7 Fail-proof Willpower Strategies to Win the Holiday Season

It’s that time of year again!

A time when many of you will spend your days with friends, family members, and feasts. To most, it is a time to cut back on your daily routines and enjoy the great cooking, holiday treats, and festive eggnog. 

Which is great! You've worked hard all year, and you've earned the ability to cut back and relax.

Unfortunately, though, calories still count in December…So there is a balance that we should strike that allows us to cut back and relax, yet also not dig ourselves into a hole for the New Year. If you're able to do that, it's safe to say you will win the holiday season!

So here are 7 fail-proof willpower strategies you can use to help you win the Holidays:

1. Play Offense, Not Defense

When we think about willpower, we often think about “playing defense”. We see a temptation and we use our willpower to resist it. Those who win the holiday season, however, do not take this strategy – they “play offense”. [1]

Playing offense means going into the holiday season with a plan.

Rather than waiting until the bottle of wine is opened, you plan beforehand that you will have 2 glasses at each party. Rather than relying on your willpower to save you when your family is serving 3 kinds of dessert, you plan to have 1 serving of your favorite.

So before you make merry this holiday season, simply be mindful of what you really want. Come up with a plan and execute.

2. Know the Facts

One of the best ways to play offense is to know the simple nutrition facts about the best and worst holiday foods.

For example, take a look at the difference between these two snack dips:

Spinach and artichoke dip
300 calories
19 g fat

10 calories
0 g fat

Would it really feel like you’re not indulging if you served chips and salsa rather than chips and spinach and artichoke dip? 

There are plenty of other examples just like this. And these simple changes can make all the difference in winning the holidays1

You can check out this list to see the other simple food and drink changes you make to eat well and avoid putting on holiday weight.

3. Don’t Overestimate Your Willpower

One of the worst mistakes people make by “playing defense” rather than offense, is overestimating their own willpower. This is a phenomenon known as the “Hot-Cold Gap”.

When we are sitting here on December 22nd with a cool head and no delicious, tempting food in front of us, we overestimate the willpower we will have once the holiday parties get started and there will be plenty of temptation. [2]

Understand that your future self is not a super hero. In fact, he or she is probably a lot like yourself. The one who has flaws, does not have an endless supply of willpower, and is indeed tempted by food and drink.

But, you can set yourself up for success in those hot situations with the “if-then” strategy.

4. Use the “If-Then” Strategy

When the heat is turned up during the holiday season, your self-control and rational decision-making processes take a major hit. By preloading an "if-then" decision, you know in advance how to react to the heat.

It will give you a rational, mindful, and well thought-out decision that was made ahead of time. So you are able to bypass the irrational and emotional decision that you would naturally make when under pressure. [3]

Some examples:

If I have a healthy and unhealthy food option in front of me, then I will eat the healthy option first so that I’m not as hungry for the unhealthy option after.

If I have the option of pecan pie or pumpkin pie, then I will choose pumpkin because it has less than half the calories, carbs, and fat.

This may sound simple, but it is a remarkably effective strategy. When you make the if-then decision beforehand, you don't need to waste mental energy debating yourself about what to do. You know the plan. Now you just need to execute it. 

5. Don't Put it Off Until January

The biggest mistake people make during the holiday season is to “check out” of their healthy lifestyles in mid-December and pick it back up on January 1st.

After all, it's easy to cut back and let loose if you promise yourself that you will make up for it all in the New Year.

Do not fall into this trap!

This type of thinking leads to what researchers call the “What-The-Hell Effect”. When we say that we will be able to make up for today’s vices with tomorrow’s effort, we give ourselves license to indulge. [4

“After all, this New Year I’m going to diet and exercise every day, so what the hell, I may as well enjoy myself now!”

This builds an unnecessarily large debt that you will likely be unable to make up for in the New Year. So avoid the trap of going overboard and think about how your future self will thank you for the good choices you make this holiday season.

6. Never Say Never

On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are the people who attempt to deny everything they come into contact with. They try to cut out the treats, feasts, and the delicious wine in order to stay healthy.

This will lead to either:

A)   Missing out on a time of year that you are supposed to be celebrating.


B)   Eventually giving in and feeling guilty because you feel as if you have no willpower.

Trying to completely cut things out that you really want can lead to what researchers call “Ironic Rebound”. When you say "never", it will actually make you want the very thing you are trying to cut out even more than if you were to allow yourself to indulge in it. [5

This means you will get even more cravings than if you were to simply allow yourself to eat what you want. Then the guilt you feel if you give in can actually drain your willpower even more! Making it more likely that you will indulge in other things as well. 

So do not completely deny yourself the ability to enjoy the pleasures of the holiday season. It will either leave you feeling sad that you missed out, or guilty that you gave in. Winning the holidays is about moderation.

7. Eat the Frog First

Mark Twain had a famous quote that if you “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning then nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”  

What Twain meant by this quote is that if you get the hardest things done first thing in the morning, everything else in the day will be easier and more enjoyable.

For the holiday season, this means accomplishing your goals of health and well-being first thing in the morning. If you want to exercise, do it right after you wake up. If you’re worried about eating healthy, eat a healthy breakfast, which will make you feel better about indulging at dinner.

Your willpower is the strongest first thing in the morning. So use it to accomplish the things that are going to help you make it through the holidays happy and healthy. [1]

It will be much easier to make it to the gym or eat a healthy before you begin to indulge in the treats of the holidays. Plus, if you get these things accomplished, you will be able to truly enjoy yourself the rest of the day.


The holidays are a special time of year. They are a reason for celebration as we look back on everything that we have accomplished over the last year and get ready to do even more in the next one. However, we can get too carried away with our celebration and dig ourselves into a huge hole on January 1st.

The best way to avoid this fate is to think about what you really want out of this holiday season. Then "play offense" with your willpower.Do not indulge too much, nor deny yourself the ability to celebrate with family and friends.

Use the strategies listed above to create a plan to make the most out of the holidays and get ready to make 2016 the best year of your life!