What to try this season when you run outta willpower

written by Erica Quam

You're in the middle of your season. You've been on the road and when you've been home you've spent your weekends hosting recruits and their parents. You're tired, overwhelmed, and definitely ready for a break.

And...you're quite proud of yourself this season...at least so far. You've been doing well with your personal goals of working out 3-4 times a week, eating (relatively) healthy, and shutting down your laptop before 11pm. 

Yet, you still feel 'edgy'. Like you're on the brink of exploding - either on your assistant (if they ask you the same damn question, one more time) or one of your athletes (who knows what buttons to push and when to push them to put you right over your edge).

You're holding it together...and yet..there's this undercurrent of frustration simmering right under the surface that could show it's ugly face any moment.

Do you ever wonder why that is? 

You're doing all the stuff you think you're supposed to be doing to take care of yourself...and yet, you still feel things could easily get out of control.

That's because this kind of self care takes willpower. And willpower takes energy. 

I believe the best way to improve self-control is to see how and why you lose control. Knowing how you are likely to give in doesn’t, as many people fear, set yourself up for failure. It allows you to support yourself and avoid traps that lead to willpower failures.
— Kelly McGonigal

During the midst of a long season, at some point something may have to give. How do you keep it all together?

I've been reading the book, The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It by Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D. who teaches a course at Stanford called, "The Science of Willpower"

Here are three things I've learned so far that can be applied to what you do as a coach:

1. "I will", "I won't", or "I want"

Apply the strategies you'll learn here to ONE of these three challenges:

  • The "I will" challenge - choose something you'd like to do more of or stop putting off, because you know doing it will make your life better. 
  • The "I won't" challenge, think about the the one thing you do that is undermining your health, happiness, or success.
  • The "I want challenge, prioritize the most important long-term goal you'd like to spend your energy on. Then, figure out an immediate "want" that's likely to derail you from reaching this goal.

Experiment: Once you've chosen ONE, track your willpower choices. Even for one day. Try to notice what decisions you're making based on which challenge you've chosen. 

2. Willpower is a biological instinct, like stress, that evolved to help us protect ourselves from ourselves. 

Stress can lead to a fight or flight response - when your brain senses an external threat. A stress response speeds you up. Willpower is a pause-and-plan response - and your brain may sense an internal threat. A willpower response slows you down. (Isn't it interesting that these two responses are a paradox of one another?)

Willpower tries to protect you from yourself. It keeps you from making a bad decision or saying something you'll immediately regret. When you're in a H.A.L.T. situation (you're hungry, angry, lonely, or tired) you've got to be all the more careful. It's HARD! Because you have to tap into even more willpower NOT to blow up at a time when you're lowest on energy.

Experiment: Teach people around you what H.A.L.T. means and what you need - specifically - when you're in this place. Maybe you're like the candy bar commercial...you're Betty White and just need a Snickers Bar. Maybe you need to step outside and get a breath of fresh air. Maybe you need five minutes alone in your office with the lights off to lie down, breathe, and put your legs up the wall. 

Teach others what you need when you're in this space so you can pause long enough to keep the peace.

3. Willpower is like a muscle

Self-control gets tired from use, and regular exercise can make it stronger.

Just like training your athletes, if you increase volume and intensity too fast, it will lead to overtraining. 

So, if you set your goals too high when you change an old habit, you're more likely to get overwhelmed and give up sooner. Look for small ways to transform these patterns that strengthen willpower - and don't overwhelm you completely. 

Another interesting note is how self control tends to dwindle throughout the day. 

Experiment: keep track of your willpower this week and pay close attention to when you're the strongest and when you're the weakest.

Which of these three experiments will you commit to playing with this week (remember...it's about progress and awareness, not perfection). Write your number in the comments below for more accountability!