Willpower is Overrated by Sally Duplainter

by | Jan 15, 2021

Originally posted on Smart Bites by Zing.

January is a time of resolutions. By now, most people have made one or two…or 10! We make them with the best of intentions, relying on willpower to overcome past behaviors we don’t like and turn them into something positive. The problem is, willpower alone won’t help us stop eating so many sweets, get us to bed earlier, or make us exercise daily.

What is Willpower? 
Willpower is more than mind over matter. It is a complex biological and psychological response, which is also true of the stress response. While stress helps us deal with external pressures, willpower helps us deal with internal conflict. Kelly McGonigal, author of The Science of Willpower, calls it the “pause and plan” response vs. “fight or flight.” Willpower puts the body into a calmer state and sends signals to the prefrontal cortex of the brain, allowing us to make better decisions. Why Doesn’t Willpower Always Work? Willpower appears to be a limited resource. Numerous studies show that people who use it tend to run out at some point, which is why it is harder to resist that piece of chocolate in the evening vs. the day. Likewise, lack of sleep, sub-optimal nutrition, and stress levels play havoc with willpower.
What Can We Do Instead?
The real question is “what can we do in addition to willpower?” This requires a shift in mindset, from trying to do or not to something, to creating a habit. Habits allow us to move from intention to action. A habit becomes second nature, like looking over your shoulder when you back up in the driveway.
Here are a few tips for creating new habits:
  1. Think Big. Because mindset drives behavior, it is important to get that mindset right first. Picture a healthier, more vibrant you at year end. How do you feel? What is your energy level? What do others notice about you? Then give it a label. Some examples from the Zing community are: Fresh, Not Frazzled; Pleasant and Present; Today for Tomorrow; Steady and Ready.
  2. Execute Small. Once you have a theme in mind, choose one small behavior to change and focus here for at least 30 days. It could be putting your gym shoes by the front door every day as a way to get started. Choose something you can be successful with, and build on it.
  3. Get the Support of Others. There is power in other people, whether it is a small group or just one other person. Social control theory shows that people who are part of a community develop internalized obligations to their peer group which discourage poor health behaviors and reinforce good ones (Unberson, 1987).

Sally Duplantier is long-time Alkalign client, health coach, and founder of Zing. You can learn more about her through her website or find her attending one of our many Livestream classes offered through our virtual studio.



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Hi! I’m Erin and my passion in life is helping others feel better by helping them get out of their own head. So much of our relationship to food and fitness is a reflection of deeply rooted beliefs that were imprinted on us at a very early age. These beliefs drive all sorts of behaviors, many of which are not good for our physical or mental health. I know this first-hand. As a former calorie-counting cardio queen I played right into all the toxic messages about what it meant to be “healthy”. That all changed when I hit rock bottom. Since leaving my corporate career in 2009 I have been fully committed to shifting the narrative and helping people experience better physical health by unpacking unhealthy beliefs. My biggest inspiration are my two young daughters, who I hope to raise in a household that openly illuminates and addresses the misinformation instead of adopting it.

CONTACT ME: erin@alkalignstudios.com