Long-term versus Short-term Willpower

Happy New Year!

It’s five days into the new year – have you stuck with your resolution? I have, because I resolved not to re-start my weight-loss regimen until February 1st 🙂

Actually, I’m starting to get a little tired of all the chocolate I’ve been eating since I made my target weight (165) on December 30 (couldn’t resist those 50% off post-Christmas chocolate sales – that’s right – 50% off chocolate! What a country!!)

So I’ll probably start watching my calorie consumption any day now… honest… no really… well, maybe not any “day” now… maybe any “week” now… certainly before February 1st… well, probably before February 1st… honest… no really… well…

With that kind of thinking (and acting), it’s hard to believe I dropped 30 pounds 4 years ago, and have kept it off ever since. Technically, I only keep 20-25 of it off most of the year, and then I lose the other 5-10 for four quarterly weigh-ins each year. Thus, I balance “Keeping it Off” (20-25 pounds for eight months of the year) with “Losing Weight” four months of the year (5-10 more pounds every 3rd month).

Granted, this is a weird weight-loss regimen, but it works for me – and it works for Scott – although we make our weights in very different ways — Scott relies heavily on exercise, while I rely heavily on calorie restriction.

I believe it works for us because it combines the application of long-term willpower (staying within 5-10 pounds of my target weight eight months of the year) with short-term willpower (losing 5-10 pounds four months of the year).

You see, it is very hard for me to maintain my long-term willpower over the course of a year – I just get so much pleasure eating anything I want, anytime I want, that I don’t want to force myself to stick to a weight-loss regimen all year without any breaks. Fortunately, I get tired of overeating fairly quickly (it’s all relative – what’s “fairly quickly” to me, may be “ages” to you) and I actually enjoy applying my self-discipline after I’ve had a two-week foodfest.

But I digress (always)… I want to write about what was going through my mind from October to December last year. I started October at about 170. With three months to hit my target weight of 165, I wasn’t too careful about what I ate, so my weight crept up to about 175 by the first week in November (I had to get past Halloween, a chocoholic’s dream, but an L-Wacko’s nightmare, before getting serious about hitting my target weight. There are very few Trick or Treaters in my neck of the woods, but I have to have a few bags of chocolate candy on hand… just in case, right? Of course, right! And I’m not going to throw out any left over candy, i.e., all of it, because I want to be able to offer it to visitors the rest of the year, right? Of course, right!).

Mentally, November was my toughest month because with two months to go, I could rationalize that I had plenty of time to make my weight, but in reality, if I didn’t want to have too many 500-calorie days down the home stretch, I had to start saying “No” to my numerous urges to eat that which I shouldn’t (I ended up having four 500-calorie days and one 150-calorie day leading up to my weigh-in).  During the first half of November, I lost many of those mental arguments and gave in to the urges, but during the second half of November, when I could “see” my target date on the horizon, my willpower kicked in more often than not, even though I had not agreed to any penalty if I didn’t make my weight.

Thus, to push myself toward achieving my weight-loss objective I:

1. Focused on the embarrassment I would feel if I had to tell Scott I didn’t make my weight (knowing that he would definitely make his – Scott has Herculean willpower, is a man of his word, and actually enjoys self-sacrifice — although said enjoyment appears to be diminishing with age -– I’ve known him for almost 30 years and he has NEVER failed to keep a commitment);

2. Focused on the embarrassment I would feel if I had to write a blog post for my gazillion readers admitting that I failed to make my target weight;

(okay, those are two “negative” pressures to exercise my willpower; now for the “positive” pressures)

3. Reminding myself of all the great reasons why I want to maintain my target weight; and

4. Focusing on how much pleasure I would have eating that first meal after making my target weight (after fasting or semi-fasting for a week, a Big Mac tastes better than a Filet Mignon any other time of the year). Truly, one of the greatest pleasures in life is eating that first meal after a week of 500-calorie days.

And this brings me to the topic of Rationalizations. Commenting on my last blog post, where I described my encounter with a very persuasive Boston Cream donut, Elyse asked me how the donut got into the kitchen in the first place (this was December 6, just three weeks before my target weigh-in date). Here’s how:

I was visiting a friend and his family and I brought them a dozen donuts from the best donut shop I know, Allie’s, on Rt. 2 in North Kingstown, R.I. Just before I bought them I thought to myself, “Should I do this? I know I’m going to want one. Well, too bad for me. I know my friend, and especially his sons, will like these donuts, so I’m going to buy them. And if I end up eating one, I’ll just have to make up for it by eating a smaller dinner or going for a run.”

Pretty good rationalization, don’t you think? As it turned out, I was able to resist the urge to eat that Boston Cream donut, but even if I hadn’t, I would have made up for it because I HAD to make my Dec. 31 target weight.

Here’s my point – If a guy who is as susceptible to rationalizations as I am and has very little long-term willpower when it comes to denying myself good-tasting food, can be a successful L-Wacko, anyone can. Just analyze your strengths and weaknesses when it comes to applying your willpower to lose weight and keep it off, and try to tailor an L-Wacko regimen that plays to your strengths. For me, it’s establishing short-term goals which allow me to have major lapses in the application of my long-term, weight-maintenance willpower.

You see, I have been able to stay at, or close to, my target weight for four years now because I have established a series of short-term (quarterly) goals with psychic (and sometimes tangible) penalties for not achieving them. After I achieve each short-term goal I get to throw my willpower to the wind and eat anything I want, as much as I want, anytime I want – at least for a week or two – and that’s all I need to be able to apply my willpower for the next two and a half months until I hit my next quarterly goal, which, by the way, is 163.

Good luck this year! I hope you achieve your goals – weight-loss, weight maintenance, and otherwise.

Willna Out

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