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What Force Is Stronger Than Willpower?

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There seems to be one thing I’ve found consistently that separates those who are
successful in sticking to their resolutions and those who give up.
See if you can figure out for yourself why “Jim” is successful at reaching his
fitness goals and “Bob” eventually gives up.
Bob is serious about making a change. He writes down his goals and has set up
a diet plan based on tips he remembers hearing years ago. The first step is he
will bring in a salad every day to lunch. His co-workers, who don’t share his
same enthusiasm for good health, joke around with Bob about how Bob has
turned into a “health nut.” Bob also is serious about working out and has gotten
himself a nice home gym setup. He has an old book he picked up on doing
home bodyweight workouts and he is determined to follow through. Which he
does… for a while.
Jim is equally serious. He invests some money in getting an online fitness
coach. The coach provides a good body weight workout routine Jim can do at
home (very similar to Bob’s). They talk about his goals, and he writes an action
plan for success that they go over. Jim also brings in a salad to work, but he eats
it by himself so he can focus on listening to an audio book on nutrition. Each
week Jim checks in with his coach on his progress.
Both Bob and Jim have set similar goals, follow a similar workout routine, made
similar changes to their diets, and both have access to quality information on
how to get fit.
But Bob fails while Jim succeeds. Why is this?
I’ll give you a hint, it’s the same reason why someone in the military will push
themselves beyond their usual limits. It’s the same reason a stay at home mom
will make incredible sacrifices for her children. It’s the same reason why a
person will work tirelessly at a job they don’t enjoy when they have bills to pay.
The difference is the environment.
Yogananda expresses this with the simple statement that “environment is
stronger than willpower.”
We are influenced to a strong degree by our environment. This is because we
have something built into our biology called called “mirror neurons.” Mirror
neurons literally recreate, in our minds, what we experience externally with our
senses. These mirror neurons may be why seeing someone yawn can make you
yawn. Or hearing others laugh can make you want to laugh.
What this means for sticking with a fitness habit, or any other habit for that
matter, is that your environment and things like accountability may have more to
do with success than your willpower.
You see, Bob was facing two issues. The first is that he wasn’t accountable to
anyone like a coach or partner who he could check in with to keep him on track.
He worked out at home which is fine, but he didn’t have anyone to push him or
make sure he followed through with his workouts. He also didn’t invest much
time or money into his success so he didn’t feel bad when he gave up.
His environment at work was also an issue. He was eating lunch with people
who constantly teased him about getting healthy rather than supporting his
decision. He really was going in it alone.
Jim on the other hand hired a coach. This meant he had to invest time and
money in his success so he was sure to make it worth his sacrifice. This also
meant he had someone who he checked in with that was making sure he was
following through with his home workout routines and providing inspiration.
Jim put himself into a positive environment at work too. Jim knew his coworkers,
like Bob’s, wouldn’t understand why he’s decided to eat healthier. So
he simply decides to take that time to separate himself from potential negative
influences and instead put himself in a positive environment of learning more
about health by listening to an audio book.
Let’s look at a few examples of a poor environment for fitness success:
Having a kitchen stocked full of foods that you wish to avoid.
Eating out at places that will put tempting foods in front of you.
Exercising with people who don’t push themselves at all.
Sharing your goals and accomplishments with people who will criticize you
or not support you.
Hanging out with others who don’t share similar goals and ambitions.
None of these things are inherently bad.
It would be impossible to always avoid tempting foods. It would also be
particularly difficult to always avoid people who won’t support you, especially
when they are family, co-workers, and close friends.
But the idea here is that you’ll want to be aware of these things having an
influence, and either minimize your exposure to them, and/or compensate with
more positive influences in your environment.
There are many ways to set up your environment for success, here are a few:
Hanging out with peers whom you aspire to be like. Visit Meetup.com to
find local meetup groups related to health, fitness, and physical activities
you enjoy. This helps creates both accountability and makes the process of
staying fit more enjoyable when you share the experience with others.
Having a mentor or a coach who both teaches you and keeps you
accountable.
Having the right kinds of foods in your kitchen.
Visual cues like inspirational pictures and quotes.
Reading books and stories about people you admire.
Reading, listening to, or watching educational material.
Engaging in visualization to see and feel your goals as a reality.
The take home point here is that if you have limited willpower, that willpower is
best invested in setting up a positive environment rather than wasted on having
to fight against a poor environment.
It’s very important to have positive influences for belief building too. Many
barriers are mental, and oftentimes it takes seeing someone else break through a
barrier before we believe we can do it ourselves. This is why a mentor is so
helpful, but even hearing inspiring true stories can help.
It’s also important to note that just because one has environmental influences that
are “negative” doesn’t mean they’re doomed to fail. Going back to empowering
questions, one can ask themselves “How can I make my environment a little
better?” “Why will I succeed no matter what obstacles I face?”
The most powerful solution I’ve ever found whenever I catch myself letting other
people’s opinions or criticism bring me down is asking this simple question: “Do
I want to let other people’s opinions have power over me, or do I want to keep
my power to reach my goals and live on my own terms?”

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