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8 Tips on How to Increase Your Willpower
‘Will’ is the ability to make conscious choices and is directly related to desire.
If you do not want something very much, then the will to succeed is likely to be weak. On the other hand if you have a strong desire, then you will be more likely to persist.
Exertion of will as self-control is a conflict of desires, for example where we both want to get angry and know that we should not – this is a conflict between id and superego. – meaning that at its essence, willpower is the ability to resist short-term temptations in order to meet long-term goals.
To succeed, this means first you must have a goal set/know what you want. – Whether it’s learning to surf, running a marathon, speaking a different language or not eating sugar in order to lose weight.
Then you must be determined to get it, even in the face of extreme difficulties. Want help setting some goals?
So how to work on willpower, so you can live the life your want ?
Luckily willpower is like a muscle and it can get stronger with the increase of use, but it is a slow and gradual process and daily we are working with a fixed amount.
Every day, in one form or another, you exert willpower. You resist the urge to surf the web instead of finishing your expense report. You reach for a salad when you’re craving a burger. You bite your tongue when you’d like to make a snide remark. Yet resisting repeated temptations takes a mental toll.
How to increase your willpower and strengthen self-control
While there are many ways to conserve your willpower, there’s only a few ways to strengthen it for long term use, and this is through self-control.
1 – Avoid temptation
This is an effective tactic for maintaining self-control. In the marshmallow study (the one where children could eat one marshmallow immediately or wait an unspecified amount of time for two marshmallows), the children who stared directly at the treat were less likely to resist it than the kids who closed their eyes, turned away, or otherwise distracted themselves.
“Out of sight, out of mind” applies to adults too. For instance, at the office those who keep snacks in their desk drawer indulge less than those who keep the snacks on top of their desks, in plain sight. When practicing this, make sure the snack is a healthy choice, like a low sugar muesli bar or piece of fruit.
2 – Implementation intention
This is another helpful tactic for improving self-control.
These intentions take the form of “if-then” statements that help people plan for situations that are likely to test their resolve.
For example, someone who’s watching their alcohol intake might say before going out (and knowing that alcohol will be around) “If anyone offers me a drink, then I’ll ask for a lemonade.” Or for someone who is watching their sugar intake, and knows there will be desserts in the office today, might say “If i’m offered cake, then I’ll ask for some fruit.” (Or go get your fruit from your desk drawer)
Implementation intentions improve self-control, even among people whose willpower has been depleted by other tasks. Having a plan in place ahead of time allows you to make decisions in the moment without having to draw on your willpower.
What not to do:
Just as important as strengthening yourself control for increasing willpower is knowing what not to do! There is mounting evidence that suggests that making a list of resolutions is the worst possible approach to goal setting in term of willpower. Being depleted in one area (denying yourself office snacks all day) can reduce willpower in other spheres, (the offer of afterwork drinks) so it makes more sense to focus on a single goal at a time.
In other words, don’t try to quit drinking, adopt a new diet and start a five times a week gym plan at the same time. Taking goals one by one is a better approach. (Feel free to write them all down at once, but as you would a todo list, focus on one at a time) Once a good habit is in place, you’ll no longer need to draw on your willpower to maintain the behavior. Eventually healthy habits will become routine, and won’t require making decisions at all. Approaching goals like this also helps change your mindset to the goal. We practice this on our fitness retreats for women where part of the program is changing your attitude and relationship towards food and exercise.
The best part about creating a new habit is that not only does it strengthen your willpower, it also frees up more of your willpower fuel for other things. When a decision becomes a habit, it draws little, if any willpower from your supply. The more good decisions you can make habitual, the less you will use your willpower throughout the day – leaving an ample supply for other things.
This is why people with stronger self-control actually spend less time resisting desires than those with weaker self-control. By creating good habits, they minimise the number of temptations they’ll be faced with by making as many decisions as automatic as possible. It’s these kind of life-coaching insights that we teach on our Fitness Retreats in Bali (Fit Goddess Retreats)
So now that we know how to increase your willpower, how to maintain it?
3 – Learn how to manage stress
To maintain healthy levels of willpower we need to manage our stress levels. Being under high levels of stress means our energy is used up in acting instinctively and making decisions based on short-term outcomes. (Reactive decisions)
Our prefrontal cortex (the area of the brain that makes decisions and regulating our behavior) loses out in the battle for our energy when high-stress is involved. Stopping to take a few deep breaths when we feel overwhelmed or tempted can be a great start in managing our stress levels and maintaining our willpower. Need help relaxing? Click here for our top 5 tips to relax when you’re feeling stressed.
4 – Encourage yourself to stick to your plan
Self-affirmation can even help you to have more self-control when you’re running low on willpower. A good example of this is the difference between telling yourself “I can’t” and “I don’t.”
Using the phrase “I don’t,” has been shown to be more effective at breaking bad habits.
Every time you tell yourself “I can’t”, you’re creating a feedback loop that is a reminder of your limitations. This terminology indicates that you’re forcing yourself to do something you don’t want to do. So try telling yourself that you don’t do that bad habit, rather than punishing yourself by saying “I can’t.”
For example: “Oh no I don’t eat after 7pm.” or “I don’t eat refined sugar.”
Positive affirmations are some of the most powerful tools you can you to achieving set outcomes.
5 – Get more sleep to help your brain manage energy better
Getting enough sleep makes a big difference to how efficiently our prefrontal cortex works. Sleep deprivation (or even less than six hours a night) is a kind of chronic stress that impairs how the body and brain function. Think about it: It’s always harder to focus on work after you have had a bad nights sleep. You’re more likely to say “I’m too tired, I’ll just get take out for dinner,” or “I’m going to skip the gym today, ’cause I’m exhausted.” This is because the prefrontal cortex gets hit especially hard and it loses control over the regions of the brain that create cravings and the stress response. This is fixed as soon as you catch up on the sleep.
6 – Meditate (for as little as 8 weeks)
Meditation has also been linked to increasing and maintaining the reserves of willpower we have available, as well as improving attention, wellness, focus, stress management and self-awareness. And it doesn’t take a lifetime of practice — brain changes have been observed after eight weeks of brief daily meditation training. Click here for our complete beginners guide to meditation.
7 – Better exercise and nutrition
Another great way to train the brain, that is often easily ignored or undervalued, yet can make you a lot more resilient to stress, and thus boost willpower, is regular physical exercise. Mindfulness exercises like yoga and/or intense physical exercise can provide these benefits. At our Bali Fitness Retreats we practice and teach both in a holistic way. Click to read about our Fitness Retreat’s Yoga and Exercise program.
What you feed your body affects how much energy the prefrontal cortex has to work with. This is why nutrition is so important. Something as simple as eating a healthy plant-based, less-processed diet makes energy more available to brain and can improve every aspect of willpower. One diet that we have found to be very beneficial (and fits well in most lifestyles) is an alkaline one. Click here for an Alkaline Plan for Self Care.
8 – Postpone things for later to gain focus on what’s important now
Postponing something you really shouldn’t have can be effective if you’re trying to break a bad habit. People who tell themselves “not now, but later,” are generally less tormented by the temptation of something they are trying to avoid, such as wanting a piece of chocolate after dinner. Say to yourself, “Not now, but later.” Next thing you know you have brushed your teeth and now it’s “Not now, but tomorrow afternoon.” One day at a time is key.
Liked this article? At our Bali Fitness Retreats we teach a foundation to build sustainable, enjoyable and healthy practices and habits like these, that you can apply to your everyday life. Click here to read more about Fitness Goddess Retreats
Some people are afraid of surfing because they feel it’s a risky business, but actually it’s the mundane little things that