When temptation strikes and threatens to throw you off your healthy eating plan or exercise program, follow these new strategies to rev up your willpower and stay strong.

“No cocktails for me. I have to go to the gym later.”
“Dessert? I’m too full from dinner.”
“Sorry, can’t make happy hour; I’m off to the gym.”

We all know a friend who seems immune to the temptations of buffets meals, cocktails, cupcakes, and canapés. We all would love to know their secret. Shhh…the secret is…(drum roll!)…they have found a new muscle to flex: their willpower.


That’s right. Researchers have found that you can chisel your self-control and will power just as you can make every other muscle in your body stronger.

With use and practice your self-control muscle becomes less weak and flabby, so you have the strength you need to stick with a healthy eating plan or exercise program. Once you get to work on strengthening your self-control you will soon be the one trading happy hour for a session at the gym.


1. Boost Your Brain Power

Visualize how you want your health to be or your body to look and you will find you make better choices in both your eating and activity levels. When you have that clear picture of how you wish to be that is what you will become.

The more you activate this visualization system, the more powerful it will become, so in the future it will feel easier to do the right thing. Eventually you will start to notice whenever you are doing something that is inconsistent with your goals.

Work Your Will

Spend just one minute every day this coming week. Here is how to get started: Sit quietly with your eyes closed and count your breaths. When you reach 10, begin again. Whenever your mind wanders from your breath, start again at one. Once you can do this a few times swap the counting breaths for that picture of how you want to look.

2. Be a Skeptical Dreamer

When it comes to setting goals, are you: (a) a wishful thinker (you fantasize about wearing your slim jeans again) or (b) a complainer (you focus on how hard it is to resist food at parties and find excuses why you can’t be more active)?

Either of these mindful attitudes can derail you on your way to your goal, but oddly enough, researchers have discovered adopting both at once may have the opposite effect. People who imagine succeeding and then reflect on the obstacles facing them are more inspired to reach a goal than those who do solely one or the other new research has uncovered.

Work Your Will

Have you a “get-in-better-shape” or weight-loss goal? Imagine how good you will feel when you fit into your skinny jeans again. Feel them sliding effortlessly over your hips; hear your friends telling you how good you look.

Now think about what stands in the way: the junky food you are forced to eat when you are at work all day because you have no other choice; or the fact you stayed in bed and missed your morning gym session because you stayed out too late the night before; or, you know, just eating the wrong things. But never mind because now you are ready for the next self-control booster: Create a “what if” game plan.

3. Play the “What if?” Game

When you know of a tempting scenario coming up for you devising a plan B helps you cope with these situations that may undo your resolutions (like drinks on Friday night). Having a plan B shifts the decision-making moment from the danger zone (when the barman asks if you would like one more cocktail) to a point in time when you are in touch with what you want to achieve (that slim, feel-good body) before you even set foot in the bar.

By making a ‘what if” plan earlier on it is easier to overcome temptations and stick to healthy choices later when the situation is in front of you.


Work Your Will

Jot down the obstacles on the road to your healthy feel-good slim body, and then write down a “what if” plan for sidestepping each one. Check out the ideas below to see how your plan might look.

Obstacle – eating junky food when at work.
Plan – take a healthy meal to work with me
Obstacle – stayed in bed too late and missed my morning gym session
Plan – do it after work
Obstacle – eating too much later in the day
Plan – make sure to get a couple of healthy small meals in earlier in the day
Obstacle – nothing to take to work to eat
Plan – cook something the night before take it with me

Take time to de-stress

If you are struggling with food or alcohol cravings, stress and lack of sleep will only make the situation worse. Not only does stress deplete willpower, but high levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the body can also worsen cravings for sugar, carbohydrates, alcohol and drugs, (and these substances, in turn, increase cortisol levels in the body).

It is a well known fact that when people are stressed, they tend to fall back on ingrained habits – whether those habits are helpful or harmful. Often, this is not a conscious choice. rather, people resort to old habits without thinking because they are in a stressed state.

If you are looking to maximize your willpower, make time for scientifically-proven stress reducers a regular exercise. It will help you make the right decision — rather than simply the automatic one – when faced with a temptation.

How can the brain be trained for greater willpower?

One particular thing has been shown to train the brain’s willpower reserve, or strength – physical exercise. A proper exercise program (one that includes muscle building and maintaining activity) improves a wide range of willpower skills, including attention, focus, stress management, impulse control and self-awareness. It changes both the function and structure of the brain to support self-control.

For example, regular exercisers have more gray matter in the prefrontal cortex. And it doesn’t take a lifetime to achieve this – brain changes have been observed after just eight weeks of regular physical exercise.

Regular exercise – both strength training and intense interval training – also makes the body and brain more resilient to stress, which is a great boost to willpower.

The best way to make healthy changes is to think big and think small. People fail when they rattle off a whole list of changes they want to make without getting clear about what matters most to them.

You are better off picking something that is important to you, such as improving your physical health research shows that when you scale up to the big want, the biggest why, you automatically have more willpower. You will look for opportunities to make progress on your goal and be more likely to see how small choices can help you realize your goal.

The “think small” part is giving yourself permission to take micro steps toward your goal. Sometimes we get frustrated when we don’t know exactly how we will reach our goals. We can’t imagine how what we are doing now will ever get us where we want.

Or we try to take huge steps all at once and end up exhausted and overwhelmed. Choose small steps you can take that are consistent with that goal. When those steps are easy, or have become a habit, look for next steps and keep going.

4. Be Your Own Very Best Friend

If you learn to treat yourself with understanding and kindness when you experience a setback, it will be easier to get back on track after a moment of weakness. People who fall off the wagon with their healthy eating plan or exercise program and then beat themselves up about it actually eat more, because they feel so bad about themselves.


Work Your Will

We all know how to encourage and build the confidence of other people. If a friend told you she was upset that she had skipped her workouts for a week, you would give her a hug, tell her a week is not the end of the world and encourage her to go to the gym the next day.

Chances are you are not nearly as supportive of yourself when it comes to set backs and slip-ups. A lot of people just do not understand or realize how critical their ‘inner’ self-talk is.

Learn to be your own friend and cheerleader: Write down the things you say to yourself when you fall short of your goals, then rewrite the script as if you were talking to a friend. And while you are at it, you had better figure out what you are going to say when your friends ask you the secret of YOUR rock-solid willpower.

You can train yourself for success or you can train yourself for failure, so, be your own coach and get yourself going.

For more tools and resources from Carolyn Hansen to assist you in attaining your goals and achieving the success you desire in life, please visit: