By Carolyn McGinn
We’ve all been there.
With the promise of a new year ahead, we make plans and resolutions to eat better and to lead healthier lives. But somehow, our plans dissipate just as quickly as the ball drops over Times Square, and we are right back in the hectic abyss of work, life with kids, and crazy routines. The vow to change gets buried as deep as the mail does under papers on the kitchen counter. How did life get in the way so quickly? How did our willpower wane so easily? There must be a better way.
If this sounds familiar, know there is hope. There IS a better way. Making lasting change for your health is NOT about willpower. Changing your relationship with food is NOT strictly about food itself. Making healthy improvements is more about developing a deep and meaningful relationship with yourself. To live your best life and to be completely true to yourself, you first must understand what drives your actions. It’s less about willpower and food, and more about purpose.
Willpower vs Intention
By definition, “willpower” is the behavioral control you (try to) exert over impulse. Wrestling with willpower is a miserable, losing battle. Take food choices, for example. You might be strong enough mentally to pass up that cake the first or second time it is offered to you, but willpower demands that you continue to refuse it and forever swear it off. Unfortunately, your willpower is NOT unbreakable, and ultimately you will give in and eat that cake anyway. You’ll then beat yourself up for doing so, again and again, and the cycle repeats itself indefinitely. You have set yourself up for failure.
In contrast, let’s look at intention. By definition, “intention” is a (stated or implied) plan towards achieving a goal. It is a more forgiving and less rigid concept than willpower, yet intention is purposeful. It focuses more on the HOWS and WHYS of achieving your goals so that you understand the underlying reasons for your desired success. Intention gives you a purpose when failure to reach your goal is NOT an option.
Try this: Either alone or with a friend’s help, verbalize a specific goal. Ask of yourself, “Why is this important to me?” To that answer, again ask, “Why is this important?” Repeat this question and answer process—often a friend can help keep you honest and accountable—until you get to the essence of your intentions. A conversation might sound like this:
“I want to lose 20 pounds.”
Why is it important to lose 20 pounds?“
So I can look better.”
Why is it important to look better?
“So I’ll like myself more.”
Why is it important to like yourself more?
“When I like myself more, I take care of myself.”
Why is it important to take care of yourself?“
So I’ll have more energy to be productive.”
Why is it important to be productive?
“Because being productive makes each day meaningful.”
And why is THAT important?
“Because I feel creative, alive and full of purpose when my days are meaningful.”
This is your “ah-ha” moment. Having this type of conversation helps you get to the root of what you truly want. Once identified, let that purpose guide your every action and decision.
Whether your goal is to achieve weight loss, superior health, or healthy long-term aging, there is no right or wrong way to achieve it. The key is to trust the discovery process and to embrace yourself meaningfully along the way. You might learn that your ultimate goal in losing weight is less about actual weight loss and more about self-expression and fulfillment. Maybe it’s not as much about lowering your cholesterol than it is about living long enough to enjoy your grandchildren (because you’re the first in your family to NOT succumb to a heart attack before the age of 50).
Discovering your intention—the “why”—will connect you more spiritually to your goal, and that connection is much harder to forsake. Every decision related to achieving your goal becomes easier to make because you better understand your own motivations. When resisting impulse, ask yourself, “Does this align with what I want for myself?” You’re better equipped to make calculated choices when you ask yourself, “Does this take me towards my goal?”
One powerful way to stay connected to your intentions is to devote each morning to journaling. Write about why your intentions are important to you; write about the life you are living as a result of following them. Journal in the present tense—so as to emphasize the immediacy of things happening in the here and now—and watch how quickly your life changes and your goals are realized. Your intentions are THAT powerful. Each night, consciously remember this while appreciating yourself for the journey you are on. You will be amazed by your progress!
Carolyn McGinn is an advocate for outrageous self-care. For support in working toward to your goals, to share your results, and to learn more about changing your relationship with food,
go to her website,