Willpower Day 11 – Using Cognitive Psychology.

When you have a willpower failure, rather than trying to “just forget about it and move on” you should try to understand how your thoughts contributed to it.

When you have a willpower failure incident, identify

Situation Trigger > Thoughts > Behavior.

For example,

My boss was unfair to me at work today > I’m too tired to exercise > Skipping exercise.

I’m going to outline a couple of different approaches for responding to the thoughts in upcoming blog posts but let’s start with just helping identify the specific thoughts – a critical first step.

(We also already talked about one essential way to combat thought distortions – regularly priming your thinking about your big overall goal and the benefits you expect to experience as a result, so that these thoughts are as salient for you in decision moments as your impulsivity driven thoughts).

Examples of thought patterns that might precipitate a willpower failure.

– I’m going to exercise later or I exercised earlier, so it’s ok to overeat now.

– The other people I’m with are eating lots, so I should get to eat lots too.

– I’m taking my own bags so it’s ok if I drive to the supermarket (if your goal is to help the environment).

– I’ll eat more now and then I’ll eat less later.

– I’ll skip my exercise tonight but I’ll do it tomorrow.

– It’s impossible not to overeat at parties.

– I didn’t have any chips that people were sharing yesterday, so it’s ok if I overeat today.

– It’s other peoples fault I’m going to eat or not exercise (because I had a fight with my husband, people pushed food on me, or my boss is making me overwork).

– I may as well give up because I’m never going to be successful at my Willpower Goal.

– Meditation is hard work.

– I’m too tired to exercise.

– I didn’t procrastinate yesterday, so it’s ok if I procrastinate today.

– I did meditation or yoga the last 3 days so it’s ok if I skip today (if skipping a day leads to actually giving up)

– I’ll just eat a few chips out of the bowl and then I’ll stop.

– If my plan is to do some meditation after dinner, I’ll just watch TV for a little while and then I’ll do it.

– I’ll enjoy watching TV tonight much more than I’ll enjoy doing meditation.

– I’ll enjoy eating this muffin now more than I’ll enjoy being a healthy weight later.

– I’ll enjoy procrastinating now more than I’ll enjoy the results of sticking to my Willpower Goal.

– This burger and fries has a salad with it, it’s healthy! (There is research showing that adding a 100 Calorie salad to a plate results in people giving a lower calorie estimate for the whole plate compared to without the salad.)

– I’ll pick at food while I’m cooking and then I won’t eat any later.

– I can’t stand this craving (and not recognizing that any craving with pass and also return at some later point regardless of whether you give in to it or not).

Of course it is ok to give yourself a break on a busy day or take a moderate approach to things. I’m talking about times when thoughts cause willpower failures that you later regret.


There are some patterns in thoughts that lead to willpower failures that can help you learn how to identify your specific thoughts

– Dealing Making
– Negative Predicting
– Underestimating your ability to cope with doing something hard.
– Blaming others
– Justifying
– I’ll give in to temptation now but I won’t later i.e., I’ll allow myself to have a willpower failure but cognitively reframe it as not being a willpower failure.
– Overly positive predictions.
– I’ve made some progress with my goal, so it’s ok if I act in a way that’s inconsistent with it.

See if you can match up these “types” with the specific examples I have written at the start of the article. (You’ll notice that there is some overlap between the categories).