If you’ve been struggling to lose those last 5 or 10 pounds, don’t blame your lack of willpower. A recent paper by Rush University experts argues that focusing on self-control—or rather, the lack of it—can be disempowering, and ultimately backfire.
“The idea of ‘willpower’ refers to a man’s character, and no one likes their integrity to be diminished,” says psychologist Alexander Cohen, Ph.D., Department Chair of Sport and Exercise Psychology at Argosy University. “It’s not enough to say eat broccoli instead of that donut. Everyone knows the choices that are better for them.”
Your solution: Make a process goal—one that’s about your behaviors, not the outcome.
“Obviously long-term outcome goals—like losing weight to improve health—are important, but focusing on the process returns control,” Cohen says. “And the more perceived control you have, the more you’ll engage in or stick with a new behavior.”
Process goals work best when they’re short-term (daily or weekly, depending on what works best for you), specific (run 2 miles 5 days a week), and realistic. Here are more of Cohen’s tips:
Create a plan. “Decide what you’re going to do ahead of time, so you don’t have to test your willpower,” Cohen says. “That could mean packing a healthy lunch the night before work, or deciding what time you’re heading to your workout.”
Prepare for trouble. “This is perhaps the most underutilized yet important tactic: You’re going to experience setbacks, like working late or bad weather. Plan for these times, and know exactly how you’ll adjust and what you’ll do, so you can eliminate the opportunity for impulsive decisions.”
Remove personal obstacles. “Identifying your weight-loss obstacles is a simple first step. I had one client who wanted to lose weight, but was self-conscious about women looking at him. So we decided to have him run in the woods where no one could see him,” Cohen says. “It wasn’t about overcoming his anxiety. We just made it easier for him to exercise.”