Happy New Year! When I checked my weight this morning, the scale reported 153.8 pounds. For my height of 5’9″, this maps to a body mass index of 22.7 — perfect according to even my fussy primary care doctor. Even better, I’ve maintained that weight since ending a diet that dropped 35 pounds in 2011-2012. What I realized this year is that back then, more by dumb luck than insight, is the master key to long term success.
Willpower won’t power long term success.
I started out with a two-step approach that did call for a lot of willpower. First, I cut from my meals (and my snacks) the items that were totally self-destructive. A burger, fries, and coke can provide 1700 calories in a meal. Replace that with a grilled chicken sandwich, a small salad and water and your calorie count is at most 600. I used willpower to make good choices until good choices became a habit.
The second key was exercise. For me, exercise is also a two-step process: first you take one step, then a second, and repeat five thousand times (for 10,000 steps). This also took willpower at first, but after a few weeks, it became a habit and finally I enjoyed it. If I miss a day now, I regret it. I also know that one hour at a fast food restaurant destroys several hours of exercise. Correct diet can help you lose weight, correct exercise will make you fit. If you want both, do both.
What I didn’t catch at the time was that over time I went from applying willpower to adopting healthy habits, and from there to craving them. The most effective rule I had was don’t drink your calories. Today, I’d say make a habit of not drinking your calories.
Switching from Willpower to Habit
When it comes to goals, willpower eventually loses to the power of won’t. Buddha said “In the confrontation between the rock and the stream the stream always wins, not because of strength but because of persistence.”
Willpower can’t last long enough to power persistence. It can power you long enough to reshape habits and habits are the tools of persistence. Make a New Year’s Resolution to change your habits and use your willpower to get the process started.
Be the stream. If you want help plotting the course of your stream, I can help.