MGU 181 | Understanding Willpower

 

Understanding willpower is one of the things we sometimes take for granted, so much so that it is considered as if a supernatural force. If left unchecked, it can affect addictive tendencies, lead to a judgmental attitude, and make the body unhealthy. Jason Wrobel and Whitney Lauritsen dissect how willpower plays a role in our lives, discussing how a simple change in habits, becoming self-aware with our current situation, and adopting an intuitive diet can help redirect this seemingly magical aspect of our lives for the better. They also talk about the importance of not getting into a pleasure trap by reorganizing your mindset regarding accepting reward values. 

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Understanding Willpower: Delving Into Its Limits And Impact On Our Lives 

Whitney and I are constantly looking at new ways to view mental health, emotional wellness, and wellness in general through different research studies and books. One of the things that we love to do is give you many resources in every single episode. In doing some research around mental health, neuroplasticity, brain chemistry and all that, I stumbled on this website that I normally don’t go to for this kind of information. It’s a website called Inverse.com. I was going to Inverse because of this cornucopia of research, psychedelics, medicine and science, but also pop culture. I was going there for some information about Star Wars, and then ended up stumbling on this article about brain hacking and addiction. 

We’ve talked a lot about addiction. We’ve talked about alcoholism, drugs, shame. We’ve talked about a lot of aspects that are interwoven with addiction. When this article popped up, I immediately sent it to Whitney and said, “I think we should dig into this and talk about it on the show.” The headline of this article is a bit “clickbaity”, but the information in the article is good. The headline is, “Studies show one brain hack can stop addiction cold. Why curiosity may be the antidote to addiction.” Whenever I see an article that talks about hacks, shortcuts, or this one thing, I tend to feel a little bit skeptical about the information. 

I’m glad I didn’t stop because as you dig into this article, it talks about how this psychiatrist and addiction expert named Judson Brewer talked about willpower. We hear this word a lot, “Will it to happen. You need more willpower.” He talks about it when it comes to addiction being a myth, how it’s very pervasive, but it’s a myth that’s embedded in our collective psyche. It has a little neuroscientific basis. That was the first part of the article that I thought was interesting because we hear about this all the time, “You’ve got to have the will to succeed, the will to win, the will to conquer your negativity.” We hear this a lot but he is flipping it on its head where he’s saying that there’s little research showing that willpower has anything to do with it.  

To be more present with the experience of what happening is where willpower comes in. Click To Tweet

We think about it. We think about skipping smoking a cigarette, skipping the gym, drinking three glasses of wine, or whatever it is. We think we just need more will. He’s saying from a flat neuroscience perspective that there’s no such thing as willpower. He’s saying willpower doesn’t even exist. It’s not how our brains work. This guy is a researcher and professor at Brown University. He’s a Medical Director of Behavioral Health at this company called Sharecare. He’s got this book coming out, which would be interesting to see if we can get him on the showHe has a brand-new book coming out in March of 2021 called Unwinding Anxiety. 

He says that willpower is this story that’s been passed around through our culture, but it’s not true. He says that instead of relying on the myth of willpower, that our brains make choices and informed behavioral patterns based on built-in primitive reward-based systems. These are called reinforcement learning. Whenever the brain has a choice, it automatically gravitates toward the highest reward or what it perceives as the most rewarding option. 

He says that by bringing awareness and curiosity to any daily action, you append the reward value of a habit and then in turn, change your response to it. He’s saying that rather than relying on willpower, that moment to moment awareness, cultivating more self-awareness, that being in the momenttomoment sensations of doing something, whether you’re smoking, overeating, taking drugs or you are addicted to anxiety. You realize that smoking, overeating, taking too many drugs and anxiety is not all that rewarding.  

MGU 181 | Understanding Willpower

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He said that eventually, what we do is we become disenchanted with the action that we’re taking. With time and repetition, we start to lose interest. He’s saying that mindfulness is a much more effective and scientifically proven way to battle addiction than willpower, which is fascinating. Before I dig deeper into the article because he talks about some patterns and this primitive stuff, which I’m wondering how this hits you. When he says willpower doesn’t exist, what’s your first reaction to that? 

My curiosity on willpower is coming a lot from a book I read on this. It’s called Willpower. It was based on a lot of research on self-control and how willpower works. From what I remember, willpower is broken down into three things. One is that it works like a muscle. If you use it too much, it gets worn out. There’s also the viewpoint that willpower begets willpower. You can train it by using it. If you set clear goals for yourself and leave leeway for your willpower, that’s ultimately a good formulation. Also in that same book, there’s the idea that we only have a certain amount of willpower a day, and then it starts to diminish all the time. I might be confusing that with something else that I read on our choices and decision making which I know that that can get very fatigued. 

I’m always curious to hear about willpower. I guess with this article, I’m wondering do they mean that willpower isn’t a thing or doesn’t work , or is it more that we’ve put so much emphasis on it, or we are overly focused on our willpower? It’s become a phrase that we’ve used so much of like, “I don’t have any willpower.” That’s the first thing that comes to mind, especially when it comes to eating. We see that so frequently. We see this with anything that we perceive as not a good thing. If we perceive alcohol as being good, bad, too much or too little, the theme of willpower can come up, “I don’t have willpower, I drink so much, I do drugs, or maybe I have sex a lot and I can’t resist having sex with a new person or something.” Willpower comes up in a lot of negative ways in our culture so it’s such an interesting subject matter to explore. 

It’s interesting though to dig into his continued research here. Which we’re talking about Judson Brewer who’s the Medical Director of Behavioral Health and addiction expert. From what I intuit from the article, it sounds like he’s framing willpower as this idea that we hold that we have to overpower our addictions. He’s saying rather than trying to overpower an addiction or try and outsmart it, that curiosity and mindfulness in his research is the way to update the reward value. When we get a sugar rush, sugar high, we get a nicotine rush, we get dopamine hit from social media, or we get a serotonin boost from having sex, whatever it is, there’s a reward value chemically going on in our body. 

It’s interesting for him to talk about these primitive patterns that this reward mechanism in our brain, this chemical reward mechanism that all of us have as human beings has been useful in the sense that it’s pretty much one of our oldest neurological mechanisms to help us survive. This reward mechanism helps us to find food, forage, find nourishment, avoid danger. In the modern world, it’s clashing with these primitive parts of our brain. These reward activities are so deeply embedded that as we repeat something, it becomes entrenched as an automatic response to a trigger even when the process is rewarding. It’s interesting because I’ve talked to friends of mine that have had issues with addiction, whether it’s smoking, alcohol or drugs. A thing that I’ve had in conversation with certain people in life is, “I don’t really even feel good doing it anymore, but I can’t stop.” It is fascinating to think that it’s an automatic response that they’re doing to a trigger in life, but they’re not even finding reward in it anymore. 

Self-awareness is a good starting point in conquering addiction. Click To Tweet

The structure of mindfulness is that if you want to change your triggers and how you react to the triggers, you have to update the reward value. His position is to update a reward value, you have to bring in self-awareness and see clearly what you’re getting from that repeated reactionary behavior. If you’re having your fifth cigarette as an example, you know it doesn’t even make you feel good anymore, but it’s this automatic thing that to be more present with the experience of what happening is where it comes in. He goes on to say that when people turn inward and they engage with presence, it disappoints. It’s what he calls a psychological phenomenon called negative prediction error. They’re expecting it to be rewarding but in reality, it brings a different result. 

He says that there are three questions. It very much reminds me of some of Byron Katie’s work that we’ve talked about with this system of self-inquiry. He says, “Start by asking these questions. Can I be aware of my behaviors? Can I be aware of my thoughts, emotions, and sensations while I’m engaging in this behavior? Can I bring an attitude of curiosity to these behaviors?” Instead of prejudging what you’re doing like, “This is good or this is bad or I’m a good person or I’m a bad person. I have willpower, I don’t have willpower.” He said that mindfulness, curiosity, and asking yourself high-quality questions is a way to observe what’s happening. By being more aware, you can start to remove a subjective bias, which is interesting. 

With addiction, Whitney, we talked about judgment and we’ve had some great episodes on shame too. When we do things like smoke, take drugs, overeat, eat too much sugar, eat too much fat, or have too much sex, we could name a million different things, there is that subjective bias of, “I’m doing something bad. I should stop. This is bad. I’m a bad person.” There’s a lot of self-judgment wrapped up in this. He’s saying that the self-judgment is not the way to undo the behavior and I have to agree with that. I noticed myself beating myself up mentally for certain things that I do and it doesn’t make me stop. It’s not like being punitive or being cruel to myself or saying I’m a bad person for doing certain things is going to stop it. It never works that way. 

MGU 181 | Understanding Willpower

Understanding Willpower: Taking one small step consistently will move you into doing more over time.

 

It is interesting because a lot of our perceptions around how to go about life come from misinformation and things that are passed around. They are often based on other people’s experiences, very anecdotal. If they are not scientifically backed or backed by research, or perhaps even part of your intuition, it can start to become confusing. We can try a lot of things that aren’t getting us to where we want to go, and so we’re going about life a little bit haphazardly or feeling frustrated all the time because things aren’t working. This is one of the reasons that I love to read books and dive into this, and understand life from different studies. One book that I’m really into right now is called the Atomic Habits. 

In Atomic Habits, it dives deep into how to build habits. It’s a bit overwhelming but in a good way because there’s so much information about habits. Reading this book has gotten to think about things differently and the way that it ties into this idea of willpower. Noticing that it’s more about setting up the right processes for myself, the right system, so that I’m in a place of success, that I’m working with my brain, not against it. I’m not trying to will myself to do something. It’s more like if I set myself up for success that I’m more likely to ease myself into that. 

Sometimes it’s about doing small things. In fact, that’s a part of the book that I read. It’s hard to keep track because there are many nuggets of wisdom in there. One part that I found fascinating is that a lot of people will only allow themselves to do a tiny bit of a new habit in the beginning because it’s found that taking one small step consistently will move you into doing more over time. What happens to a lot of us as we try to dive into something quickly and rapidly, and then we’re burnt out by it at a certain point. What if we did the very first step of something and then pause there? 

An example of it was this guy that went to the gym, and all he did was go to the gym for five minutes, then he forced himself to leave after five minutes. Over time, he started to want to be there. It became part of his habit. He was already there, so he would stay longer. In the beginning, it helped him to put barriers. Mentally, that makes a lot of sense when we think about food, for example. What if it’s breaking it down into steps that are going to help you get closer to it and then starting with one of them. Let’s say you’re thinking to yourself, “I want to eat less sugar, but I have no willpower.” That’s a very common thing people will say. What if you break that down? Is your goal to be sugar-free or is your goal to eat a lot less sugar? What if whenever you want to start, you simply eat one less bite than you would normally eat. You allow yourself to eat the rest of it, but you’re starting with one less bite. 

Most diets are black and white, making them too restrictive and not that fulfilling. Click To Tweet

I don’t know if I’m getting that advice completely perfect. I highly recommend reading the book Atomic Habits. I’m still learning to understand this properly, but that’s my current understanding. That is a lot better because it leads me to this idea of cold turkey. Whether you’re quitting something or you’re starting something new, it’s like, “I’m going to go all in. It’s all or nothing.” I don’t know if our brains adapt that quickly. It’s a bit of a shock to the system. It also depends a lot on our personalities. For me, I tend to do pretty well cold turkey, but only when I want to. I went vegetarian overnight. I have not had any piece of meat that I know of unless it slipped into my food somehow, but no meat or whatsoever since May of 2003. 

I remember the last meal I had and I’ve never gone back, so that cold turkey thing worked well for me. However, when I went vegan, it took me a little longer because I was more hooked on the dairy foods than I was on the meats. It was a gradual process of me slowly integrating that into my life. I wasn’t even trying to make it gradual, that’s just how it happened for me. In summary, cold turkey might work for you but maybe you should try going a little slower step-by-step. That might lead to more sustainable change and better habits, and that also can let you ease off of your feelings about willpower. 

The example you brought up was interesting because to me what comes up is, going back to this idea of behavioral change and how the chemical reward systems in our neurobiology work, which is one of the foundations of the article and the topic we’re discussing. With meat, there’s not as much of a chemical addictive quality as there is in a cheese, to use your specific example. How many people that I’ve worked with and coached, and I’m sure you’ve heard this ad nauseam over the years, “I could be vegetarian, but I could never give up cheese.” If I had a dollar for every time I heard that, I would be launching rockets to Mars. It’s interesting because if we dig into this chemical reward idea that our brains are constantly looking for the highest level of reward for the least amount of effort. That’s something that we’ve referenced in the book, The Pleasure Trap by Dr. Doug Lisle and Dr. Alan Goldhamer, also a phenomenal book when we talk about addiction, habit change, and how certain foods and chemicals affect us on a neurobiological level. 

MGU 181 | Understanding Willpower

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The point is that, cheese, chemically speaking is far more addictive than meat. It’s like I went cold turkey vegetarian overnight, but it took me a lot longer with veganism. I had the same experience. I remember the first person that I learned about the difference was Dr. Neal Barnard. He said that the reason cheese is technically more addictive for your brain chemistry is that it has casomorphins. The casomorphins are there so that calves will nurse on their mothers longer. It’s a chemical compound that gets their neurobiology going so that they nurse, grow and get the nutrients they need. Unfortunately for humans, the casomorphins work on us in the same way in the sense that they light up the pleasure centers in the brain like a morphine-based drug would do. Our addiction to cheese is the same basic chemical componentry of certain drug addictions. When I looked into that research from Dr. Barnard, I was like, “Holy shit, it’s no wonder people can’t get off cheese because they are chemically addicted to it.” 

It’s interesting you bring that up because I also think about things that I’ve given up or drastically reduced over the years, and it’s because I didn’t feel that much reward from it. You brought up meat, we have talked about sobriety, and we’ve talked about alcohol here on the show and several episodes. Alcohol was never a drug that “did it for me.” It wasn’t like, “I feel so great.” If I checked into my body, and to go back to the philosophy that Brewer talked about in this article, is that my reward system for alcohol or meat was not like, “I can’t give this up.” When it comes to cheese to use your example where you brought up sugar, which has been one of my big challenges and continues to be. I still feel like I eat too much sugar. I’m full and I’m satiated but I keep eating. For each one of us, our vices are going to be different from person to person. 

I just want to dip back into another part of this article. He talks about this dataset of researching and doing studies with hundreds of people. He noticed that a lot of people that have these addictive behaviors become disenchanted with these habits they’ve been doing for years, from eating too much chocolate relatable to cocaine or whatever it is. One of these studies who was a longtime smoker, this patient had a visceral and consistent feeling of disgust when she had mindfulness in a momenttomoment experience of smoking her cigarettes. In the study, she said that it smells like stinky cheese and tastes like chemicals. She was disgusted by her smoking. Brewer goes on to say, “It takes 10 to 15 times of someone engaging in this mindfulness practice, this self-awareness, and paying attention to see that the reward value starts to drop or even go below zero.” 

He’s gone on to say that this mindfulness, this brain hack they’re talking about that subverts addictive behaviors, sometimes works better than other standard treatments. In a 2011 study he did, after four months of treatment, he finds that mindfulness and self-awareness practices were five times better at helping people quit smoking than other standard treatment programs. It’s interesting because what this brings up for me is like I hear what he’s saying around awareness, and he’s got more here that we’ll get into as I go through this article, but to transpose this on my stuff that I might have addictive behaviors toward, I’ll have a moment of awareness where I realized that I’m not feeling good eating the second or third slice of chocolate cake.  

As an example, I had a piece of chocolate cake for breakfast. I’m getting uncomfortable here because I’m probably beating myself up for this inside. There was a point where I was good with the chocolate cake. I was satiated. I felt full, but I kept eating it. There was something in me that was like, “You know you’re full. You know that each bite isn’t as pleasurable as the first one, but you keep going.” I want to dig into more of his work because I feel like self-awareness is a good starting point, but I don’t think self-awareness is necessarily the skeleton key per se that can automatically conquer addiction. I’m aware that I’m eating too much of this, but I also observe that I’m not stopping right now. Self-awareness is almost like the foundation, but not necessarily the whole picture here. 

Examining our behavior and our tendencies are such a great starting place. That’s been the cornerstone of our advice on this show. It has revolved around awareness. You’re aware that you ate this cake. You’re aware that you feel some guilt or something about eating it, and you’re a little embarrassed to share that. You’re aware that you would prefer not to do things like that. This also leads me to, as part of this conversation, I saw this video on TikTok that that simultaneously triggered me but also felt like something I wanted to hear. I’ll start with why it triggered me. I can’t remember all the details without going back and listening to it. This is what I remember of it. 

It was a nutritionist or dietician or somebody that specializes in helping people with food. She’s saying that rattling off all of these trendy things that we do to lose weight or get in shape or manage our body in one way or another. She’s like, “This doesn’t work, that doesn’t work and so on.” Her ultimate point was that the most sustainable way to be in a relationship with your body is through intuitive eating. This is something that I started researching a few years ago. I decided to dive more into it because I was starting to see a lot of content online around anti-dieting. That was in partnership with body positivity. For me, I’ve struggled so much with my body over the years and had some disordered eating. I’m very curious about anything related to food, our bodies, and our mindset around it. 

She was rattling off things like keto and fasting. She listed all of these other trendy things. That’s why I got triggered because I’m a big fan of the keto diet, but I take a different approach to keto than the mainstream does in terms of I’m not looking at it as some trendy fad diet. I look at keto as something that feels good for me in my body. Speaking of awareness, I tune into myself when it comes to food as much as possible and try to ask myself frequently, “Why am I choosing this food? Am I choosing this because it tastes good? Am I choosing this because it makes my body feel good? Am I choosing this because I want to lose weight? Am I choosing this because I’m afraid of something or I’m craving, I want comfort?” 

I try to ask a lot of those questions. I like the concept of intuitive eating because that’s ultimately a huge part of it, which is tuning into your body and having a more balanced relationship with it. Looking at food as nourishment and not from this place of fear all the time, which many of us operate under and judgment too. Even hearing you feel embarrassed about eating that cake, Jason, part of me is like, “Why? You wanted to have that cake, what’s so bad about that?” It’s because many of us grow up judging food, perhaps our parents, our teachers, our friends, and the media. There are many messages about food that we feel confused and uncomfortable with it in a lot of ways. 

This TikTok was interesting. It wasn’t new information, but it is important information to remind us that dieting technically doesn’t work. I remember when I first started reading about anti-dieting, I was confused by that statement. I thought like, “What do you mean dieting doesn’t work?” When I started to look into the research about it, statistically, it doesn’t work. Statistically, people tend to gain that weight back as soon as they stop eating a certain way. My relationship with keto is interesting because I’ve only been experimenting with keto for a few years, and I’ve been off and on it. My weight has fluctuated a bit because when I first did keto, like many people experienced, I lost a good amount of weight. That felt exciting because that was my goal at the time. 

When I wasn’t doing keto, I felt like it was balanced but then I swung in a different direction and started eating a ton of carbohydrates, processed foods, sugars and all this stuff. The weight came back on. Now I’m at a point where I’m thinking, I’m going to experiment with going back on keto because I remember it felt good. I do remember that it helped me feel more balanced in my body, but I’m not sure that it’s the best thing for me. I’m not sure if it’s sustainable. I’m looking at it as an approach and I’m trying to take a more intuitive approach to it. When I sit down to eat something, I think, “Does this food qualify as keto or low carb?” Yes or no? When I have that answer, “Am I okay with this decision?” Yes or no? It’s like, great. If this food happens to be keto and I’m feeling good about eating it, awesome. If the food isn’t keto and I feel good about eating it, that’s still awesome because that’s what I want at that moment. 

If we engage more in awareness, curiosity, and mindfulness, we can experience a little bit of growth. Click To Tweet

To me, I feel like that’s working well and that’s good for me emotionally versus a lot of the mentality and approach that people have to keto and other diets is a super extreme of black and white. It’s either keto and great for you, or it’s not keto and you’re going to gain a ton of weight and it’s bad for you. People say the same thing about paleo and all these different ways of eating. Certainly, we’ve seen the opposite end of keto where people are thinking keto is the worst thing in the world. By the way, I eat a plant-based keto. It’s very different from animal-based keto, which is loaded with crazy foods. Plant-based keto is literal and that’s based on plants. 

My point being we see the opposite end as we’ve talked about a number of times Jason, the salt, oil, and sugar-free people. When you brought up The Pleasure Trap, there’s a little part of me that cringe, because when I think of The Pleasure Trap, I think two things. One is there’s so much great data in it. Two, from what I recall, that book is encouraging you not to eat things like salt, oil and sugar. That feels super restrictive to me. Also, I associate salt, oil and sugar-free people as being judgmental and that’s viewing them as a whole, but knowing some big people in that movement, there’s so much shame if you eat oil, salt or sugar. 

A friend of mine read The Pleasure Trap and now is in this whole like, “Oil is the worst thing ever for you.” Whereas for me, I don’t view oil as bad. Intuitively, I enjoy oil. I try to focus on the high-quality oils. In fact, a little shout out right now, which we haven’t talked about, Jason. I got a new oil product that I’m so excited about. It’s from this company called Milkadamia, which makes amazing macadamia-based products. They have fantastic milk and creamers. I’ve been talking about these in my book about coffee. They sent me their new macadamia nut oils and they have a high smoke point. They’re so rich. To me, they feel pure and high-quality. Macadamia nut oil isn’t talked about that much, but I’ve done a ton of research on oil. 

A lot of people say that coconut oil, avocado oil, and olive oil are the top three oils that don’t have a lot of negative sides to them. It’s just that some people are so anti-oil. They’re like, “No oil, whatsoever.” That makes me feel uncomfortable, tight and unhappy. I’m like, “No, that’s just not for me.” That’s ultimately my big point here. We have to figure out what works well for us and balance that with some research. That is part of what makes this whole process incredibly tricky. 

It is tricky because what we come up against, as you alluded to, are factions of people who engage in absolutism and also purity culture. We talk about purity culture a lot at length with Nick Jaworski on our episode with him. I think that purity culture is deeply intertwined with the health and wellness and transformational fields that we operate in, we run our business in, and certainly we do a ton of research with. This idea that there is one right way of eating, working out, worshiping, expressing one’s sexuality is an endemic part of it. 

A lot of people, myself included, for a long time have wanted to discover the proverbial holy grail. This is the thing. This is the way that I’m going to eat, live, move, worship, make love or whatever it is. “This is the way” to take from The Mandalorian. I’ve noticed that it’s a big thing with influencers online of this purity culture of no fat, no sugar, no salt, no oil, I’m celibate, high vibes only. To my whole thing, I suppose everyone’s got their reasons. Who am I to judge people’s reasons because I too remember back in the day when I was doing 100% raw. When I graduated from Living Light and for the first few years after that, I was on that raw train. 

I was like, “What temperature was it cooked at? Was it over 118 degrees?” I was very militant and also mindful to the point where I was causing myself a lot of distress. I remember reading a book about orthorexia around 2009. I remember making that pivot in 2009, going back to eating cooked foods again, and feeling how good my body felt, allowing myself to have hot soup or quinoa or a stir fry or whatever it was. Realizing that I was engaging in this purity culture. I thought that if I ate 100% raw plant-based foods and I was doing my meditation and my Jivamukti yoga. It was almost like that system of checkboxes that we’ve talked about. We talked about this in our episode with Taylor, of “I’m eating raw, I’m doing yoga, I’m doing my mantras.” 

Humans have this desire for improvement or optimization, but what is the point? Is the point to be better than everyone? If I’m honest about it, there was this thing motivating me of like, “I’m going to be the best vegan ever. I’m going to be the pure raw foodist. I’m going to be pure. I’m going to be holy. I’m going to be all these things.” To piggyback on what Alex Ebert was talking about on Instagram. He’s got some great stuff. It’s this idea that Nietzsche, the philosopher, had about the Ubermensch, the Superman, that if we are self-empowered and we’re living in this optimal way, the peak of human evolution, then we’re greater than everyone. We’ve unlocked our full potential. There’s a lot of dark downsides to that conversation. 

In this sense, I feel like I’m able to talk about purity culture because I was engaged in it. I realized that I was being so restrictive and egotistical like I have to be the optimal version of myself. That is something that still affects us. This optimization culture, this upgrade culture is so pervasive and it can make you freaking crazy too. To go deeper into this article about habit change, I wanted to share another few points here about mindfulness and how this affects our willpower and our habits. 

In these studies that I mentioned, mindfulness has been shown to be as good or better than medication in curbing symptoms in addiction. He’s saying that awareness and mindfulness can get to the root of the problem. There are more studies going on. This is never anything that we ever posit as the end-all be-all, but putting mindfulness into practice. It appears simple, intuitive, just be aware of what you’re doing at the moment. Practicing awareness and curiosity isn’t always super easy, especially in times of stress, anxiety and panic. Going inward and looking at yourself isn’t necessarily the easiest thing. When you’re feeling peaceful and calm, it feels easy to go inside, but when you’re stressed the hell out, it can be a little bit tough and old habits are familiar. They’re comfortable. 

Anytime we make efforts to move out of our comfort zone, typically it can incite a little bit of panic. I think that what he’s encouraging is if we engage in more awareness, curiosity and mindfulness, we can start to experience a little bit of growth. Near the end of this article, he talks about the three steps for habit change. Number one, we’ve talked about self-awareness as the first step to being able to recognize a repeated habit loop and map out the components. Self-awareness means identifying what triggers a consistent behavior, how the behavior makes you feel, and what are the ultimate results of that behavior, and that this can help you better evaluate the true reward or risk of habitual behavior. 

Number two is curiosity. Getting curious and not judgmental or punitive about your cravings and addictions flips the balance from the unpleasantness of a craving to the pleasantness of curiosity, observing yourself and being curious about it. This exercise of being curious becomes more intrinsically rewarding, then you can start to identify alternatives that are potentially more attractive than the old habit. The last thing is number three, pinpoint the BBO which stands for Bigger, Better Offer. This means to be curious and find behaviors that are more rewarding than the habit you’re trying to break. Maybe that’s exercise, moving your body, the mindfulness practice or engaging in asking the right questions. Each time that craving comes on, he’s saying, “Repeat these steps.” Engage in self-awareness, become more curious and ask questions, then pinpoint your bigger, better offer. 

We mentioned chocolate cake. My thing is still sugar. When I get stressed, when I feel lonely, I tend to reach and overeat sugar. I want to put into practice what Judson Brewer is positing in this article. I am curious to get my hands on his new book called Unwinding Anxiety because my whole life I’ve thought that willpower was a thing, to go back to the original start of this episode. When I think of willpower, it’s be stronger than my addictions or overpower it. This idea of self-awareness curiosity and finding a bigger, better offer, I’m going to put it into practice and see how it works, and maybe report back with the findings. It is interesting to think about bringing curiosity instead of judgment. We’ve talked about that too and that’s something I still need to work on because I am still way too hard on myself with certain things. It is interesting to think about asking different questions and seeing what those answers come, what those bring. 

MGU 181 | Understanding Willpower

Understanding Willpower: The most sustainable way to be in a relationship with your body is through intuitive eating.

 

This does come a lot down to asking ourselves, are we being too hard on this situation? Are we being too hard on ourselves? Are we being too hard on others? It also isn’t just about our own willpower. Sometimes we can accuse other people of not having enough willpower themselves. That can put us in a place of righteousness and judgment as we’ve been talking about. I’m trying to be more accepting of people who are making different choices. I’m trying to be more accepting of people who are at different stages, and maybe moving at different paces than me, and recognizing that habits are a huge challenge for a lot of people. A lot of people struggle with consistency and it’s okay. A lot of people struggle with guilt, shame, and all of these different topics that we’ve been touching upon on the show. 

It’s a very human experience. I’ve also found that I go through a lot of different phases. Maybe the older I get, the more time I’ve spent in my life, I recognize that life truly is a common up and down. It’s not about reaching some point and feeling satisfied there. You will experience those waves in your emotions, in your body, in your desires. Going back to what you said about this purity culture mentality, to me, that feels restrictive. We’ve each been through those phases. I’ve done the raw food diet as well and I enjoyed it. I found it interesting, rewarding and refreshing. Raw food is lovely and now I still eat raw food. I’ve been enjoying blueberries and I’ve been enjoying great salads. I find a lot of pleasure from eating those foods. 

I also find pleasure in eating cooked foods. I find pleasure in low-carb foods for the most part. There’s a bag of potato chips in my place and I’m looking forward to eating those. For me, it’s more about having those, enjoying them, and maybe having a little bit of moderation so that I don’t go overboard. The way our brains work is sometimes when we go overboard, it causes an avalanche of us making choices that we perhaps don’t want to make. Going back to The Pleasure Trap, it’s a great book that explains the way our brain works in an interesting way and how we’re so prone to go for the pleasure.  

I read in Atomic Habits how we as human beings go for the things that are easy and convenient. There’s no shame in that because that’s the way our brains are programmed and wired. That’s part of the human experience. That ties into willpower in that sometimes we’re trying to fight against ourselves so much. Maybe if we ease up and say, “It’s human to want convenience. It’s human to want something that’s easy.” I can set myself up for success in different ways and get into habits so that maybe I’m focused on different elements of ease. This comes up in Atomic Habits like, “As a human being, I like things that are easy and convenient. How can I make the things that I want to do more easy and convenient? How can I make the things that I don’t want harder? 

James Clear wrote Atomic Habits. Another great tidbit of advice he has in there is like, “If you want to watch less TV, how can you make that harder? Can you move the TV into a different room that you wouldn’t enjoy being in as much as another? Can you unplug the TV so every time you want to watch it, you can’t just click the remote? You have to go plug it in. In that experience of doing so, you’re adding resistance and you’re making it harder, so maybe you’re going to be too lazy to plug in the television.” If you want to eat foods that are more raw and fresh, and less processed, fill your fridge with them. If you want to get more processed foods, you’re going to have to buy them and that in itself is resistance. 

By creating more of that structure in life where you’re adding more ease and convenience in the ways that you love, that is setting yourself up for massive success and working with your “willpower,” if it does in fact exist. Working with a sense of control that is a lot simpler than a lot of the ways that we tend to think of things. If you want to work out, how can you make working out easier? The classic way is putting out your workout clothes the day before. During COVID-19, for me, I’m working out at home. I used to go to in-person classes and that was hard. That was a big commitment, but I got into the habit of it so it became easier. My habit is working out at home and so it’s on my calendar. I can put my clothes out. I can have my hand weights out and my yoga mat, and all of that stuff. It’s all set up. It’s ready to go. All I have to do is show up for it so I’ve made it simple. Now, it’s even simpler than it ever was before and thus, the habit. There’s so much less resistance involved with that whole process. 

I think a related tip or strategy to you talking about your preparation and dissolving resistance by having your workout stuff ready. For me, when I have perceived a repetitive behavior or a habit that is not resulting in the things that I would want in life. It’s interesting. I haven’t even thought about this for a while. One of my big goals is to pay off my credit card debt, which you’ve mentioned that as well in previous episodes. I’m on the same boat. I feel grateful that I’ve been able to hack away at it pretty consistently. One thing that has helped me tremendously was I took all but one of my credit cards out of my wallet. I put them in a box and put it in a lightly used drawer in a corner of my house. 

They’re not in my wallet. It’s not easy for me to go in with impulse purchases per se, just to whip out any one of those credit cards like 4 or 5 of them. I realized that one of the components of my habitual debt accumulation was that I’d be out, and I would have 4 to 5 cards in my wallet to choose from. It was this illusion of like, “There’s not much of a balance on that one. I’ll keep using that one.” It then became adding up on all of the cards. Once I took the cards out of my wallet and put them in a box, in the corner of the house, in a drawer that I don’t access that often, first of all, I have not been accumulating that much debt because I’m not using those cards. I’m not using them. 

A similar strategy to me was with the sugar thing. Debt and sugar are my two things. If there’s not a stack of chocolate bars in the house, then there’s not going to be chocolate for me to eat. That sounds horrifying for me to say because I love chocolate, but now I don’t have any chocolate bars in the house. I know for me and when I ate the chocolate cake, maybe it was also part of me being like, “If you just eat it all now, then you won’t be tempted to eat more of it later so just eat all of it in one sitting.” 

It’s a similar thing, for me at least, if I have a thing where I’m recognizing there’s a mechanism, whether it’s a stack of credit cards in my wallet or a stack of chocolate bars in my cabinet, if I don’t have easy access to them, and they’re not physically present in my space all the time, then I’m not going to abuse them and overuse them. For me that’s been a strategy that’s worked, and I’m also wanting to look at other aspects of my life and how I can adopt that behavior. 

If we can come from a loving, peaceful, and patient place, we can achieve more balance in our lives. Click To Tweet

I also don’t feel, as a result, any restriction. I’m not like, “I wish I had my five credit cards all the time so I could spend shit that I don’t need,” or “I wish I had a stack of chocolate bars at all time.” It’s interesting that as I’ve reduced those and had more mindfulness around my usage, it’s not something that has negatively affected my life. I’m not wishing that I had those things. I wanted to say that because that’s a strategy that’s been useful to me. It’s not having easy access to those things that engage in those habitual behaviors. 

It does work. Coming back around to our number one tip, which is having the awareness. Starting off with, what habits do you want to create? What things do you want to let go of? What habits do you want to get out of? Starting to break them down using tools that are backed in research like from this article we mentioned, and also the book Atomic Habits. I feel like there’s one other great habits book that I’ve read in the past couple of years. The name is escaping me in this moment, but books are such amazing tools. If you know that they’re done from a place of not trying to be salesy, but from a place of deep research, you can start to implement these things, and they can be incredibly effective. 

Having the knowledge behind your actions can set you up for better success. When I go through a book like Atomic Habits, I feel empowered. I feel that “I’ve got the tools now, so I can implement this and move forward in a way that’s backed by research.” I’m not just trying to guess my way through life and trying to piece things together. I’m not just using the information I collected on Instagram or TikTok or wherever else. Not that that information isn’t useful, but I love reading like the articles that you shared and books that we’ve talked about. It’s also helpful to recognize that not everything that we see on social media is going to be based on facts. Sometimes it’s based on the trend or somebody’s strong opinion. 

Coming back to what we said when it comes to eating it, it’s hard to untangle ourselves from this world of everyone trying to find the perfect way of eating, the perfect exercise, and the perfect way of living. Ultimately for me, that ends up making me feel worse about myself and too constrained. I get into this mindset of doing it right or wrong, and failing or succeeding. I would like life to feel a little bit more fluid, balanced and accepting. I try what I want. Going back to what I said on the little piece of information about the macadamia oil. I mentioned that company Milkadamia. They’re vegan and they’re very keto-friendly, which I love about them. 

MGU 181 | Understanding Willpower

Understanding Willpower: Figure out which practices work well for your mind and body, then balance them with some research.

 

If you’re curious about the oils, they are traditional cold-pressed, which is something that a lot of the recommendations I’ve read about oils. It’s single-ingredient, cold-pressed, in a good container, a nice glass container. It’s recommended that you consume an oil within a few months because it can start to go bad quickly. What I also love about macadamia nuts, just saying the word macadamia makes me drool because that was a very exciting part of going keto for me. I love macadamia nuts and it’s one of those indulgent foods that is recommended to have a lot. They’re full of Omega-3 and 6, and antioxidants and can be anti-inflammatory. They’re satisfying and for me, that’s why I’ve chosen a higher fat diet. I don’t mind having oil. 

For those of you that are not into eating oil, I want to remind you that just having macadamia nuts or whole avocados is a great choice. Sometimes it’s about having the original food and not having it in oil form. That’s something that pretty much everyone can agree upon. The moral of the story here is think about what you’re aiming for. Find what works for you, experiment, do some research, check out books and articles like we have. We’re dedicated to sharing what we’re learning, and encouraging you along the way. Also, ultimately a place where you can feel a lot of acceptance. We’re working on approaching life with less judgment and letting people know that we’re all on a journey and figuring things out. We might not always agree on it, but if we can come from a loving place and a peaceful patient place, it brings a lot more balance into our lives. 

Dear readers, we want to hook you up with all the resources we mentioned starting with that Inverse article, or you can dig into more of the research and tips around self-awareness and curiosity and asking the right questions. We’ve got some great free resources on our website. We’ve got three incredible eBooks, two video trainings, and if you want to go even a level deeper, we have two great courses, Wellness Warrior Training and The Consistency Code. 

Check that all out on our website. If you want to reach out to Whitney and myself, shoot us an email. The address is [email protected]. We are on all of the social media networks, including Clubhouse, we’ve mentioned that in a few episodes. If you find yourself there, you can connect with Whitney and myself. We are there talking about digital wellness, mental health, social media marketing and a whole litany of different subjects. We hope to see you there or on Instagram, or any of the social platforms you prefer to connect with us at. Until next time, thank you for getting uncomfortable with us. Thanks for being in our community. We feel so grateful for your presence, your readership, your reviews, and you sharing these episodes with your friends and loved ones. Thanks again. 

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