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Willpower Depletion



I went to Costco Sunday for the first time in over a year.


I was prepared:


  • I had a list (and it was short)
  • I ate lunch at home just before I went (so not hungry)
  • I was alone (no kids in tow)
  • I had on comfortable shoes (ready for the long aisles)
  • I gave myself a time limit (one hour)


Even still, I was overwhelmed by the visit.


I was amazed at how strong the pull was to check out the TVs and the teeth whitening strips and the fleece jackets (none of which was on my list).


Even though I was physically prepped for the trip, I was unprepared for the massive drain on my brain and willpower. I completely underestimated the skill of advertisers and Costco itself, to attract me with their displays, colorful packaging and catchy headline promises.


I needed to use my willpower tricks to purchase only what I needed and get out of there without spending a fortune on things I didn’t actually need.

  • A list was key
  • Being physically comfortable (including not hungry) supported me
  • Focus helped—I repeated in my head, “just get the list, just get the list”


Nothing bad would’ve happened to me if I’d come home with 50 razors, but I knew I didn’t need them and so didn’t want to buy them.


Sound familiar? This is the same process that can happen with food. These days, almost all environments can be tempting food environments.


Nothing bad will happen to you if you have a second helping of whatever, you just don’t need it (and if it happens over and over, the “nothing bad” will turn into unwanted weight).


Now, here’s the really interesting part:


When I got home I was surprised to find I was hungry.


Now, I wasn’t actually hungry (it was barely an hour after my lunch), but I wanted food.




I managed to get out of the store relatively unscathed, but when I got home I needed comfort for having gone through such an overwhelming experience.


For me, so often, comfort=food. I resisted temptation so many times in the store, it was particularly hard to resist some more in my home environment where my defenses are down.


That’s the sneaky part of willpower—you can use it up!  And quickly. Then you’re left particularly vulnerable. If you’re not paying attention, all your hard work can be undone in a moment.


The time after the challenging event is just as risky as the event itself, often more.


We can see this pattern with willpower, emotions and the immune system:

  • You make it through the restaurant meal just to get home and immediately eat the leftovers.
  • The grief after the shock or the let down after the big win.
  • The second cold on the heels of the first.


It’s a thing—willpower depletion—using up your reserves leaves you vulnerable to the next attack. The best thing we can do is:

  • Be aware of it
  • Plan for it as much as possible
  • Be kind to ourselves as we make our way through


Awareness, planning and kindness. Maturity defined.

Something to strive for.


 Are you part of the free Facebook Group yet?  If not, join here!


Click on the video below to watch the Ounce of Prevention Chat explaining the ways to increase your willpower reserves.





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