We’ve all been there: you’ve gotten out of bed on the wrong side, or you’d rather not get out of bed at all. Making it through a terrible day – or, for that matter, a difficult period in life – is frequently a test of willpower. But what exactly is willpower, and how can you strengthen it?
For our purposes, willpower is a combination of foresight, positivism, and a sense of the future. It’s recognizing that challenges come and go and that maintaining the appropriate mindset is crucial.
Willpower Is Like a Muscle
Experts believe that willpower is like a muscle. To a certain extent, you can build it up over time. On the other hand, you can also overuse it by constantly denying yourself one thing after another. This “willpower depletion” may weaken your ability to resist temptation.
Although your willpower may be fatigued in the short term, it can be strengthened over time – just like your muscles when you exercise.
According to some researchers, willpower tends to be greater if you are working toward your own goals. If you’re making the sacrifice for someone else, it’s more of a drain on your willpower.
If you’re having trouble keeping your willpower, here are six suggestions to help you get in the correct mindset.
1. Plot your progress toward your goals.
Is it cliche to say that you should keep your “eyes on the prize”? Maybe not, but that doesn’t rule out the possibility of success. We all have life objectives, and most of the time, we only fail to fulfill them when we lose interest or our devotion wanes.
Keeping track of your progress is a good way to remind yourself not only of the eventual goal but also of how far you’ve already gone.
Weight loss or training for your first 5K are two excellent examples. There will undoubtedly be ups and downs, as well as setbacks, along the journey.
Focus on the reasons for accomplishing that objective, not just the numbers you’ve set as a target or the ones that are getting in your way. It’s important to remember that math isn’t the only thing on the line.
2. Read about the lives of famously successful people.
History has endowed us with a wealth of inspiration that is just waiting to be tapped. You don’t need to look any further than the biography section of your local library or bookstore if you’re seeking a new role model or just a few words of encouragement.
Consider what you’re interested in and what you want to achieve. Find someone who has succeeded in pursuing similar interests to you, whether it’s a simple hobby or changing the world through humanitarian initiatives.
When Warren Buffet, for example, gives you financial advice, it may feel as if you’re being lectured, but knowing that he’s been where you are now should help you strengthen your resolve.
3. Cope with stress and other difficulties by “getting gritty.”
Angela Lee Duckworth’s wonderful TED Talk about the power of grit could be very instructive if you’re looking for ways to inspire yourself:
Ms. Duckworth has worked as a junior high math teacher, and what she discovered about children’s academic success didn’t have nearly as much to do with IQ as she had assumed.
Grit, or the drive-in each of us to overcome our flaws, deal with stress, and achieve success, has proven to be the single most valuable quality a student can possess.
4. Forgive your own mistakes, and use them as inspiration.
Allowing past failures to depress us and obscure our judgment may be the most important roadblock to achievement. The classic film scene in which the protagonist walks to a pub to drown his failures in whiskey is all too familiar to most of us.
Although this is an extreme case, it is nevertheless instructive in terms of the numerous ineffective ways we might deal with failure.
The first step is to forgive yourself for your mistakes; after that, you must use those mistakes as fuel to propel yourself toward your life goals.
Why did you fall short? What did you discover? What could you do differently next time? Failures aren’t dead ends; they’re necessary stages on the path to success.
5. Keep your past triumphs in mind at all times.
It may seem counterintuitive at first to look back in order to build a great future. The truth is that this method of thinking could be the key to obtaining power and enthusiasm in all of your endeavors. When you’re on a journey to achieve a goal, it helps to remember your previous accomplishments.
Is it really that difficult to accept that focusing on – and drawing inspiration from – your own personal victories is a fantastic method to repeat them?
If evidence is all that separates true hope from false hope, what better evidence could you have than the fact that you’ve faced comparable obstacles in the past and come out on the other side triumphant?
6. Have faith that it’s going to get easier.
Only a few issues last indefinitely. As a result, a healthy dose of optimism can help you get through just about any problem. Unlike in physics, where objects seem to thrive on entropy, life has a beautiful ability to self-correct for most of us.
Because the word “faith” is a little hazy and imprecise, let’s consider that faith, in this case, symbolizes a method for us to firmly trust that something will happen even as we work hard to make it happen.
7. Make a Manageable To-Do List
Everyone has some form of a to-do list, whether it’s on paper or not. We may not realize it, but this ubiquitous productivity tool may actually be increasing our stress and decreasing our willpower.
When we create endless lists and leave tasks perpetually undone, our subconscious nags us about it, and we end up worrying far more than acting. When we do this, we get in a bad mood, and our emotional state plays into our ability to resist temptation.
8. Take Frequent Breaks
It is impossible to exercise perfect self-control all the time. We simply run out of willpower and end up making poor decisions if we don’t supplement ourselves with rest and breaks.
Take a nap from time to time, grab a (healthy) bite to eat, watch a little TV for a minute or two, and then get back to your tasks and goals as you’re learning how to increase willpower.
When you do this, you come back refreshed, and you’ll have more willpower to produce better work.
9. Meditate for 5 Minutes a Day
Take 5 minutes and just focus on your breath. Detach for only five minutes from the chaos around you as you work on how to strengthen willpower.
Every time your mind wanders, you have to expend energy to get it back on track, tapping into your reservoir of willpower. The simple act of building self-awareness through mediation will help you in your impulse tendency.
When we become mindful, we are also engaging that part of our brain that we need for willpower, rather than just letting our impulses take over.
10. Avoid Alcohol
This one should be glaringly obvious. Alcohol impairs our judgment, reduces our self-awareness, and impedes our willpower.
Be mindful of how much you’ve had to drink when making decisions, and try to avoid an excessive amount if you’re in a situation where you have to exercise willpower.
11. Make a Plan for Temptation
It’s impossible to avoid all temptation as you’re working on how to increase willpower. For the cases when you run into it, you need to have a plan in place to help you resist it and avoid making poor decisions.
For example, if you know your co-worker always brings in doughnuts on Fridays, and you’re on a diet, what plan can you put in place to avoid caving to temptation and grabbing two or three?
Having a predetermined plan can significantly increase our willpower when presented with the temptation.
12. Remember Your “Why”
What is the purpose of changing our behavior and learning how to gain willpower in the first place? What are we trying to accomplish, and what will we lose if we give in to our bad habits?
When we consistently remind ourselves of the answers to these questions, our willpower is increased to stick to our plans.
13. Do the Opposite of What You Normally Do
Every time we modify our routines, we are exercising self-control. The more that we can exercise self-control, the stronger our willpower will be.
When we succeed in making small changes, we develop the ability to take on much larger ones. You can start small with this by consciously trying to brush your teeth, eat, or open the door, with your non-dominant hand.
It may feel very strange at first, but it actually goes a long way to increase our willpower.
14. Choose a Reward in Advance
For a given change, if we first determine a reward in advance, our willpower to follow through on our change will be increased.
Our brain is hardwired to pursue positive rewards when learning how to increase willpower. This can be as small as a piece of chocolate or as big as a vacation. Match the task to a reward in order to make the most of your willpower.
15. Anticipate Roadblocks
Before we start down the path of a new goal, we should consider the roadblocks that may arise in our path. There is always resistance in the path of a positive pursuit.
When we anticipate them in advance, we have stronger willpower to deal with them when they actually arise.
Learning how to increase willpower requires time. You can’t build a muscle overnight; it will take weeks, months, or even years of digging deep and adding to your willpower reserves. However, once you’ve done this, making decisions and resisting short-term temptations will be easier than ever before.