel is glucose?  Your blood sugar is very linked with weight loss and emotions; eating foods that spike your insulin levels not only increases fat storage but also your emotional stability needed for making or delaying good choices.  Read this post about sugar addiction.

Unfortunately, researchers found that when your willpower has been tested, your brain may actually function differently because of biological factors. Other evidence suggests that willpower depleted individuals might literally be low on fuel because the brain is a high-energy organ needing a steady supply of blood sugar. The good news is that the restoring of glucose appears to help reboot the rundown willpower.

Fortunately, the strongest findings regarding willpower depletion have been tied to glucose levels. Eating regularly to maintain blood sugar levels in the brain may help refuel rundown willpower stores. This of course is the foundation for the Reset: feeding the brain a steady supply of nutritious foods that don’t spike the blood sugar (simple carbs) will help even out the emotional and physical roller coaster, which is the aim of incorporating bone broth and probiotics daily.  Read this post explaining food freedom.

Remember, as you progress, “a steady supply” doesn’t take much time at all each day because the gut and body are in balance, with the digestive system having ample time to use the food properly.

A Happiness Plan

A good mood can also overcome some of the willpower depletion effects; in fact, “willpower depletion was more important than mood” in determining why subjects binge ate as well as reasons why someone is dieting!  Instead of stressing the importance of self-control, a recommended strategy is to focus on minimizing the impact of the environment and completely avoiding temptation for changing your eating behavior.

Strengthening self-control can best be done by avoiding temptation. Another helpful tactic for improving self-control is a technique that psychologists call and “implementation intention” where you use “if-then” statements that help people plan for situations that they know will halt their momentum.

Having a plan ahead of time should allow you to make decisions in the moment without having to draw on your willpower. This is where routines are significant in maintaining a learned skill, because your brain is not using fuel to make a decision; it is relying on a learned, automatic response.

Conclusion

What do we now know about “Will” so that we can also enjoy a great friendship with him in order to make healthy choices?

  • We all crave Will, either through power or choice
  • Will loves to have fun, so bring on the humor when you find yourself in a pickle
  • Will thrives on limits, like tried and true good alternatives when he is in a panic or about to shut down
  • Will loves having friends around who also know Will because that encourages good behavior!
  • Stress shuts Will down and making too many small choices tires him out so that he can’t be there for you when you need him
  • “Don’t worry, be happy!”
  • Will responds very well to “IF-THEN” decisions thought out in advance of any trouble he may run into

References

[i] socialskillsplace.com

[ii] https://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/news/releases/its-all-about-control.html

[iii] http://www.cmu.edu/dietrich/sds/docs/loewenstein/EnhancedActiveChoice.pdf

[iv] https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/behind-online-behavior/201410/the-psychology-choice

[v] http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/willpower.aspx