The Big Sandy Mountaineer -

Patching Cracks


January 9, 2019

Recently, I have been very focused on my health and have been working hard to lose weight, eat better, and exercise regularly. I’ve done well with the eating better and the daily exercise, but I am discovering that losing weight is very difficult. The reason for this is simple: Eating healthy is a good step, but how much you actually eat makes an enormous difference. I like to eat, and I do it way more than I should. I do pretty well for the majority of the day. My trouble comes when dinner arrives, and I eat 3 or 4 plates of whatever is available, along with a couple desserts.

No matter what my plans are, I struggle with the last part of the day. A book I read recently on ‘grit’ dealt with the topic in a unique way. Over the last few decades, researches have discovered that ‘willpower’ is a quality that every person has in limited supply. To put it very simply: everyone wakes up in the morning with a certain amount of willpower. We use willpower when we get out of bed, choose to eat oatmeal instead of donuts, go to work, etc.

Anything that requires effort from you uses up willpower. One study found that folks who did difficult tasks were less able to resist eating junk food afterward than a group who was given easy tasks before being presented with cookies to resist eating. This is why folks rarely cheat on their diet in the morning, rather than at lunch or in the evening.

We use up our willpower early and put up a weaker defense later. This strange truth about people and how they are wired is pretty useful. Obviously, when it comes to eating, you can use it to guide your decision making. But there are many other areas where it is useful to know. For example, I recently read a book that surveyed the habits of successful people in an effort to find patterns.

One of the recurring patterns is that people who achieve more success in life tend to use their mornings to accomplish especially important or difficult tasks, putting off easier or more enjoyable ones to later in the day. This habit has the benefit of making their work far more productive because they tend to work when their battery is full of charge and their will to accomplish is at its peak.

The same is true of morning exercise. Folks who schedule their new exercise regime earlier in the day are statistically more likely to do it consistently. The reason this is useful is because it gives us a bit of a cheat sheet for developing new and healthier habits in our lives over the long term. As folks are picking out New Years Resolutions, it is helpful to know about the willpower that will be required to make life changes.

For example, major changes are harder to make than small ones added over a long time because the major changes require far more willpower to make. Or this knowledge might be useful in scheduling new activities because a better understanding of when we are most likely to succeed is important. When working toward making significant changes in life, every edge and advantage is important.


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