Volition, or as we know it colloquially, willpower, is the cognitive process by which an individual decides on and commits to a particular course of action. Achieving your goal – “the loss of five kilograms”, “two inches off the waistline” or “running three times a week” involves self-restraint, stopping or curbing certain behaviour and establishing new unfamiliar behaviour Both, at the early stages of changing the behaviour require ‘willpower’, that ability to follow through intention into action. But turning intention into action can be disturbing, particularly when we encounter resistance within ourselves to change often established and habitual behaviour patterns. What gets challenged when we find difficulty following through on our intention is our sense of self-determination and self-efficacy as we inevitably encounter the unconscious automatised aspects of our behaviour that can sabotage our good intentions.
John, 45, weighed 90kg and wanted to lose 10kg to bring him down to his desired weight.He had had some previous success in losing weight through dieting but had never been able to maintain the diet and inevitably put the weight back on. At the heart of his difficulty was a struggle of self-restraint when it came to limiting his portion sizes or eating chocolate. When faced with a plateful of food he would clear his plate and eat more if it was available. When faced with a chocolate bar he found it difficult to limit himself to one or two pieces. He would start a meal with a conscious intention to limit what he ate but then something unconscious would kick in and he would eat more than he intended to and then feel guilty because he had let himself down. John was faced with a sense and a fear that he was not in control of his behaviour and the knowledge that his conscious intention did not translate into action.
What is happening with John? In Part 2, I will explore the concept of willpower and the part it has to play in changing behaviour.
Written by Ruth Tongue