Building the Willpower Through Healthy Lifestyle Choices
How your life goes is decided by a million different influences, some big and some small. Almost every aspect of how and where you grow up becomes a part of you, shaping the opportunities you encounter and the way you make decisions throughout the rest of your life, including whether or not you smoke and how easy it is to quit. Who your parents were, the neighbourhood you lived in, the way your body developed, and the friends you’ve had all have a role to play in who you are today.
While everyone has the power to choose their actions and identity as an adult, everything from who your parents were to how your metabolism works can also determine how easy it is for you to leave an addiction behind you. Of all the aspects of your personality and long-time habits, the single most important factor in choosing your own path is willpower. The Smoker’s Challenge for today is gaining control of your personal willpower so you can successfully resist what you know is bad for you.
Willpower is one of those things that’s attributed to personal strength, but it’s formed by your early life just as much as anything else. If your parents or school life didn’t teach you self-control or how to form your own positive habits, you won’t know as an adult and will be more susceptible to bad decisions that are difficult to recover from. Many of the same influences that lead a person to begin smoking in their youth also make it difficult to exercise the level of self-control necessary to quit.
Where Willpower Comes From
Contrary to popular belief, willpower isn’t something you’re just born with. Sure, some people are more stubborn or willful than others, but just like musical ability, there’s talent, and then there’s practiced the skill. Think about it, you’ve probably known a lot of naturally stubborn people, but how many use that ‘gift’ of willfulness to make hard decisions and take good care of themselves? True willpower, the kind that helps you persevere through challenges and make the right choices even when you don’t want to, that’s a skill you build through practice and dedication. Like any skill, it’s best to start small and work your way up from there. Just as learning the piano starts with “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”, willpower starts with simple choices like maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Practicing Willpower with Healthy Choices
Staying healthy is one of the most difficult decisions anyone can make because it is made of a thousand tiny decisions to do the right things and not do the wrong things. This makes it the perfect way to train your willpower and use that to resist the urge to smoke. Start with something simple like exercising a few hours every week and increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables you eat with every meal. These things take only a small amount of willpower and don’t add much stress to your life. Every time you succeed, make sure to reward yourself with something nice like a small treat or an episode of your favorite show.
Once you have successfully achieved your goal or goals for a few weeks, increase the challenge. Try working out for ten or more minutes every day and cutting down on something like sugar or fat in your diet. Every week you meet your goals, give yourself a bigger reward like going out to a movie. Even if it’s hard at first or seems to make you unhappy, soon enough you’ll start feeling good every time you successfully make a healthy decision using your growing willpower.
Why it Works
There are kids that are raised with good willpower reinforcement and those that weren’t. Unlike most forms of child development, willpower tends to go mainly unnoticed and strong or weak willpower training tends to run in families. Children with strong willpower tend to have parents that made theme eat their broccoli by explaining how it’s good for the tummy. Perhaps they let their kids get sick on candy once only to explain how moderation is more enjoyable than excess. Sticker charts, allowance earning systems, and practical rewards are the hallmark of parenting techniques that teach willpower and using similar techniques on yourself as an adult can produce a similar effect. Reward yourself for good choices in ways that make you feel good about those choices.
Why does it work? Because you train your emotions as well as your physical actions. Living healthy isn’t just about eating your vegetables, it’s about feeling good about yourself when you do so. Forgetting rewards and to feel pride in your accomplishments is one of the reasons many people fail to feel good about quitting and slip back into the habit. If you didn’t learn how to reward yourself as a child, or worse were discouraged from doing so, it can be all too easy to get caught up in the struggle and bad feelings of sticking to your tough decisions and forget to make it fun.
Choosing the Right Rewards
We’ve covered how willpower is a skill that must be practiced and how a good reward structure is a key to feeling good about your decisions, but it can also be difficult to choose the right rewards. This requires knowing yourself and what you find rewarding that won’t put your new lifestyle choices in jeopardy. First, stay away from cigarettes and other bad habits you’d like to eliminate as rewards, or you’ll start to feel like you deserve them when things go well. Instead, focus on the right balance of safe rewards like activities you enjoy, time spent with people you like and a reasonable portion of your favourite treats. If you really enjoy a good banana split, for instance, this is a better weekly reward than a daily one. A hot bath with a single mug of rich hot cocoa, on the other hand, might be just the physical reward your body needs after a hard day of exercise and vegetables.
Anyone who tells you that “all it takes” to quit and live a healthy life is making the right choices probably had good willpower training as a child. Willpower takes practice, but it’s never too late to start. If making healthy decisions is hard, just start small and work your way up from there. Don’t forget to congratulate and reward yourself for successes and keep challenging yourself to greater and greater accomplishments. Once you’ve successfully quit, if you ever run out of things you’d like to improve about your life, you can always start looking outward for ways to improve the world around you. Chances are you’ll have enough willpower by then to achieve almost anything.