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Why willpower will betray you

Why willpower will betray you

Now that you’re on board with Step Two -- the commitment to sustaining a lifelong healthy habit -- I need to let you in on something.

Most people believe that making positive changes in our lives is simply a matter of willpower. Want to eat more fresh vegetables? Just up your level of commitment and increase the strength of your determination!  Want to quit your daily donut habit? Just use your willpower!

Unfortunately, although willpower can be helpful in the short term, it ultimately fails most of us -- because willpower requires a lot of energy to keep up. It’s not to say that willpower isn’t important at all: It can be the pivotal ingredient to get you on the path to change. It’s just that after a willpower-enabled jumpstart, the behavior needs to get onto lower-energy auto-pilot mode in order to have a chance of becoming a healthy habit for good.

And achieving auto-pilot status is more likely if your action provides a reward fairly quickly. 

This is why it’s so much easier to build bad habits!  Light up that cigarette and get a mood boost almost instantly.  Have a gin and tonic and feel calmer within minutes.  Eat that donut and see those brain pleasure receptors fire up before you swallow your first bite.  

Want to get fit?  First go out and buy a pair of comfortable sneakers, next find appropriate clothing, figure out your walking path, wake up one hour earlier each day and walk that path day in and day out for 6 months. Hooray! 6 months in you’re fit!  That's a lot of willpower energy to get to your reward. No wonder the donut might start calling your name way before those sneakers do!

Reward is also a powerful driver of desire and willpower isn’t always enough to overcome desire. A great experiment illustrating that point was detailed on an episode of the Hidden Brain podcast I listened to recently. In that experiment, participants were told not to think about a white bear.

What the experiment showed was that “if you're trying not to think about something - even something as trivial as a white bear that you wouldn't normally think about - then later, when you're given an opportunity to think about it again, you just can't stop.  It's white bear, white bear, white bear. This tells us something about what it's like to try to repress or control our desires. Yes, we can do it in the short run, but ultimately it backfires.”  No wonder we go right back to our old habits after going on a diet.  Our willpower is exhausted and we can't stop thinking about the things we gave up.  

This is why step two is not about willpower over your habits.  It’s about building habits around your health – because that’s what yields lasting results.  Doing something small, sticking with it because it results in a rapid tangible benefit and building on from that.  

As an example of what’s possible, I’m leaving you with a customer comment we received recently:

“My first review after 3 months of use was very good results. Now after nearly a year using Step One Foods, my results are incredible!  Total cholesterol went from 227 to 124.  LDL went from 150 to 87.  Non-HDL went from 164 to 82.  A year ago my doctor wanted to put me on statins and I decided to try Step One Foods instead.  The program worked for me.  I included moderate exercise and a healthy Mediterranean diet.  My favorites are the sprinkles on oatmeal and salads, pancakes and the dark chocolate crunch bars.  As a bonus I lost 6 pounds and am at what I consider to be my ideal weight.  I’m so glad I found this program!!!!!”    Jesse H.                                       

My heartfelt thanks to the customer who submitted this note. You are a shining example of what happens when positive habit gets layered on top of positive habit. Jesse went from someone who needed doctors, lifelong medications and monitoring for drug side effects, to someone who is, well…healthy. 

And this is my vision for each and every one of you. Because we all deserve our best health, with as few doctor's visits and pill bottles as possible.

Next week, I’ll be back with tips on how to put those commitments, whether it be eating more carrots or exercising every day, on autopilot!

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