Willpower is the ability to deny yourself and the ability to reject immediate gratification for your future benefit. The stronger it is the easier it can be to make tough decisions like making the bed in the morning, cleaning after getting home from a long day at work, or making food at home rather than simply stopping off at a fast-food restaurant on your way home. With a lack of it, we start to lose what makes us us. Without it, we would be little more than the product of our habits.
If you want to stick to your goals, but find yourself procrastinating. If you find yourself frustrated and irritable when someone asks you to do something that you hadn’t originally planned on like doing the dishes or taking out the trash or if you just simply wish you had the energy to get up and get some things done on your weekends but find it hard to get out of bed you may be happy to hear that the APA (American Psychology Association) says that willpower behaves much like a muscle in that it can be strengthened. This is done using a process similar to the overload principle in fitness. That is, with an incremented load on your willpower through increased use you can strengthen its endurance. In this article, I’ll be focusing on how to increase the amount of willpower you have available to you as well as provide some tips on how to more efficiently and purposely use the willpower you already have.
1. Create Goals
If you don’t have something you want to get done in the future why would you deny yourself in the present? In order to get yourself to do things that you know are good for you, you have to have a motivation or a reason to do it. Create a goal, visualize it, and whenever you come across temptation to stray from the goal bring up that visualized picture.
Do nothing. Practice doing nothing. Bring yourself into the moment. Let your body sit naturally, close your eyes, and do nothing. Allow your mind to wander. Stop controlling the thoughts, just observe them, and let them pass. You can couple this with mindful breathing if you like. Or just simply let yourself exist.
When you’ve got a million things racing through your brain every minute it can be hard to focus on what to do next and you end up using up all your willpower simply worrying about what needs to be done or things that might even be out of your control.
Exercise is great for all of us, but it’s hard to get into the habit of it. Your goals are irrelevant in this. Whether you want to run faster, further, get stronger. It doesn’t matter. Just go! This is where the practice part comes in. If you can successfully get into the routine of making yourself go to the gym you can do anything! This is even further validated by a study done at the University of Kansas that links routine exercise with increased levels of willpower or self-control.
More on the study: https://news.ku.edu/2017/08/30/new-study-links-exercise-better-self-control
1. Focus on the goal, not what you’re giving up
If you’re trying to get your work done before 10 pm don’t focus on trying not to procrastinate. Instead, focus on what you need to get done. If you’re trying to eat healthier, don’t focus on avoiding foods you like or enjoy, but rather focus on eating the healthier foods.
2. Keep a schedule
If there is something you don’t like doing, or is hard to do for any other reason, do it at the same time every day. Eventually, that action will become a habit and you’ll find that it gets a lot easier to do. It doesn’t mean that you have to sit down every day and plan your schedule for the day, or the next day, if you want to take it to the next level, that would be beneficial, but you just have to tell yourself that after work or at lunch you’re going to the gym or when you get home you’re immediately going to do the dishes, or when you wake up you’re immediately going to make your bed.
3. Turn repeated tasks into habits
Similar to 2, but take the decision-making out of the equation. Turn the things you want or need to do into habits. I’ll write more about habits in another post, but to be brief, break those things you want to do down into the three main building blocks of a habit. Que/trigger, routine, reward. For the gym after work example. The trigger would be getting off work, the routine will be going to the gym and doing your workout, and the reward in this case can just be as simple as the dopamine that is released after a workout.
4. Eliminate harmful habits
Don’t let your willpower be sapped by actions or items that are overstepping their bounds. Create boundaries with anything that doesn’t stimulate your mind or use some form of willpower. For me, that would be watching shows. I love it and I do it a lot, but I need boundaries with that activity so that it doesn’t overstep consume all my time. If drinking or an addiction is your vice, create boundaries with it, and if it starts encroaching check yourself. Eliminating or reduce addictive behaviors and don’t let them run you.