There is the belief that all you need is willpower to accomplish anything. Some people may say that the problem for most people is that they lack willpower and are lazy, which is why they fail. We have heard sports announcer say, this athlete willed their team to victory. Many weight loss programs speak of the persistence and willpower it takes to lose weight. If willpower were all you needed to succeed at something, why don’t we teach it, or is it even teachable? What if you are not born with it? Today, I want to talk about willpower, what role it plays, and question if that’s all you need.
What is Willpower?
Willpower, to me, is the ability to push yourself through barriers that once held you back. We have seen it in sports, weight loss programs, sales trainings. I remember when I weighed 315 lbs., the most popular advice I got was “use your willpower to lose that weight”. Some would say “just stop thinking about food”, when you see food, just say, “I am not eating this food”, and the best one was, tell yourself every day, “I am a thin person,” over and over. Needless to say, none of this advice actually worked for me, and what was funny, when the whole situation became clear to me, I realized that many of the folks who advocated willpower and affirmations were overweight too. Although they were not as overweight as I, each could have lost at least another twenty pounds.
I remember wondering, “Are there different levels of willpower?” Do they have more than I, but not enough to be at a healthy weight? I laugh now, but those were real questions running around in my head. Of course, anyone who knows me now, knows I have plenty of willpower to do what I want. Willpower is not just about diet. It can be about stretching, working out, relationships, or anything else you want to accomplish in life. The question is, how does it work?
Willpower is more about believing that something will happen versus just wanting it to happen. You may want to earn a million dollars or lose fifty pounds of fat, but until you take action, it is only a dream. Willpower arises when you realize you have to take action to reach that dream. The key here is to know what steps you must take to reach your goal. Those steps include the form you use, knowing your limits, and allowing yourself to focus solely on your goal. Many of you have commented that you can see the stretching work, but just cannot get into a routine to do the stretches like you should. I understand that problem as I had the same issue when I started. We are dealing with a few things here.
Why Should We Stretch Daily and Why Can’t We Do It?
First, stretching has never been strongly suggested in our culture when dealing with pain or injury. Stretching actually prevents many soft tissue injuries we deal with in our lives. Things like cramping, pulled muscles, sprained ankles, or painful joints. Allowing your muscles to be more loose and fluid releases the pressure on the joints, does not mimic dehydration, and allows the muscle to extend to its full capacity.
Secondly, we have taught people incorrectly how to stretch. Stretching is not about holding it for long periods of time or pulling as hard as you can. The wrong idea here is, muscles are like taffy. The more you pull, the longer they get. This is not correct. Since the brain controls the muscles emotionally, the harder you pull and the longer you hold it, the more it makes the brain think something is trying to hurt you. The brain, in the face of danger, will react. Remember, the “fight or flight response?” Once the brain senses danger, it shuts down all systems so the brain can prepare to fight or run from danger.
Thirdly, it’s believed that stretching is for warming up and/or cooling down. Stretching is not a warmup, but it could be used as a cool down. More importantly, stretching should be done every morning and evening for about fifteen to twenty minutes. You do not have to do a routine as in a stretch class. In fact, you could practice stretching throughout the day, doing one here and another there. This can save you lots of time, maintain your flexibility and prevent pain. As I have said to all of you, think of a dog or cat–they stretch every day, a minute here and minute there. You need to do the same.
Lastly, flexibility isn’t just for people who can do a split or can bend over without bending their knees to place their palms on the floor. I remember a client with back pain who was referred by her doctor. The doctor said she was very flexible, and she was a yoga teacher. He said she can bend down, without bending her knees, and place the palms of her hands on the floor. Of course, when she arrived, she could not wait to show me how flexible she was. She did not think she needed me, but she would appease her doctor. When I asked her how often she bent over backward, she looked at me like I had lost my mind. I showed her that her back pain came from the front of her thighs. She was shocked and her pain did go away.
Flexibility is important so you can get up and down from a chair, stand for as long as you want, and do the things you enjoy without pain–that is it! You do not need to be a circus sideshow for your friends and family.
It Takes More Than Willpower
Willpower alone may get you through the first couple of days but understanding the importance of flexibility will carry you through a lifetime and that is what it will take to live more pain-free. I can make myself do anything for one or two days, heck even for a week. However, to make lasting change, it must be believed in before it can become a lifestyle change.
When I lost 105 lbs. in 1997 I did not go on a diet. I had to change my thought process about food. It wasn’t about what tasted good or made me feel good, it was about how it affected my body. It is like pushing yourself really hard to improve your muscle strength but end up with an injury because you didn’t stretch properly. Most would say, “I didn’t think about stretching since nothing hurt.” Stretching properly can reduce your risk of injury which will allow you to train harder and longer for lasting improvement.
There is a lack of belief. Yes, you know, intellectually, that stretching is good for you. You have even seen good results. However, your belief in stretching is not strong enough to realize it is just as important as strength training. Again, you may have the willpower to stretch for a week, but without belief, you will forget to do it, feel too busy to do it, or just not want to do it. This is why diets fail too.
Think about it for a moment. With all the diets out there, why is there an obesity problem that leads to so many people suffering and dying from major diseases? Most physicians and health care practitioners will agree that obesity drives heart disease, the #1 killer in America, yet we cannot lose the weight. Why? It is not just willpower. Look around at the most successful people in the world that are obese. Doctors who study health are obese. Some of the wealthiest people in the world are obese. Don’t you think they have willpower? Of course, they do.
It is about belief. Like me with food. Once I could see how bad food affected me, it was easy to stop eating it. Once you know and believe that stretching will help you prevent injury and keep you mobile, stretching daily will become easy. The next step is to learn how to stretch and massage yourself daily without it taking so much of your time. When you get there, you will never be too busy, and never forget. These excuses are for people who do not fully understand the purpose for stretching, therefore there can be no belief.
Tips to Improve your Stretching
All you need is a yoga strap and a tennis ball for the tennis ball massage. Give yourself about 15 minutes twice a day and you should see better results within 2 weeks. This, though, is a lifetime event. Think of your pet. they stretch every day and several times a day. Stretch when they stretch. Follow the videos below and free your knees. In my opinion, the calf stretch is the most important stretch a human can do. It will solve many issues of the body.
Stretching is more about feeling the muscles letting go than forcing them to stretch. If you are forcing the muscle, you could be doing strength training, not stretching. Make sure you are feeling the intended muscle stretching. If not, the form could be wrong. Holding for 5 seconds allows the brain to release the muscle before it senses any danger. Repeating the stretches 10 times allows the brain to learn it is safe for the muscle to move that way.
Don’t forget the Tennis Ball Massage!
Softening your hips and back is easy when you use the tennis ball. Just lean against the wall and apply enough pressure to feel the painful area. The temptation is to press harder but resist it. Instead, breathe out and allow the muscle to soften under the ball. Then move to another spot and repeat. Continue doing this until most of the painful spots are gone. Check out previous newsletters to see the video.
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About The Muscle Repair Shop
Drawing upon his personal experience as a former competitive athlete turned wheelchair, obese, and chronic pain sufferer, Muscle Repair Shop Founder Butch Phelps decided to take his health into his own hands when at the age of 36 he was told he might not make it to his 40th birthday. Applying balanced nutrition advice from his doctor along with a sound exercise program, he went from 315 lbs. to 180 lbs. Motivated by his experience, he then acquired degrees in advanced therapeutic massage and aging sciences to help people eliminate chronic pain. This included applying his expertise in how people age, including the effects of dementia, anatomy, psychology, and the day-to-day struggles living as an older person to his practice and development of The Muscle Repair Shop’s one-of-a-kind Stretch n’ Release Technique.
Available through in-office and virtual coaching treatment sessions, this unique combination of stretching and breath work teaches the brain to release the emotional side of muscle tension and pain allows clients to find lasting relief and healing from stiffness, aches, injuries, and chronic pain. The at-home exercises come with customized instructional videos and virtual or in-office support, allowing clients to enjoy and experience life and sports as they did before limitations slowed or curtailed activities.