Reconceptualizing willpower to reach fitness goals

Willpower. It’s often thought of in terms of something we either have or don’t have. But willpower is being reconceptualized as a skill. This is an empowering way of thinking because, as a skill, willpower can then be practiced and strengthened.

This paradigm shift has significant health and fitness implications because it doesn’t allow an easy way out. Instead, skillfully honing our willpower can in turn increase our self-motivation and self-discipline.

Chinwe Asagwara is a fourth-year nutritional sciences student in the faculty of human ecology at the U of M who is making waves in the competitive fitness world. She recently earned two top placements in her first fitness competition in Calgary and discusses the self-motivation strategies that she employs to prepare for competitions.

To Asagwara, self-discipline involves setting goals and maintaining motivation. “Self-discipline means remembering why I set a goal and taking all the necessary steps to accomplish it, sacrificing what would be more fun or even what is easy because I know that it is the only way to achieve my goals as well as being able to motivate myself to stay on track towards my achievements,” she explains.

The fitness goals that Asagwara has set involve competing in fitness competitions across Canada, obtaining her pro-status card and becoming sponsored, becoming a certified fitness trainer, becoming an established fitness model and inspiring others to become involved in health and fitness. With these solid aspirations in mind, she has adopted a comprehensive fitness plan that incorporates extensive cardio and weight training sessions.

Following her fitness plan will bring her closer to achieving her fitness goals, but working out up to six days per week requires self-motivation techniques as well. Asagwara notes that women’s fitness magazines provide her with helpful training information and inspiration. “They have established fitness models and competitors featured in the magazine, and they share their stories of struggles and how they overcame them to become successful in the fitness world. Seeing other women, who are able to accomplish what I hope to do one day, motivates me to continue with my training and reach my full potential,” comments Asagwara.

She is also quick to point out that a strong support network is key to staying motivated. “I have been blessed with supportive family and friends who provide advice, confidence and knowledge in health and fitness. They have been there for me 100 per cent with encouraging words and tips on how to do my best. Having them support me and believe in me keeps me motivated to do my best.”

Even for people whose fitness aspirations are not as extensive as Asagwara’s, her approach to self-discipline can still be useful. Viewing willpower as a skill, setting realistic goals, delineating a concrete plan to achieve those goals and maintaining a strong support network of family and friends provides a blueprint for even the most modest fitness goals.