By Jill Brook, MA, Nutrition consultant and patient at Dysautonomia Clinic
Happy holidays! Are your eating habits sliding more than you’d like, with all the festive temptations? Dysautonomia patients can be at a disadvantage when it comes to willpower, because many of us struggle with adequate quality sleep and exercise—two things proven to strengthen willpower. But fear not: There are at least 3 other ways to improve willpower, according to Stanford health psychologist Dr. Kelly McGonigal:
1. Meditate for 10-15 minutes per day.
Studies have shown that just 8 weeks of meditation improves willpower and increases grey matter in the part of the brain responsible for self control. OK, so 8 weeks won’t be soon enough to get you through the holidays, but it’ll have you fortified for any New Year’s resolutions you want to tackle. The Headspace app (and many other online tools) can show you how to meditate for free.
2. Replace self-criticism with self-compassion.
Studies have shown that when subjects practice forgiving self-talk after blowing their diets with donuts, they actually became more able to resist candy than those allowed to stew in self-criticism. Isn’t that amazing? The studies found that being mad at oneself for eating donuts caused people to eat MORE candy! That could lead to a shame spiral of bad eating. So replace any nagging self-critical thoughts with positive encouragement. Speak kindly to yourself, as you would speak to a good friend. Dr. McGonigal and her colleagues believe that this strategy works because self-criticism is a form of stress, and stress reduces willpower.
3. Practice very small acts of self control.
Start small and watch how succeeding at minor goals will lead you to success at ever bigger ones. For example, when researchers asked students to practice good posture for two weeks, the students then showed improved willpower to resist junk food.
The great thing about these strategies is that they apply to all sorts of different goals, like becoming a better student, saving money, or any other tasks that require self control.
More details and practical tips are in McGonigal’s book: The Willpower Instinct: How self-control works. Why it matters. What you can do to get more of it. If videos work better than books for you, Dr. McGonigal also shares many of her findings in this online presentation.
Here at the Dysautonomia Clinic, we wish you a marvelous holiday season!