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The triumphs & (potential) pitfalls of “wins before work”

Have you ever noticed that your ability to resist temptations is strongest in the morning but gets more difficult throughout the day? Studies have shown that as we use willpower on certain tasks or situations, we are less able to resist temptations later in the day.

Willpower is a valuable and necessary resource. But it is a limited one. It is a fallacy that long-term change is about maintaining constantly high levels of willpower. To support your good intentions, it will take small physical and social adjustments in your everyday life in order to become habitual and more effortless.

Wins before work

According to those studies then, it figures that most people have more willpower in the mornings and so you are more likely to be successful in these goals earlier in the day. I call this a ‘win before work’ and it can set your day off in a positive direction, encouraging other goals to be met, even unplanned positive outcomes.

If these can be tied to your existing lifestyle, all the better. This is called ‘habit stacking’. For example, if you want to run before work, putting your kit out in the bathroom under your toothbrush may help to increase the likelihood that you will go running for three reasons:

  1. There is a visual trigger and reminder of your goal
  2. The effort required to get started is low
  3. It is being linked to a habit that is already well-engrained – brushing your teeth

In most cases, it isn’t the goal itself that is difficult to do or unenjoyable, it is the getting started that stifles most people. After you finish exercising, (whether you admit it or not), you have a slightly smug feeling – you know you have acted in your longer-term interests.

So why is it still sometimes hard to motivate yourself to get out and exercise in the future? Because the practical (planner) and irrational (doer) parts of the brain end up having an internal battle, weighing the known benefits against the body’s natural inclination to conserve energy (hit snooze…), and consume more!

It’s important when seeking to engrain a healthy morning habit, to think about how you can attach this to something you already do regularly, and how you can remove any barriers. Remember: you might not find the gold solution on your first attempt, this is where “experimenting” comes in.

Beware of the Licensing effect

A commonly experienced phenomenon when you have met targets early in the day is the licencing effect. Think about tasks you have to produce for work. Have you experienced racing through a load of tasks only to then feel ok about taking extended breaks or otherwise procrastinating?

The Licensing Effect occurs in weight management to a much greater extent than in other fields because of the nature of long-term goals versus short-term satisfaction. Our biological evolution dictates that hunger is an immediate need that must be satisfied. Compare that with our long-term goal of being a healthy weight and you can easily find that you can rationalise that chocolate bar in the moment.

So, drinking a diet drink means that you can eat more fries or an extra burger? It is one of the most commonly seen effects used by people to justify their decisions to eat more and do less activity.

These are all principles that we use to education the participants in our BeeZee Bodies programmes. By introducing these concepts we’re making people more aware of how their behaviours play out subconsciously – and that awareness enables personal agency and accountability.

Ultimately, it’s all about finding a balance that works for you. Try to build good habits early in the day, to maximise willpower, but you’ll also need to try to pace yourself in order to avoid succumbing to the licensing effect.