Friday, March 9, 2012

Can you learn "willpower?"

According to APA, "At its essence, willpower is the ability to resist short-term temptations in order to meet long-term goals." If we can accept short-term discomfort and practice this skill, we can develop better habits. In my practice with bariatric patients, we use this skill a lot. Patients with a long history of weight loss attempts are often discouraged and attribute their failure to "lack of willpower". They think they will never be successful because "I just don't have this trait called willpower". We teach them they can develop "willpower" with practice. We call it a "delay" technique, noting that cravings for food will seldom last more than 10 minutes. If patients can just distract themselves for 10 minutes, the craving will often pass. They can either endure the discomfort, or usually more helpfully, distract themselves with another activity or stress reliever. Patients are also encouraged to use cognitive strategies to enhance willpower such as referring to their long term goals: better health, moving better on a written card before eating each meal. This helps them to weigh short term versus longterm goals.

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