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Where there's a will, there's a way

I will clean my cupboard once every month. I will start going to the gym again, every day. I will not eat junk food. I will finish my work on time. No one says it’s easy, but you can add muscle to the flabby thing that is your will power.

health and fitness Updated: Jun 18, 2011 18:19 IST
Tavishi Paitandy Rastogi
Tavishi Paitandy Rastogi
Hindustan Times

I will clean my cupboard once every month. I will start going to the gym again, every day. I will not eat junk food. I will finish my work on time.

How often do you make resolutions like these? And how long do you actually stick to them? If you answer these questions quite often and rarely respectively, welcome to the club. About 70 to 80 per cent of us are just like you, says Dr Nikhil Raheja, psychiatrist, National Institute of Psychiatry, Delhi. Just like you how? We all lack will power or self-discipline.

Excuses, excuses
Why is it so hard for so many of us to stick to what we know we should do, whether it’s giving up cigarettes or finishing that report before starting a sneaky Freecell game? “Because we make false promises to ourselves,” says Dr Raheja. Most of us live in denial or a false bubble, he says, because we are very comfortable with the way we – and things and situations – are. To make matters worse, he adds, we also justify our lack of action to other people and ourselves. “It is almost like living a façade,” says Dr Raheja. “We need to understand that we are lying to ourselves and that cannot be justified at any level. We keep making excuses to ourselves that justify our lack of will power.”

Get your mind in shape to get yourself in shape

Think about it.
Why, really, do you not go to the gym? “For all sorts of reasons,” rues corporate lawyer Vishal Sambar who has been trying to lose weight for the last three years. “It could be a hectic day coming up at the office. Or it’s because the gym is too crowded at the hours convenient for me. Anything. My wife says that I put in a lot of effort just to think of an excuse for not going to the gym. She feels that had I put in as much effort actually at the gym, I would have lost weight by now!”

Chances are, Vishal’s wife is correct. As Dr Raheja says, most of us don’t try hard enough to do what we know we ought to do. “We just tend to say things to ourselves to feel good about it,” he says. “But we don’t mean even half the promises we make ourselves. We like the idea of boasting to ourselves and people around us about things we intend to do. Whether we do them or not is a different story altogether.”

Deep impact
Perhaps this lack of will power stems from the fact that we just don’t want to do the things we think we should do. Things like not cleaning the cupboards, or playing a game instead of working are minor. They probably arise from laziness. But being unable to give up cigarettes or alcohol, being unable to get out of bed and exercise or to give up junk food... these are things that perhaps we don’t want to give up.

“All the things that we are unable to do are things that we subconsciously are not willing to do,” says healer Rohini Singh, author of the self help book, The Only Way Out is Within. “It is almost like the body’s defence mechanism against something. Many people are unable to give up addictions like alchohol or smoking because deep inside they are comfortable doing them.”

For instance, Singh attributes the inability to lose weight to an ingrained psyche of deprivation or starvation. “If we do a deep psychological analysis of overweight people, we will find some or the other episode which may have leanings towards some feeling of deprivation,” she explains. “So the body tends to develop a wall against it. Food and over-eating becomes a comfort factor simply to tell your mind that everything is okay.”

The same argument holds for all sorts of addictions. “A very smart corporate executive once came to me with a problem,” says Singh. “He had been trying to quit smoking over a few years but had been absolutely unsuccessful. He would quit for a while but keep going back to it. It was now telling on his health and he was desperate to quit the habit.

A deep analysis with him led me to a subconscious belief he held. Smoking to him, subconsciously was an act to feel ‘cool’. It generated in him a sort of confidence that made him comfortable in public. So though he tried hard, he couldn’t get off it.” So would understanding the existence of a deep-seated problem help us acquire will power? Not really. Singh and Raheja agree that at both the clinical and subconscious level, there is a gap between understanding something intellectually, and actually applying it in practise. “The level of consciousness is not adequate. That is the problem,” says Singh.

Which doesn’t mean that you can’t add muscle to that flabby thing that is your will power. You just need the – er – will power to do it.

Read Dr Raheja’s suggestions in the box above, and stop making excuses.

The big push
You can acquire will power, says Dr Nikhil Raheja, psychiatrist, National Institute of Psychiatry, Delhi. Here’s how to add rigour to your resolutions
1 Stop lying to yourself. Understand that by not doing what you ought to do, you are harming yourself, nobody else.
2 Do not rationalise. There is absolutely no excuse for failing to do what you intended to do. You can take your time over it, sure. But not forever. Make your decision, then make a schedule.
3 Ask for help. Give your family and friends the right to interfere or point out when you slip, and then respect that right. Listen to them.
4 Think of the results. List your motivations and rewards – all the good things that will be achieved once you’ve done what you intend to. From basic savings to health benefits to simply looking good, it will all make you feel great.

- From HT Brunch, June 19

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First Published: Jun 17, 2011 18:30 IST