Why You Can't Rely on Willpower For Long-Term Results

US News

The number one reason why diets and exercise usually aren't enough to get you the results you want is simple. It's because most approaches rely on willpower - and willpower stinks. It's not a sustainable resource. It will always run out eventually unless you're using it appropriately, and most people aren't.

Willpower is appropriate when you need to dig a little deeper to finish something. For example, do you think marathoners need a little willpower for those last few miles? Yes, they do. And does a woman in labor need a little willpower for that final push? I've never given birth, but I can bet the answer is a big, fat YES. (Feel free to confirm my suspicion in the comments below if you're a mom!) And what about saying no to one more drink at happy hour when you have to get up early the next morning? Sure.

But if you're at the starting line of an endeavor of any nature - health, fitness, career, personal - and you're already relying on willpower, well, good luck to you. That's like paddling upstream against the current. It's exhausting, counterintuitive and a much more difficult approach.

There are three keys to eliminating the need for that kind of willpower:

1. Simplify. This means everything. Identify the top three things that stress you out and ask this question: "How can I make this easier on myself so it won't be so stressful?"

The answers might surprise you. You might find yourself saying no to more things, creating boundaries, embracing routine and consistency a bit more, or even - gasp - asking for help instead of trying to do everything yourself.

A few examples: Hate vegetables? Awesome, get a green drink or powder, and take that once a day instead. Don't have time to grocery shop? Great, check out a local delivery service in your area, or visit localharvest.org and look into joining a community-supported agriculture program.

What about cooking? Hate it or don't have time? I give you permission to eat raw vegetables or buy frozen stuff, and I'm not talking about Lean Cuisine or Smart Ones. I'm talking about real foods. You can get an array of frozen vegetables, proteins, fruits and even grains like quinoa and brown rice. All you have to do is heat them up in a sauté pan and enjoy. Or in the case of fruits, throw 'em in a blender with some water and protein and enjoy. (You can check out some of my favorite smoothie recipes.)

What about workouts? Not sure how to choose the best ones for you since there are 49 million options in magazines and on blogs? Excellent. Employ my next tip to choose what's best for you.

2. Get the enjoyment factor on your side. One of the biggest reasons willpower runs out so quickly is that many of us call on it while forcing ourselves to do something we don't actually enjoy. When we choose things we like doing, we're much more likely to stick with them.

Remember this: Some movement is always better than no movement. Also, don't underestimate the power of positive vibration on your physiology. The hormones your body releases when you're enjoying yourself are different than the hormones when you're not enjoying yourself - and the effect they have on your body do make a difference. And that's not even mentioning the mental and emotional aspects. That's a topic for a whole different post, though.

Finally, consider whether you're the type of person who prefers solo time or spending time with others more, and factor that into your choices.

If you hate doing things alone, try out some classes and invite people to go grocery shopping with you or do weekly cook-ups together. If you're more independent or appreciate the time to yourself, do that - soak it up, make a ritual out of it and prioritize the time to yourself.

3. Get motivated. This is one of my favorite topics to change people's mindsets about. A lot of goals are actually demotivating in the long term. The best question to ask yourself as you set a proper goal is, "What's something I want to be able to do in or with my body that I can't right now?"

The answers will be much more exciting than "lose 10 pounds" or "fit into my skinny jeans." And once you get some answers, go deeper and ask yourself: "Why?" What you'll get are those soul-level goals that actually get you out of bed in the morning, instead of New Year's resolution-type goals that are usually just surface level.

Willpower has been pounded into us by the health and fitness industry for so long that most people rejoice when I say it stinks, and they give themselves permission to finally kick it to the curb. If that's how you feel right now leave a comment below, and tell me which of my three tips you plan to implement first and why. Hint: Choosing one at a time and then moving onto the next will be easier than trying to overhaul your lifestyle overnight. Be nice to yourself. Good luck!

Want to know more about goal-setting, which type of workouts to choose or healthy eating? Tweet me @lizdialto and let me know!

Hungry for more? Write to eatandrun@usnews.com with your questions, concerns, and feedback.

Liz DiAlto is a fitness and lifestyle coach, speaker and sought-after fitness personality. She's on a mission to help millions of women across the globe get the bodies and lifestyles they crave. At the core of everything Liz creates is a belief that willpower stinks and simplicity, motivation and enjoyment are the non-negotiable keys to achieving success. Connect with Liz for fitness and lifestyle advice on Facebook, Twitter and, YouTube.

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