Modern thoughts about improving willpower

Posted: Sep 11 in Weight loss, Weight Management Strategies by

A new study published in the journal Cognition examines two types of willpower – synchronic and diachronic.

Synchronic willpower involves exercising willpower in the moment – for example, trying not to eat the potato chips sitting on the table.

Diachronic willpower involves modifying the environment so the temptation isn’t there – for example, not purchasing the potato chips in the first place.

In this interesting study, participants were asked to read a short story about a character named Mo in which he uses different self-control tactics to refrain from drinking coffee, eating junk food, using social media and socializing—and then rate his level of self-control. What they found was that study participants only recognized willpower in the moment as self-control. Participants did not recognize diachronic strategies as self-control.

This is important when it comes to weight regulation – most people who lose weight struggle to keep it off because of continuous temptation – junk food everywhere, highly processed foods, restaurant foods, French fries, chips and ice cream to name a few. It is easier to sit at the desk than to walk or exercise. It takes willpower in the moment – synchronic willpower – to deal with these challenges. People eventually succumb to them and feel like they didn’t have enough willpower.

Conversely, if the person didn’t go to the restaurant in the first place, they will have avoided all of the temptation, but the tendency is to not recognize this as a success!

What can we learn from this? Perhaps instead of relying on synchronic, in-the-moment strategies, let’s focus on diachronic strategies. For example:

  1. Keep the junk out of the house.
  2. If junk is in the house – see rule #1 –> throw it out! There are 2 ways to spell “Waist.”
  3. Make healthy options easy – fruit bowl on the counter, pre-cut vegetables and hummus, protein bars in an easy-to-reach spot, etc.
  4. Make water delicious! Consider a 6 stage filter and chiller setup or other strategies to help you enjoy nature’s finest!
  5. If going to a restaurant, choose what you are ordering before you go. Don’t look at the menu at the restaurant. And don’t order alcoholic beverages! Alcohol makes synchronic willpower go out the window!
  6. Get a standing desk – stand at least an hour a day. Commit to standing while checking emails, doing zoom calls, etc.
  7. Get off of social networking – if using, check weekly, not several times a day.
  8. Keep a journal.
  9. Drink a large glass of water before breakfast, lunch and dinner.
  10. Turn off screens at meals – no TV, computer, tablet or cell phone. Don’t allow electronics at the table! No emails, responding to texts, etc. No smart watch replies. This allows you to focus your attention on your food during those brief times during the day you are eating. Focusing on what you eat enhances the experience, enhances satiety, and further decreases hunger.

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