November 17, 2011

Will Power

The other day, someone posted this picture on Facebook:

photo credit unknown
I had a lot of thoughts about this. Like first of all, there is no way getting that body is simple. If it were, we'd all look like that, and we wouldn't marvel at this woman. I'd also hazard a guess that this woman (and her photoshop expert) worked very hard on this and that she wouldn't consider her daily exercise routine "simple."

But this is not a post about body image or exercise. It is about will power.

For a little over a year now, Jeff has been going to they gym three days a week. He has worked very hard, but the most important thing is that he goes. Every week, no excuses. If he has to miss a day, he makes it up. And guess what? He looks good. He has muscles and everything. Now he's doing CrossFit and I get tired just listening to his description of the workout of the day. It's not like Jeff was always a super fit, athletic guy.  But he decided this was important and so he made it happen.

I bitch and moan about not having time to go to the gym, and yes, it is easier to a certain degree for Jeff because of his work schedule. But the truth is he gets up in the 5:00 hour to be able to work out and get home to take Moe to school. That was our deal (since otherwise I'd have to get both kids ready and to school in the morning). He made the time, even if it is a time I'd rather not be awake. And I could do that too, if that's what I chose to do.

I recently heard an interview on NPR with John Tierney, who wrote a book called Willpower. (You can listen to the story here.) I do not generally have a lot of will power. If there are cookies in front of me, I will eat them. But Tierney writes that will power is something that can be trained.
Willpower really is like a muscle. It gets fatigued as you use it during the day. But over time, you can increase your stamina through regular exercise. Simple exercises like forcing yourself to sit up straight, or using your left hand for something that you ordinarily use your right hand for - those have been shown in experiments to improve self-control for all kinds of other tasks in your life.
So if you are trying to lose weight or exercise more, and find you just aren't sticking to it, you can try something easier for a while to build up your will power. You can also fatigue your will power. And I'd guess that like your physical muscles, if you stop working out your will power, it will get soft and mushy and you might have to start working on it again.

This month, I've been writing a novel for NaNoWriMo. I've never written this much on a consistent basis. But I want to finish and so I'm doing it. Even on days that I would rather just sit and watch Grey's Anatomy, I write a minimum of 1,667 words. I haven't gone beyond that many days, but I've hit my goal every day except one. And I made up those words the very next day.

I can only remember one other time when I really stuck to something like this, and that was when I was pregnant and had to be on a restricted diet for gestational diabetes. I was really bummed about having to do this, but I did not want to have to go on insulin shots, so I did it. And I know it worked because I had the blood tests four times a day to prove it. And it wasn't really all that hard.

The nice thing about both of those was the constant feedback that I was on track. Every day I update my word count on the NaNo website, and I can see a progress bar going across the screen. How thrilling it was to get past the half way mark! It helps that writing is something that I enjoy. But in both these cases, it may also help that there is an end date. When I was pregnant with Moe, I could say "I only have to do this for fourteen weeks." For NaNo, I know it's all done on November 30.

But what a waste that would be, to spend a month working on my will power muscle to just let it atrophy again. Maybe I'll actually start going to the gym.

For real this time.

*Okay, I have no idea if this was photoshopped or not. Most pictures like this are to a certain degree (i.e. strategic shadows, etc.) 


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