Our brain uses two different and often conflicting systems to process information and drive our choices and actions. You can almost say we have one brain and two minds.
The logical mind: One mind operates based on logic. “I’ll stick to my diet because it is healthy and will help me lose weight ”. The logic-based mind requires willpower which is exhausted by dieting among other things. Resisting temptation over and over again takes mental energy which drains willpower.
The impulsive, emotional mind: Meanwhile, the emotion-based system is experiential and often automatic. It motivates us based on our feelings and often outside our awareness. Even when logic is screaming at you to avoid the cookies, you’re enjoying the cookies before you know what happened.
This goes beyond diet and very much applies to exercise and other health behaviors. When we are in the moment our choices are often driven by emotion especially when willpower is low. It is much harder to think about long-term goals and our future self when energy depleted.
Understanding the science of willpower will help us plan around the times we know willpower is low while working on strengthening willpower. For example, if you are exhausted after work and find it difficult to prepare a healthy meal, prepare as much as you can ahead of time. There will be those days when you really just want to pick something up on the way home. Make a list of healthy options when you have the time and energy. The goal is to make things as easy as possible when you are willpower fatigued.
Understanding the science of motivation will help us tie positive emotions to our health habits by doing things we enjoy and focusing on how our health habits add to our daily quality of life. For example, focusing on how your daily walk improves your mood and energy level vs thinking of your walk of something you have to do to lose weight. When your health habits feel like a chore the likelihood of continuing is slim. When you can find the gift in what you are doing you are more likely to continue.
Stay tuned for Part 2!