Scone:  1.  Willpower:  Zip.

Has this ever happened to you? For stress-scenario purposes, I’m talking air travel and all the accompanying stress it can bring into play.

But really, any situation where the stress has been compounded will do.  I’ve just completed a couple of days of flying which makes it fresh in my mind.

Before your plane even hits the destination runway, your comfort-cycle instincts are thinking ahead to the pastry and double-macha-whatever that you know lie in wait in the terminal that is now fast-closing-in.

And as the jetway spits you out into terminal C, even the airline agent is conspiring to fire your quick-fix cylinders by not only kindly directing you to your connecting gate, but also adding “It’s 3 Starbucks down.” And the first is a magnetic 15 steps away.  (This actually happened to me yesterday).

Where’s that willpower, man?

In compounded-stress situations, our dietary resolve can rapidly fade.  And in truth, stress chips away at willpower until you can feel like there isn’t any left.

The good news is that at least you realize that there is a struggle that’s ensued.  Between your travel-stress relieving impulse to get an ill-thought edible treat and your willpower instinct (yes, it’s there, you just have to water it).  It’s not your fault. The impulse is driven by your momentary cravings, a stress-management tactic, that is hooking your previous experiences of how to turn your travel trials into a pleasure cycle.  So even if you caved on the treats, if you were even faintly aware that there was a bit of a struggle going on, this is very hopeful.  It shows you have something upon which to build a different ending.

Homo sapiens help button

As a human being, you are gifted with the self-awareness that allows you to make a choice.  A choice for immediate gratification or a choice in your greater best interests.  A choice compatible with your big-picture, long-term goals of a healthier body and a slimmer waist.  It’s as if there were – no, there actually are – two selves.  And one of them has to prevail.

In the midst of the struggle, it helps to realize that both of these urges – that of the impulsive self and that of self-control – have always played a part in human survival.  Our 21st century brains still zero right in on something fat and sweet to the taste because in leaner times they insured survival.  I always say, our biology has not kept up with our technology.

At the same time, our self-control systems have evolved in the form of our brain’s pre-frontal cortex.  This is our willpower tool that allows us to override temporal temptation with better judgement.

We’ve all implemented that tool successfully on multiple occasions.  You know it’s there.  The trick is, how to have more ‘willpower wins’ than instant-gratification indulgences so that we can fit into that favorite pair of jeans, finish that project, or get some exercise in rather than opting for the couch.

Willpower workouts?

The good news is that you don’t have to just keep your fingers crossed and hope that you’ll “do better next time”.  There are specific strategies that make your willpower muscle mightier.  Combine them with the Top 10 Motivational Tools of Boot Camp Mind and you’re unstoppable.

Next time in the willpower workout series:  2 proven ways to give your willpower a workout

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[Image via Bauer-Griffin]

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