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Lack of willpower is not your issue

“I know what I need to do, Jason, I’m just not doing it.”

Sometimes I hear this statement from multiple clients in a single day. And what they are implying is that they aren’t doing what they know they need to do because they have poor willpower, they’re lazy, and they lack self-discipline. I’m here to tell you that lack of willpower is not the issue.

If somebody asked me why I’ve never been overweight, I’m sure I wouldn’t say it’s because I’m highly disciplined or because I have a lot of willpower. The problem with believing that lack of willpower is the issue is that it makes you the problem.

This type of thinking is a viscous circle, and circular thinking is almost impossible to get out of. The only solution to a lack of willpower is to find more willpower. This is like finding a unicorn or a leprechaun at the end of a rainbow–especially if you happen to be dealing with fatigue or pain.

You’re not the problem! Yes, you have to solve some problems, but you are not the problem.

Let me explain it another way. What if I told you that every night at dinner, I have to tell my kids to stop looking at their iPads while we are eating. They start to take a forkful of food and slowly glance at their iPads, and before long, they’re playing on them. Would you say that my kids lack self-discipline or willpower?

I would argue that my kids aren’t the issue. They really shouldn’t have their iPads at the table (and, by the way, they aren’t allowed to bring them to the table). If iPads are at the table, I know my kids will find it hard to resist. So, instead of building them a so-called lack of willpower, I change the environment.

In fact, one group of researchers believes that when it comes to weight, our modern society is to blame: “In the modern world, the prevailing environment constitutes a constant background pressure that promotes weight gain.” (J.C. Peters et al., “From Instinct to intellect: The challenge of maintaining healthy weight in the modern world.”Obesity Reviews vol. 3, no. 2, 2002.)

Your lack of willpower is not the issue. Background pressure is.

What is your background pressure? Perhaps it’s your busy work schedule; your stress; your home environment. The more you believe that it’s your lack of willpower, however, the more you will focus on building willpower, instead of setting healthy boundaries at work, or figuring out ways to alleviate stress, or asking your partner to bake oatmeal-raisin cookies instead of chocolate chip (I eat way less oatmeal-raisin cookies!). The more you think that you are the problem, the less success you will achieve in weight loss or weight management. Remember: You are the problem solver,
not the problem.

Here are a few questions I like to ask my clients:

  • What stands in the way of your success (or following plan)? Remember, you can’t say you’re the issue. Is it hunger? Food in the lunch room?
  • Are you willing to work on this issue?
  • If you are willing to work on this issue, how might you solve it?
  • What stands in the way of your overcoming this problem?

These are just a few ideas. If you are struggling with your weight, let us help. Let us help to point you in the right direction. Be self-compassionate. Grant yourself some grace and ask what the REAL problem is…

Jason Hagen