It goes by self-control, discipline or determination. It’s also an essential skill set to develop healthy, productive and long-lasting habits that will improve your quality of life. Willpower is fundamentally the ability to resist short term temptation in order to achieve a long-term goal. In other words, it’s your current self doing something that your future self will be grateful for. In Kelly McGonigal’s “The Willpower Instinct” she outlines how there are actually three elements to willpower:
As with any self improvement project we take on, it’s beneficial to have a well thought out and structured approach to changing our behavior in order to make it stick. Below we’ve compiled the most effective strategies you can build into your arsenal so you can become a willpower machine.
Self-awareness is absolutely pivotal in growing your willpower. What drives a particular behavior? You need to learn how and why you lose sight of your goals and develop an action plan to take advantage of in that moment where you most need it. If you know that you struggle with productivity after a big meal, schedule your most demanding tasks before you sit down at the table. You can also explore the idea of eating smaller meals throughout the day to maintain a steadier flow of energy. It’s crucial to take a deep look at these willpower struggles, understand your thought process, identify the obstacles in your way and implement an action plan.
When it comes to challenging willpower situations, it often comes down to your emotional and logical brains conflicting with each other. The thing with emotion is that it's often fleeting. It's important to give yourself a few minutes to cool down and approach the problem rationally as opposed to immediately acting on the impulse. So if someone brings in a box of donuts to the office while you’re trying to stick to a diet, wait a few minutes and draw on your want power. Think about your goal to reach your target weight and how much better you’ll feel. Even though the craving will likely be intense, it will pass and you can add that moment to your willpower success list for the day. For I want challenges, just spending 5 minutes on a difficult task can help you get into that state of flow where your productivity starts to gather momentum. For I won't situations, resisting for 10 minutes to let your brain calm down and re-focus on your ultimate goal is enough. More likely than not, the bulk of the impulse would have faded at this point.
We’ve written about meditation before and we’re going to talk about it again. A great deal of willpower deals with acknowledging thoughts that are pushing you towards a damaging behavior and not acting on them while concentrating on your long-term plan. It so happens that meditation is all about rerouting those rogue thoughts and bringing your mind back to a focal point. Think of meditation as daily practice. The better you get at meditation, the better you’ll get at focusing in on what really matters to your future self. Start slow but keep it consistent and you’ll reap the benefits soon enough.
Who knew that the fuel you put into your body would have an effect on your performance? Blood glucose has been shown to be particularly important in maintaining a steady willpower reserve. This means that you should make sure to include whole grains, vegetables, and nuts into your menu. Avoid heavy doses of sugar and refined bread as these will spike and crash your blood glucose levels, ensuring that you’re drained and especially vulnerable to temptation.There is also a little hack that can be quite useful if used responsibly. If you’ve had an exhausting day and you know you’ll be facing a big willpower challenge soon, have some fruit to help you out. Dates are especially effective as their healthy sugar content will give you the boost you need to get back on track.
Excessive and prolonged stress is the arch enemy of willpower. It’s draining and it can lead to a weak and fatigued mind. Sometimes you just can’t get away from stressful environments. Perhaps your job is inherently stressful or there is no way to avoid a chaotic event. That’s why it’s important to manage your stress by taking up some calming habits.
Otherwise, try some of these tried and true methods to manage stress levels:
Some people say that motivation is useless and that only self-discipline is the way to ensure long term drive and ultimately, success. While there is a grain of truth here, it's not as binary as that. Motivation is a great tool to push you through a rough patch. Motivation is part of the “ I want” power where you need to remind yourself what all this hard work is really about. It’s beneficial to keep a note or reminder somewhere of what initially got you on this road to bettering yourself. Will you become healthier, more productive, happier or help the ones you love? Keep these notes close to you so you can draw on them in times of need.
We are human. We are not perfect. We will make mistakes and we will (hopefully) learn from them. If you stray from your goal once in awhile, it’s perfectly fine. Too much self criticism leads to regret which will more than likely lead to more indulgence. It’s a vicious cycle which needs to be stopped at the very beginning or else it can sabotage your progress for good. So next time things don’t go as planned, assess why it happened, make a mental note of how you can prevent the same situation in the future and move on. There you have it: a solid primer on how to take control of your impulses of build a better future you. It really is one of the most important skills you can develop and one which will generate the most returns in the long run. Now that you have the how-to on building your willpower, get to it!
“The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do To Get More of It” by Kelly McGonigal Ph.D. “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business” by Charles Duhigg “Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength” by John Tierney and Roy Baumeister