SHUT up!


Sometimes you hear something so novel and new that you can only gape at the speaker. Usually my witty retort is “SHUT up – you’re kidding?!”

This is, of course, self-defeating. How can someone both shut up and confirm what they’re saying? Chip, the nutritionist at Body Dynamics, is not dissuaded. He does NOT shut up (and a good thing, too!).

I had several epiphanies while meeting with him today, but here’s the one that got the SHUT up command.

(If I actually want someone to shut up, the emphasis is on the “up,” know what I mean? Emphasis on the “shut” means “that’s awesome!” Inflection. Very important.)

Chip told me of a research study. Two groups of subjects were asked to wait in a room. In one room, they were given a bowl of fresh cookies and a bowl of radishes and were told to snack as they preferred.

In the other room, they were given the same foods, but asked to leave the cookies alone. If you want a snack, please have a radish, not a cookie.

Then the participants were asked to trace a complex shape on a piece of paper without lifting their pencil or retracing the lines. In fact, there was no way to do that; the study set the subjects an impossible task.

The group that was allowed to snack as they pleased averaged 19 minutes on this project.

The radish eaters averaged EIGHT minutes.

Here’s why:

We have a FINITE amount of will power. (The study referred to self-control, but I like the concept of will power better; screw those scientists!) If you use up all your will power on resisting a bowl of fresh cookies, then you run out later. You can’t keep going on a tough task. You get exhausted.

This is unsurprising if you think about it in daily life; I am more likely to blow good eating habits if I’ve had a tough day. Everyone is. Some people turn to wine. Some to drugs. Some to latex and undersized Thai sex workers. (Judge not, ye prude, lest you be judged!) For me, it’s ice cream. We’ve all got something.

But I didn’t realize that you can think of will power as a finite resource – as dollar bills in your pocket. You can only spend them once, so you have to choose what you buy. And THAT made me give Chip the mighty SHUT up!

Chip’s point was to calm me down; I’ve been pathetically pouty lately for feeling like I’m backtracking on my fitness journey. (It’s not even the dreaded plateau; I feel like I’m receding. Now that I have all these new muscles, the carefully-won neutral pelvis position is no longer neutral and I have to relearn how to stand, sit, walk – I’m exhausted and annoyed and demoralized. Barbara and Grace and Chip have ALL used the term “process” – as in, “this is a process and what you’re going through is expected and normal and you should calm down and stop being such a baby” except they didn’t QUITE say that.)

Chip said – “do what you can. Recognize that your will power is finite and don’t be so hard on yourself.” That’s a good lesson.

But I was wondering. First I asked him if will power was like a muscle; can you increase its capacity? He didn’t know.

Then I said – “If you KNEW you were going into a stressful situation, you could maybe eat hummus and carrots before the meeting because you were going to have less will power at the end of the meeting, from restraining the urge to leap across the table and throttle the idiot who wouldn’t shut their yap.”

To his credit, Chip did NOT look across the table at the idiot who wouldn’t shut her yap; instead he agreed that it would be a smart strategy. He said he had pumpkin seeds to snack on, so that probably accounts for his restraint…

So I offer this to you for what it’s worth. You only have so much will power, and you can only do so much with it. Pick your battles.

Here’s a link to some guy talking about the research; he never claims who DID the research, and his message at the end about “visit this website for more on this fascinating study” turns up a 404 error (page not found), so the whole thing could be hokum… but it SOUNDS right, doesn’t it?

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2 thoughts on “SHUT up!

  1. it makes sense and explains why, after dealing with a stressful day, I stop at the grocery and buy cookies for the long drive home. So now I just need to figure out how to “spend” my willpower more consciously. Unfortunately, I am not an orphan, and dealing with both my mom and the idiot medical system just wear me down.


    1. Juli, you are not alone in your solitude! Aging parents – becoming the responsible one for the person who was always in charge – is a sleeve of Thin Mints in the making. Best good wishes to you as you allocate your willpower with the awareness of what you can and simply cannot accomplish. You do what you must, and cookies are NOT failure!


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