Do you want to get more done?
Accomplish more goals?
Be a healthier you?
Build a greater life for yourself?
Increasing your willpower helps with all of that and more!
The American Psychology Association tells us that:
Willpower is the basic ability to delay self-gratification.
Delaying self-gratification, practicing self-control, is an important part of building anything over a long period of time.
You can also think of willpower as discipline.
And discipline is important in getting things done, because it is more powerful than motivation.
The desire to change or build something is fleeting. That desire is what we call motivation.
Motivation can easily fall by the wayside as you start to invest more time and effort into your goal.
That initial lightning strike of motivation will fade away and it must be replaced with willpower and the discipline to follow through on what you started with.
Willpower functions much like a physical muscle. The more willpower you exert, the more mental energy you expend and the more exhausted you become. The more exhausted you become, the harder it is to exert your willpower consistently.
Like physically exercising a muscle, you can’t work out hard immediately or indefinitely. You need training and rest.
You can’t go from your couch to running a marathon immediately. A would-be marathon runner needs to start slow and train themselves up methodically so they don’t get exhausted, burn out, or hurt themselves.
The same principle is true for building willpower.
Avoid going at it hard and make sure you give yourself regular downtime to replenish your mental reserves.
That being said, how do you go about increasing your willpower?
1. Choose a light daily activity to commit to.
Any light, daily activity will work to help you habitually strengthen willpower.
Start with just one thing to exercise your willpower muscle. This will help you construct the overall foundation onto which you will build your new habits or lifestyle changes.
Some suggestions are 15 minutes of meditation, a walk, making your bed, doing the dishes, tidying up your bedroom, keeping a journal, or tracking your spending.
All of these activities are relatively simple and don’t require much time once you start doing them regularly.
2. Practice mindfulness.
Many of our habits come from automatic thinking and impulsiveness.
Automatic thinking is the default way you behave or how you act, which is usually fueled by your own positive and negative habits.
You may impulsively reach for a thing that brings you immediate comfort, because it brings you comfort and that’s just what you do.
Consider a smoker who wants to give up cigarettes. Not only do they have to contend with a nicotine addiction, but many smokers need to find a replacement for the ritual of smoking.
Perhaps they sat down after dinner and had a cigarette. Now, their mind is automatically used to sitting down to have a cigarette after dinner.
When they no longer want to do that, their body and mind is still telling them that it’s time for that cigarette.
They need to create a new habit in its place to unmake their automatic thinking and impulse.
To practice mindfulness is to be aware of your emotions and the actions that result from them in the present moment.
It’s a valuable skill to work on because you can interrupt your negative actions and impulses before you have a chance to do them.
And, practicing mindfulness regularly is another way to develop your willpower!
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3. Eliminate stress and decision fatigue.
Willpower requires your mental energy. Mental energy is a finite resource that you need to preserve to maintain a clear head and not make mistakes.
The more you think, and the more complicated things you need to handle, the more mental energy you will expend to make those decisions.
Thus, conserving your mental energy becomes a beneficial goal.
You can do that by eliminating stress and decision fatigue.
Eliminating stress is easier said than done. Life is stressful for a lot of people, so trimming it out can be difficult.
That may mean cutting toxic people out of your life, looking for a new job, or finding a different living arrangement.
It may mean saying no more often and relinquishing some responsibilities that you don’t necessarily have to do to create more time for yourself.
Busy people need to pencil regular time to rest, relax, and practice self-care into their schedule.
Decision fatigue occurs when a person is bombarded with things to do and decisions to make.
An easy way to decrease decision fatigue is to plan out and structure your schedule week by week.
You don’t have to think about what you need to do today, because you already considered it, wrote it down in your journal, and know exactly what you need to do.
4. Carry around something tempting.
A study was conducted by Drexel University researchers about acceptance and control-based strategies to combat food cravings.
In the study, they gave a clear box with chocolate in it to 98 undergraduates who were instructed to not eat the chocolate for 48 hours.
They were divided into a control group, a group with control-based strategies, and a group with acceptance-based strategies.
The results of the study varied depending on what the person’s relationship with food happened to be. People who ranked high on the Power of Food Scale (a measure of psychological sensitivity to the food environment) were more susceptible than those who didn’t.
But wherever the person happened to rank, the study was a test of willpower of the subjects. Could they go the 48 hours without giving in to any cravings to consume the chocolate? Some did, some didn’t.
This type of technique is also a good way to build your willpower and work through your impulsiveness and temptations.
It doesn’t necessarily need to be food. It could be anything that is tempting to consume. Just carry it with you.
Then try either control-based or acceptance-based strategies to cope with the cravings to consume it.
Control-based strategies include distraction using positive imagery (e.g. imagining yourself to be on a beach somewhere), memory-delving (i.e. bringing to mind a nice memory of something that happened in the past), and counting challenges.
They also include changing the environment you are in and challenging any automatic thoughts that suggest giving in to temptation and consuming whatever it is you carry with you.
Acceptance-based strategies are based around the idea that cravings to consume something are beyond your voluntary control and that trying to suppress or rid yourself of them is counterproductive.
Instead, you are better off noticing the thoughts and feelings associated with the craving and accepting them, rather than trying to change them.
Stepping back from the thoughts and feelings and “seeing” yourself have them is another way to distance yourself from them and resist giving in to them.
It is worth trying both control-based and acceptance-based strategies separately to find out which work best for you.
And if you do give in, that’s okay. Just make a note of how long you went without the thing and do it again, aiming for a longer time.
5. Set and achieve personal goals.
The act of setting and achieving goals requires willpower to keep yourself on task, particularly when those deadlines are self-imposed.
It’s unlikely that anyone other than yourself is going to hold you accountable for the things that you want to accomplish.
Thus, you can turn your goals into your path to self-improvement and accomplish two goals for the price of one.
Start small with your personal goals. Pick a small habit you want to change or pick one facet of a much larger habit.
If you want to eat healthier, you can try eliminating one smaller unhealthy thing from your diet, like no desserts except on a special occasion or cutting back on your morning coffee.
From there, you can continue to prune things out of your unhealthy diet and add in new, healthier habits.
Maybe you want to devote more time to your art, so you decide that you are going to spend 30 minutes a day practicing and working on your art so you can continue to improve.
Setting and achieving personal goals creates a positive feedback loop in your mind when you really start to feel the fruits of your discipline and continued labor.
That feeling can serve as motivation when it’s hard to find the discipline to sit down and do that 30 minutes of practice a day.
Improving Your Personal Willpower
Strengthening your personal willpower is an important part of building a healthy, happy life.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is anything of lasting value. It requires consistent effort backed by discipline to build anything up, whether it’s a city or a healthier you.
Focus on building your willpower one small step at a time. Rest when you need to rest.
And if you stumble, it’s okay! Just get back up on your feet and try again. You’ll find that it gets easier and easier the more you try.