How to increase your willpower and avoid holiday bingeing

November 30, 2010
Volume 07    |   Issue 48

Suddenly it’s the holiday season again. And with it come tempting foods you want to eat and know you shouldn’t. Eating a small amount may work for some people. But others lack the willpower to stop after a small sampling. Chances are they lack willpower in other areas of their lives, as well.

If this sounds like you, a new study may have an easy answer that can save you from over-indulging and the subsequent feelings of failure.

In this study, researchers had participants face several dilemmas that involved being willing to accept immediate discomfort to get long-term gain. This would be like choosing a healthful dessert that tastes so-so, rather than one high in sugar and fats. Or eating a small portion instead of your usual gorging.

The solution could be as simple as clenching your fist before making your choice.

This study found that when someone tightened their muscles — and they could be any muscles — they had greater willpower. More willpower to stand the pain of a medical procedure. More able to take bitter medicine. More able to overcome tempting foods.

If this sounds too simple to be true, there are two caveats.

This technique works only when your choice aligns with your goals. If you don’t really care about eating a better diet, clenching your muscles won’t help you choose the healthier dessert or a smaller portion. But if you do want to make better choices, this method could help.

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The second caveat is a matter of timing. You need to use this technique right when you face a self-control dilemma. If you jump the gun and tighten your muscles beforehand, it won’t work. Researchers don’t yet know why.

This technique is just one example of the mind/body connection. It’s certainly worth trying whenever you’re faced with difficult choices. You may find your willpower is greater than ever.

Your voice of reason in Women's Health,


Journal of Consumer Research, October 2010.

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