Week one: willpower
Without a doubt, willpower is one thing most of us wish we had more of. The ability to politely decline chocolates being shared around the office, another drink over dinner, or to steer ourselves away from the popcorn counter at the cinema. In my first week training with Dubai’s personal-training-only Symmetry Gym, as part of my mission to find out whether it’s possible to tone up, get fit and make a lasting, sustainable change to my body, diet and routine in just six weeks, the strength of my willpower (or lack thereof, at times) became a recurring and important theme.
But there are more arguments for training and building on your willpower than just staying (or getting) slim – in fact, a new book called Willpower: Rediscovering Our Greatest Strength claims it is ‘the key to success and a happy life’. Based on three decades of academic research into self-control and research by Roy F Baumeister, an American social psychology professor, who put together the book with co-author and New York Times science writer John Tierney, the book aims to show people the value of willpower, and the positive impact it can have on their lives (including finances, relationships and emotional and physical wellbeing) if they manage to harness it.
On Saturday, the night before my first week of training, I was uncharacteristically nervous. What if I mess it all up? But I manage to steady my nerves by reminding myself that I feel ready for this and not reluctant or annoyed about giving up most dairy, sugar, red meat, all wheat products and all fried food. If past experiences have taught me anything, it’s that you have to be ready, happy with the choice you have made, and committed (a little excitement about the end results will also work wonders if you can look that far ahead). And I breeze through my first five days and four sessions with the gym’s coaches. Though the excessive meal preparation gets little tiresome (I’m normally fond of lunches out of the offices), I enjoy the meals, and I’m eating more than usual, so there’s no sense of deprivation. Old Roy F Baumeister (and many others) described willpower as being like a muscle; it will get fatigued and fail you if you overuse it, but exercising it regularly will help it grow stronger and more robust.
My first real test arrives on Wednesday morning, in the form of dozens and dozens of boxes of baked goods from Canadian doughnut house Tim Hortons that are delivered to our offices and handed out for free. I barely bat an eyelid. I know the first real test will come over the weekend, when I would normally embark on a series of drinks meet-ups and meals out, but after five days working on every muscle in my body – my brain very much included – I feel ready, optimistic and excited. By accepting a chocolate, or sneaking into a screening of Cabin in the Woods with a box of salty goodness under my arm, I’d be ruining a week’s work toning my willpower (and the rest) – and right now, giving in is simply not an option.