Twice a week my physical therapist isolates and manipulates my tibialis anterior to help me with my MS foot drop and my right trapezius for my trying-to-be- straight back. He assigns exercises.Repetition and good form are essential. As each gets stronger, I get straighter and walk better.
Dean Dwyer, a paleo diet promoter, suggests there’s another muscle that needs to be attended to. “Willpower.” When we are trying to change our behavior in any way, whether exercise, diet, or doing more of what we love, the stronger this willpower muscle is, the better chance we have of actually doing what we need to do to achieve our life goals.
Frankly, I never liked thinking about or talking about “willpower”. Given that I consider myself a knowledgable professional in the area of helping people make life changes, I have come to prefer working through the concepts of “clarity,” “intention,” and “alignment” as drivers of change. So I was a little skeptical. “Willpower” and the automatic negatives that accrue when we conclude that we don’t have enough of it, were notions I wanted to stay far away from.
But this Dwyer guy was positing that willpower is a “muscle” we need to cultivate. And he offered a clear process and rationale for exercising it. I watched his short, simple, video, see below.
Well, I got hooked. I decided to try the 4-step system for exercising that muscle. I’ll tell you how it worked after I make this short BTW detour into the personal context for that choice.
At 72, I’m currently living with a chronic mobility challenge, and just relocated from my home to a senior living apartment. After some months of routine-destroying tasks, what is now appearing on my radar is the desire to reclaim my health and wellness habits–mostly diet. Good habits that were manageable in my own home and kitchen fell by the wayside as I transitioned from my sugar free kitchen, through the chaotic takeout days, to sit down dinners in the new place, with delicious meals, rolls and desserts. I was not eating well, nor feeling well, and I was frustrated. So I was ready to let my curiosity, my appreciation of Dwyer’s general spin on living, and, to be perfectly honest, my eagerness to affirm my own approach as “more worthy,” conspire to introduce me to another point of view.
Here’s the report of my trial run.
Step 1 is about deciding in advance: Today, I want to eat a healthy diet of fruit, vegetables and meat, without sugar and without grains.
Step 2 is about making a plan: Review the day in advance and anticipate the problems. Yes, I know I have a busy day. So what will I do instead of my recently acquired pattern of stopping at Dunkin Donuts for a drive-through lunch? Yes, I know they will serve chocolate cake for dessert tonight, as it appears on the daily posted menu. So what will I do instead?
Step 3 is about acting with commitment and keeping to the plan. Having made the choices in advance, at noon I enjoyed eating some fruit I had brought with me. In the evening, without feeling deprived, I watched my table mate eat his cake while I enjoyed my sugar free strawberry mousse.
Step 4 is to audit results. I noticed that anticipating accurately and choosing in advance worked. I had successfully put arms and legs to my intention. Exercise Workout #1 felt good.
Bottom line: Dean Dwyer offered me a different spin on this willpower thing. Advance planning is key.
I must admit that Exercise Workout #2 on the following morning was a different matter. My plan did not account for the fact that there would be a left over strawberry pie sitting in the breakfast nook. I surrendered to temptation. I giggled rather than blaming myself or giving up on the plan. I pondered the possibility of planning a strategy for when the next “surprise” occurs. Continuing with this system, I’m noticing that I only get in trouble when my plan is challenged by something I don’t expect.
Yes, I do have plenty of will power muscle as does everyone else. It simply warrants exercise with repetitions and good form, just like the assigned practice I get from the physical therapist. So while I work out a better plan for “surprises,” I’m still exercising this new muscle, most of the time successfully. Soon it will be just as strong as my trapezius and my tibialis anterior.
Watch Dwyer’s short, 5 minute, video below and then face this question for yourself: For what new habits in your life do you want to strengthen your willpower muscle? How about trying an experiment and seeing what happens!
For a longer video on the process, go to www.mtakeshifthappen.org/blog.