Why Athletes DO NOT Possess more Will Power than YOU!

- May 29, 2012 4 MIN READ


Who has more willpower, an elite athlete or your local mailman? Who do you think would last longest if I put a big slice of mud cake in their fridge at home?

Most people would assume that athletes possess more self-control than most people. In my experience this assumption is WRONG! Assuming both people knew no one would find out about their consumption of this cake, I do not believe there would be any difference between athletes and non-athletes. In fact I think most athletes would scoff that cake down far sooner than non-athletes. From what I have seen I do not believe there to be ANY difference in willpower between athletes and non-athletes, especially when it comes to nutrition. And in my experience body composition is more about nutrition than training.

Personally, I am no different to most people when it comes to willpower and nutrition either. I can guarantee you that my sweet tooth is just as ‘sweet’ as the guy sitting next to me at the bus stop who weighs 130kg. I can eat a bag full of sweets in no time. I love them, however I am at time of writing 8% bodyfat. How is it possible that I have the same or less willpower when it comes to sweets as someone who is overweight but my physical form is so different? The answer is that I do not rely on willpower to maintain my physical form. I rely on HABIT!

Creating new and positive habits, which assist you in achieving your goals is THE MOST effective way to change your body composition. In order to do this you must recruit your most powerful ally in your quest to achieve the physique of your dreams. Who is this ally? The answer is your subconscious mind! As I alluded to in my previous post, science has proven that the vast majority of our day to day behaviours are actually unconscious. If you have managed to move health and fitness up on your hierarchy of values through completing the exercise I detailed at the end of my last post,   your day to day behaviours and decisions should evolve over time to reflect a those of a healthier and lighter person. These new behaviours will eventually bring about the manifestation of that healthier and lighter person.

But what If we could speed up this process a little and almost bulletproof our success by modelling the behaviours of the elite and betting on our adherence to these new behaviours? I have been experimenting myself with a way to speed up the formation of new habits which I want to adopt. Science has shown that the brain begins to rewire itself to make a conscious behaviour (for me this has been drinking at least 10 glasses of water a day) unconscious only after 30 days. Importantly this behaviour should occur at the same time and on each of those 30 days without fail. If you miss a day the whole process starts again.

Armed with this knowledge and the determination to improve my day to day hydration I set out to use my brain against itself. I used an iphone app called ‘habit maker habit breaker’ which allows me to track my progress and essentially input each time I have consumed another glass of water. The app tracks your progress and provides you with a simple calendar marked with a tick which signifies your success each day. Next I set up an online account which I decided i would pay myself $3 for every day I achieved my goal of ten glasses. Finally I set up an automatic transfer of $3 per day so that i would not have to think about it.

I worked out that If I am able to achieve my goal of drinking at least 10 cups per day for at least 30 days then I will have saved $90. I then chose how I would spend $90 if someone gave it to me, I thought it would be cool to spend money on something like a new set of noise cancelling earphones (which will be perfect for the trip I am taking to the US in December) If I fail to achieve my 10 glasses in a day, then the money I have accumulated (which is up to almost $190) goes to charity. This has worked unbelievably well and I have an inkling it may even work better for when you are trying to break a bad habit. If I bet on my ability to create a new and desireable habit, with failure costing me tangible losses the feelings I associate with this new habit change completely.

If I just consciously choose to create a new habit, then it takes a great amount of willpower and discipline to succeed without anything hinging on my success or failure. Paying myself to create a new habit changes my associations with this new behaviour from pain, to pleasure (due to saved money and a new set of earphones)  and also amplifies my disdain for failure (lost money, no earphones  and uncomfortable trip to the US). The aim here is to change behaviour QUICKLY! and so far my results have been impressive.

Give this method a try if you are trying to make or break a habit and again please send me your results and feedback. If you have want to have a better chance at succeeding at making or breaking a new habit read my last post and complete the exercise detailed at the end of the article.

Some ideas for creating healthy new habits

1. Drink 10 glasses of water a day.

2. Stop drinking flavoured drinks except tea.

3. Walk 30min every day.