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Free will and weight loss

By on February 22, 2015
Picture courtesy of Marin and

The question of free will comes up a lot in conversation. Do we or don’t we? Have free will I mean?

The leading research in this area comes from Benjamin Libet, who famously demonstrated that we do not have free will, but we do have ‘free won’t’. What Libet was saying was that you don’t get to consciously choose what you do, your unconscious mind decides. But you can consciously decide NOT to do something that your unconscious mind has selected. You have veto power.

A higher level question is whether or not you believe in free will? This question is particularly important for those who are dieting, after all if you snarf down that third donut is that your responsibility or is your lack of control, well, out of your control?

It turns out that dieters believe in free will more that non-dieters. When a non-dieter is hungry, she (or he) believes that free will is real. But if a non-dieter is hungry, well it’s just out of their control. So dieting, by itself, may create a sense of control, or free will.

Now of course, having free will and exercising free will are two entirely different things. Just because a dieter believes in free will, doesn’t mean they can exercise it. But it’s a start. In NLP there is a process developed by Robert Dilts called the ‘belief audit’. This process involves checking in on a client’s beliefs such as:

  • Do they believe change is possible?
  • Do they believe change is possible for them?
  • Do they believe that the steps they are taking will lead to the change they desire?
  • Do they believe they deserve the change they are seeking?

The research below implies that dieters will believe that self control is real, and therefore change is possible. But this doesn’t mean they believe they will exercise self-control, or that they are on the right path, or that they deserve to be their ideal weight. However the step of believing they are responsible for their own decisions on what they eat is a vitally important step toward their change. After all, the simple step of taking responsibility is 50% of the battle.

So as a coach, why no stack the deck in your, and your client’s favor, Get your client to accept that they are indeed responsible, that they have ‘free will’ and the rest, as they say, will be easy!

Among non-dieters, the more intensely they felt hunger, the less they believed in free will. However, dieters showed a trend in the opposite direction (Study 3).

Picture courtesy of Marin and

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