Today I wanted to talk about why willpower is fleeting. When I was struggling with dieting I thought i needed more willpower. I just couldn’t do it, I thought lacked enough strength or willpower to push through. The thing was I was pushing so hard that eventually I had a breakdown of sorts. I couldn’t keep pushing and I just couldn’t do it anymore and I had to let go of all of that restriction and pushing in my mind.
Our willpower is our conscious mind and our conscious mind is only able to run about 5% of the actions we take.
So, we have 5% conscious control of the things we are doing. But our subconscious mind runs about 90-95% of our actions and they are very automatic.
If you think about your heart beating, or when you breathe in and out or the metabolic functions in you body – you don’t have to think about them. They’re automatic and they are run by the subconscious. But we also have patterns in our subconscious that might not be the healthiest for us that are also running. They interfere with making “healthier” changes.
So for instance if you think about driving a car and learning to drive a car. Imagine every time you got into a car you had to relearn driving. Think back to the first time you learned to drive. You had to focus , you were probably nervous and you were very aware of everything. Over time driving became a habit, you kept doing it and it became automatic. So your subconscious took ahold of that pattern of driving.
So when you drive from point A to B sometimes you don’t even remember how you got there. Because it was in your subconscious and it was driving you there. It was automatic. This can be a really great thing. Our subconscious helps us perform actions and do things without thinking about it.
Not so healthy habits we “absorbed”…
But what happens when we pick up patterns that are not healthy for us and are not serving us in our lives right now. When we are younger because of the way our brain is developing until we are 7 or 8 years old we’re automatically picking up patterns around us. We’re just absorbing the patterns we see because that’s how we learn quickly.
So if we see our parents doing something , lets ay they ate to feel better about their feelings, or “this” is how they cope with emotions. Or they gave us cake or “here’s a cookie, be happy” we picked up these patterns.
Whatever patterns we “absorbed” are in our subconscious. Because our subconscious is 95% it has a lot of power over our actions and what we automatically do. So when we try to change we have the subconscious with this old pattern that we are going up against. And we are going to hit a lot of resistance again and again because there is this ingrained pattern.
For emotional eaters this is even more difficult because you have used food for so long as a coping mechanism that it is an ingrained pattern. You automatically jump to food to feel better about your emotions or about whatever is going on, stress, or whatever is uncomfortable.
You jump to the food to temporarily relieve yourself because that is how you deal with emotions or discomfort. You haven’t learned how to be with them or process them. Most of us haven’t. This is just the way you cope, you use food to cope with whatever is going on under the surface.
This pattern is a really big challenge to our willpower because our subconscious patterns. Our subconscious is familiar and there to make us feel safe, to protect us, it’s our comfort zone. When we try to change something or a lot of things the subconscious pattern is trying to keep us safe. We can’t just change it with our mind (willpower) so easily.
Safety in the process…
We need to do it gently and make it a safe process. Usually what happens when we develop these coping mechanisms is also that there is some level of trauma or unresolved issues underneath. So we really want that coping mechanism because to be with that emotion or situation might be really difficult. Especially if we didn’t learn how to BE with our emotions and process them. It’s like we only have this coping mechanism to deal with it discomfort no matter how aware we are.
It’s also very scary to be with those emotions because we are not taught how to do that.
What can we do?
Start looking at the pattern of all the times we emotionally eat or we binge by looking at the following:
- where were we
- what was the situation
- what were we feeling
- notice if there is a pattern
Then start writing out or journalling how you were feeling and trying to allow that emotion and feeling to get on to the page. This is a really great first step to try to create that safe environment for your emotions to come out. As you do this more and more you might gain more emotional strength.
It’s also really great to work with a practitioner or someone that does somatic work, which I find works best. Emotions live in the body. I find talk therapy loops and we become really aware of what is going on but we never fully get into the emotion, process it feel it and transform it.
So when we are able to transform it we can transform that pattern. We can find the true way of being with the emotion rather than covering up with a coping mechanism. The pattern that the subconscious is really good at doing.
I hope this all makes sense that we have this pattern to deal with emotions. That we use food to cover up an emotion and it’s really just a coping mechanism, a bandaid and not resolving the emotion.
If you have any questions please let me know and I hope this post has helped you understand a little bit more about why willpower is fleeting. If you need additional support or have any questions please leave a comment below.
To true change,
Certified Holistic Nutritionist.