Sugar and the Myth of Sheer & Magical Willpower

Dogs have Willpower

If they can do it, you can do it!

People often tell me, “Wow. You have amazing willpower,” or, “I wish I could be as strong as you around sweets.”

You can. It’s not beyond you. In fact, the power is in you right now. You just don’t know it. Or you refuse to accept the responsibility.

It’s much easier to say, “The ice cream made me eat it.”

When people ask how I manage to stay off sugar they don’t want to hear that I just do it. They want to learn the secret, hear about a magic pill, or find out that there’s some kind of special physical technique that involves pressure points.

What is so unusual about a person setting out to do something and then doing it? It happens all the time.

If you decide you’re going to move from the east side to the west and you do it, people don’t say, “Wow, you have amazing willpower.” They certainly could. Moving is a huge endeavor. You have to find a place, pack up the old one, say goodbye to friends and family and embrace a whole new lifestyle in the new location. That takes will and power.

What stops you from simply not showing up to work everyday? It’s not willpower. It is outside factors that influence your behavior.

Willpower

If a dog can not attack a cat or can balance a hot dog on its nose without giving in, then there must be a reason, right? We don’t think that the dogs were imbued with a magical, god-given sense of willpower. In fact we know that there must be an external force influencing the dog. The dogs in these photos must care more about how their owners would react to their behavior than they care to eat or attack. When nobody is looking we could expect the dog to eat up the hot dog in an instant. He’d probably eat the whole package if it were available. People are quite the same.

When you’re alone and there’s a box of your favorite sweets staring at you, there are no external forces to stop you from eating. On the flip side, if you’ve given up eating sugar it can often be external forces that inspire (or pressure) you into eating the junk. Either way it’s up to you.

It all comes down to a matter of choice. The next time you find yourself choosing between sweets or no sweets, take a good hard look at the external factors that surround your decision. If you don’t deal with the external forces in your life you will always have a hard time changing your sweet and sugary habits. No wonder we end up doing the same thing over and over and over.

For more information on this subject, read Where’s Your Willpower? by Casey Schwartz. It’s an article about the myth of willpower and dieting.


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Comments

Digby June 23, 2011

Will power is not enough if your limbic brain is screaming for sugar; that is, until you learn that continuing to feed the beast just makes it stronger. Once you give up all the things that keep your frustration level low, then will power is, forgive the phrase, a piece of cake.

Vanessa812 July 30, 2012

Great article!!!

The example of being alone where there’s a box of sweets is right on. I find that when I’m alone or with too much time on my hands, I tend to go straight for sweets. It’s almost like I’m in my “catastrophic automatic mode” because after I think about it it’s so hard to not give in. But if I’m with other people having great conversations, I rarely think about food. Keeping myself busy helps a lot. I wish I could just keep myself busy all the time, but it’s not realistic. Everyone needs to relax from work and enjoy free time with family and friends.

Vanadia July 31, 2012

The best bet is to not have the stuff at home. I also agree with Digby’s comment about how there are habitual and physical factors driving us to want sweets. Still, it’s our own hand that feeds us the junk food, or doesn’t!

Rayca August 28, 2012

Very good point Digby makes. When you feel “addicted” to something, it’s not like the analogies mentioned in the article. It can be quite brutal to not give in to an addiction. It can cause major depression. It does in me. But also as Digby points out, what are you gonna do? You have to not do it. There is no other choice but to give in. That to me, is willpower.
I just had to comment on the picture (cat and dogs). It’s priceless. It’s going on my frig., caption and all.

peaceigiveyou@gmail.com January 23, 2013

My higher power (Jesus Christ) gives me my will power. Otherwise, I just don’t have it!  I drank alcoholically for 40 years! I tried and tried again to stop and could not. Read every book, did Yoga, exercise, diet changes, counselors etc…. However, 4 years ago after a terrible drinking episode, I somehow found myself in an AA meeting, came to know God, prayed and prayed and prayed and with support of other drunks going through the same thing as me, I have stayed sober! Man, I wish I could find that kind of support for my sugar and eating addiction -  Maybe that’s what we need David; a Surgarholics Anonymous program!

Vanadia January 23, 2013

Congrats on your sobriety! Here’s to willpower, higher power, and whatever it takes to keep us on the right path!

Nan January 23, 2013

BTW: those dogs do get an eventual reward for their immediate will power. If they didn’t it would be so long poor pussycat and hello hot dog.

Nan January 23, 2013

Lance Dodes of the Harvard Medical system, their addiction expert, has written a couple books on addiction that simply stated say that we may often have will power, in fact even the worst of addicts have some will power, some of the time, but if the inner levels of stress, frustration, rage get high enough, they will over-ride that will power. Fascinating stuff.


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About David

After a weekend-long sugar binge in 2003, I realized my problem was very real. It took some time but I finally figured out a way to stay off sweet junk food for good! Read more.

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Don’t quit sugar. Stop Being Sweet instead! Questions? Please ask.