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'Will Power' to the Rescue

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If you're like me, chances are you are only just settling back into normal life after the departure of the holidays. The nonstop traveling, socializing, cooking, eating, clinking, drinking and general merrymaking of the past two months finally have given way to a schedule that resembles normal life. And though I relished every minute of this euphoric time, I must say that I am very excited to get back to my healthful routine.

During the holiday season, I struggled to rein in my overspending, overconsumption and overdoing just about anything one has a choice about during this time of glorious abandon.

My wallet, my waistline and my sense of order in the universe demand that I start 2012 with a clear commitment not to austerity, but to reacquainting myself with my old (and recently estranged) friend Will — Will Power.

Yes, you two may know each other. He gets a bad rap for being that pesky voice in your head that won't let you have a second slice of cake. Technically, you want it. But more than the immediate taste sensation, you want to be healthy, and to be healthy you would do well to remember that all bites after the first taste the same. Will Power simply reminds you of this real desire, and actually listening to him is what brings you closer to realizing your goal.

In my years first of struggling with my weight and then of losing 35-plus pounds and now of having discovered a healthy lifestyle plan that matches my desires perfectly — namely, it allows me to prioritize my health without obsessing over it and gives me ample flexibility to enjoy the food experiences that I see as vital to life's richness — I have had plenty of time to consider my relationship with Will Power.

What I finally have uncovered is how it is that this basic human ability to delay immediate gratification in favor of a more compelling and encompassing happiness actually works best. I'll be keeping the following three pointers at the front of my mind this month, and I hope you'll join me in rekindling the friendship.

—Don't let Will Power be lazy.

Will is built like any muscle — through constant activity and gradual growth. This is why two months of "but it's the holidays!" excuse-making has left many of us with a weakened ability to say no to leftover candies lying around the office, another glass of wine and so on. We need to retrain ourselves to recognize that lurking sensation that we don't really want whatever it is that is tempting us away from the true goal. Once we get back on track, every day will get easier.

—Will Power doesn't like scolding. Time and time again, I told myself I had no self-control and that was why I constantly overate, procrastinated and did things I knew would ultimately lead me away from my goals. But making myself feel guilty or inadequate usually got me more of the same bad behavior; I ate cookies because I was feeling guilty about eating cookies, for example. I finally had to break the cycle and realize that guilt is not nearly as powerful a motivator as positive reinforcement. When Will Power falls short, skip the self-ridicule and instead look for ways to make even small good choices to bolster your confidence so you'll have a better shot next time.

—Will Power is a creature of habit. This one is simple; the more we use Will Power the easier and more habitual our good choices become. Now, anyone who ever has tried to make a good choice in a time of discomfort — being overtired, hungry, stressed, etc. — can tell you that there are times when Will Power is weaker than usual. Training yourself to make good choices out of habit will help even in these scenarios by allowing your brain to jump straight to a known answer rather than have to evaluate many different options. If your brain already knows you don't eat processed potato chips, it won't have to waste energy ruling out both the cheese and the sour cream and onion varieties.

Go on; give Will the guest bedroom, and ask him to stay awhile. I bet you'll like his company.

Daphne Oz is a co-host of ABC's "The Chew." To find out more about Daphne Oz and read features by other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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