I remember a book I used to read with my children about Mrs Large, an elephant who struggles with healthy eating and exercise, puts the whole family on a restrictive diet, relies on will power and fails spectacularly. Having spent all day jogging and being healthy with the family, scrupulously avoiding the large chocolate cake in the kitchen Mrs Large tip toes down at midnight to help herself to a large slice only to find the whole family sat round the fridge eating cake! You see, will power doesn’t work. The more we deny ourselves something over and over again, more often than not we give in. Why? Because will power is a commodity that is quickly exhausted.
Now this idea isn’t new. Homer writes about it in the Odyssey where Odysseus tries to guide his ship past the dangerous sirens – those beautiful women with voices so seductive they could lure any man to his certain death. He knew he would be powerless to resist their call and so he instructs his men to tie him to the ship’s mast to ensure they will safely sail by. He knows that in the midst of temptation, will power will fail him. Now I’m not advocating you ask your partner to tie you to a trolley and wheel you past the fridge every time you enter the kitchen! What I am saying is that if you intend to rely on will power to get you through the transition to paleo mode: it won’t work.
And the reason it won’t work is simple (but complex when you start examining the science). Will power is ineffective at sustaining change because the more we use it the more worn out it gets. And you know this already, every day you see this in your life. Willpower is a physical entity stored in the prefrontal cortex of the brain and it uses energy like any other area of the brain and these energy tracts get depleted. See studies here and here. The studies concluded that many widely different forms of self control draw on a common resource, or self control strength which is quite limited and hence can be depleted readily. Put another way our will power weakens the more we use it. And we face a steady stream of tasks that deplete our will power every day without introducing more challenges in the form of new food: avoiding the Millies cookies outlet, staying focussed on a computer spreadsheet all morning, attending a two hour meeting with a dull boss in all of these situations our will power is put to the test and depleted. It needs more energy and will push you for a quick fix: sugar, starch anyone? It is no wonder then with the best will in the world we head home and take the path of least resistance: pizza in a box, take away, fast food you name it. You need to be aware of this invisible pull and how it can create an impassable barrier to change and positive growth. All of which might go someway to explaining why I find my best friend back in the queue at Starbucks at 10 am having made the decision earlier this week to break her coffee addiction!
Is all lost? Of course not! You just need to build a little “activation energy” into your life. Check out the next post when paleoworks will show you how!
- Willpower: It Doesn’t Stand a Chance (paleoworks.wordpress.com)