Let’s talk about Willpower.
I’ve gone over this before, but now I’ve got a more concrete example to work with.
All I want is a freakin’ Coke.
Seems harmless. What can one little Coke do? If you believe this infographic, it can do a lot.
Luckily, I don’t really believe that infographic. It’s blowing things way out of proportion (and there are a lot of things we do that are terrible for us, so I don’t see the need to vilify Coke).
No, my fear of that Coke comes from another place. A fear of addiction, essentially (Eminem actually has some good words on addiction and exercise, if you want another read).
I can’t really have just one Coke, even on a weekly basis. It starts with one a week, on the weekends. Becomes one each day of the weekend. Then becomes one each day. And then it becomes multiples each day, culminating in about 44 ounces of soda every day (Yes, I meticulously counted how much soda I was drinking).
That’s just not feasible, so I worked my way down slowly until 8 days ago when I finally went without any Cokes.
Now I’m on day 8 and all I want is a freakin’ Coke.
So what does this have to do with willpower?
Well, when we talk about willpower, a lot of what we talk about is putting ourselves in situations where we can make good choices.
There are a lot of little things I’m doing to make this process easier.
- I’m focusing on getting enough sleep to make sure I don’t need a caffeine boost in the middle of the day.
- I don’t have any Cokes in my home so I can’t make a quick, stupid decision.
- I’m putting sugary replacements around so that when I need something more than water, I have it (though I’m not nearly as prone to drinking 44 ounces of lemonade a day).
The one thing I can’t fully control is stress. Stress is a jerk. Stress makes the whole willpower process much more difficult to deal with.
When you’re stressed, your ability to say no to bad things dwindles significantly. When you’re stressed, you’re ability to do things you’re supposed to also takes a serious hit.
And so for the past few days, I’ve been a little more strung out than I’d like due to various stressors in work and life (nothing serious but enough that making the right choices becomes much more difficult). Luckily, I’ve been able to at least keep myself working out, and I haven’t been making terrible food decisions all week (though I haven’t exactly been making good ones either).
Then I went for a run today. It was awful. I didn’t get much distance, but I did run more than I would have if I’d have stayed on the couch.
Unfortunately, exercise, though good for you in the long run, is also a source of stress (that’s how your body improves). It’s not that the stress is bad, but it does leave you more susceptible to bad decisions.
And that gets us to where we are now. All I want is a freakin’ Coke. I don’t have one. I’m not going to get one, but that’s all I want right now.
But I’ll resist. I won’t go to Sonic either for that Breakfast Toaster I really want.
All of these moderately good decisions (because I will make some bad ones today anyway) that I know are good for me, and right now I can’t appreciate them in the least. This is one of those awful process versus progress moments. I can’t see the benefits of these choices right now, but I know abstractly that this investment will be better for me in the long run. In the meantime, though, I’m going to be hating humanity and hating Coca Cola for making such a delicious product.
If you want to read more about willpower, Kelly McGonigal has a great book on it that serves to synthesize a lot of research on the topic. And it’s readable. Double bonus.