Willpower and Mindfulness: It's Your Choice


We often overlook the power of the mind - of our thoughts - in the mundane moment.

Image use via Creative Commons. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhist_meditation

Image use via Creative Commons. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhist_meditation

The idea of "willpower" seems to be some long-term ideal, an under-current of strength that carries us through our days and towards our goals. But all it takes is one thought to challenge and derail that willpower. We have, on average, 35-48 thoughts per minute. That is a lot of opportunities for our willpower to be challenged.

There are few more common areas (in our fortunate, developed country) for willpower to be explored than the area of wellness - fitness, dieting, and/or body acceptance. How does mindfulness play a role in this?

I wasn't going to workout this morning. I woke up, 100% certain of that. 

As part of the program I'm doing, I had a particular workout scheduled...but I was exhausted, and had already done 2 workouts the day before. I'd done enough.

I had plenty of excuses. Plenty of solid reasons.

I prepared breakfast for my son, cleaned up dishes and the kitchen from the night before, went to the room to brush my teeth, and slipped on my workout clothes to walk my dear down to the bus stop. I didn't want to walk down in p.j.'s...workout clothes were comfortable and easily accessible.

When I returned, I grabbed a glass of water, made breakfast for my daughter who was now awake, and popped the workout DVD into the player. 

And for 30 minutes, I worked out.

I have no idea what changed in between "I'm not going to" and "I did".

I know what wasn't there, though: a mind full of thoughts about what else I could or should be doing. 

I went through my morning, moment by moment. As it turns out, a.m. workouts have become enough of a habit that it was just the logical next step to take. I didn't need to focus on not wanting to get sweaty, being tired, having emails to which I needed to respond, thank you notes to write, a daughter to get on the bus ... I just needed to choose to put on the appropriate clothes, move the DVD from the kitchen to the player, hit play, and not quit.

Lest you think this was easy, I did find myself almost hitting the stop button several times during the workout. But when the desire arose, I returned my thoughts to the exercise at hand, the position of my feet on the floor, the strength in my biceps as I curled and opened. And before I knew it, that exercise was done.


While I will admit that a HUGE amount of willpower has gotten me to this point, it is the mindfulness in the moment that keeps me going. It is the awareness of the thought I have, the thought that says, "you need to get dressed - you can put on jeans or yoga pants", and the ability I've cultivated to simply choose the yoga pants without stressing that it means I'm committing to a 30-minute sweat-fest. 

Some might consider this a willpower-in-the-moment, and that's fine. But I also think that trying to live with a constant determination and strength is exhausting. To always be striving for some goal? I'm tired just thinking about it.

Instead, I choose to explore - again, moment by moment - how I want to be experiencing this life.

I examine the consequences of my choices, and continuously re-adjust my thoughts and actions based off of how I understand those consequences. One day at a time, one breath at a time. 

With working out and choosing healthier foods? I've been exploring this for long enough now that I know that I feel crappy when I don't consciously move my body in the morning (be it strength work, cardiovascular, stretching, running, walking, etc). I know that I feel better when I DO consciously move my body in the morning.

Having that truth embedded somewhere deep in my consciousness makes it more likely that I'll choose the workout over going back to bed. Being mindful of my thoughts makes it more likely that I'll be able to recognize and overcome the thoughts that lead me to momentary comfort (ooh, grab a donut and go back to sleep...it'll feel SO good!), and choose those that actually provide me with the type of life I want to be living.  

Thought by thought, action by action, we choose and create the life we are living.

Right now -- I challenge you to pause, then do one teeny, tiny thing that mimics the life you want to live. A short walk, putting away the bag of chips, even a deep breath.

Here's to our mindful moments.