How important is willpower?
If you ask this question to random people on the street, many will tell you that they think it’s vitally important. They will probably also tell you that their lives would improve “if only I had more willpower”.
They might go on to tell you of all the wonderful ways their life would improve if they had more willpower.
For example, with more self-control they would eat a healthy diet. It would be easier to find a way to exercise regularly. They could use it to resist the temptation of cigarettes or avoid excessive alcohol and drug use.
Some might say they would save more money to buy a house or for their retirement. Others would use it to stop procrastinating so much.
What’s most interesting is that while all these people will tell you what they’d do with more willpower, very few will take the action needed to improve it.
Today, let’s examine willpower and methods you can use to shore it up.
Can We Increase Our Willpower?
In her book, “Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals”, Heidi Grant Halvorson, Ph.D. argues that willpower is like a muscle and can be strengthened. She writes, “self-control… is neither innate nor unchangeable. Self-control is learned and developed and made stronger (or weaker) over time.”
Of course, having the ability to strengthen willpower can have lifelong effects.
An article on the American Psychological Association website described a study by Terrie Moffitt, PhD, of Duke University, and her colleagues of a group of 1,000 individuals from birth to age 32 in New Zealand.
Her study found that “individuals with high self-control in childhood (as reported by teachers, parents, and the children themselves) grew into adults with greater physical and mental health, fewer substance-abuse problems and criminal convictions, and better savings behavior and financial security.”
These sound like great reasons to explore how to improve your willpower, wouldn’t you agree?
If you do, then let’s start with some simple methods you can use to begin boosting your willpower immediately.
How to Boost Your Willpower:
1. Practice regularly.
You may have heard that willpower is finite and will run out if you try to rely on it too much. As Heidi Grant Halvorson explains in her book, self-control is more like a muscle that grows stronger with use. But like working out physically, you will need to give your willpower a rest at times. Otherwise, you can overuse it and tire it out, making it unavailable when you need it most.
2. Stay fit.
Life is better when you’re physically fit. This is especially true for boosting your willpower. It’s much easier to control yourself when you take care of your overall wellbeing. Make it a habit to get enough sleep, work out and eat nutritious foods.
3. Create specific goals.
Make what you want to happen clear in your mind. Know exactly what you will do or have when it is accomplished. Additionally, break these big goals down into smaller, concrete steps.
For example, losing 30 pounds could mean eating more plant-based foods and shrinking your portion sizes for a target weight loss of a pound a week.
4. Anticipate obstacles and alternate plans.
What if things don’t work out the way you want them to? What steps do you take then?
For example, what if your goal is to slim down by thirty pounds and you find yourself stress eating? You might figure out what triggers are causing you to reach for these foods and determine how you’ll deal with them.
What’s key is to be patient and treat yourself with compassion when you run into obstacles. This will help you develop the willpower needed to move toward your goal.
5. Remember your purpose.
Think about the reasons behind what you’re doing. Maybe you’re trying to lower your blood pressure or cholesterol so you can be around for your kids and future grandchildren. Maybe you want to build a financial future that can provide for your family.
An excellent method to boost your willpower is to focus on the reasons behind accomplishing your goals.
6. Timing can be important.
Stressful events can weaken your determination. You might need to postpone attempting to make major changes if you’re in the middle of getting a master’s degree or doing a renovation to your home.
Make sure that competing events don’t overwhelm your efforts to boost your willpower.
7. Take small steps.
Like the old saying goes, and as mentioned in tip number two, “inch by inch is a cinch”. Goal achievement is a lot easier when you break them down into smaller, achievable tasks.
Breaking your goals down will help you to succeed. Small, achievable steps allow you to stay focused on what needs to be accomplished right now. It also makes it easier to get them done.
As your accomplishments add up, they will help you build both the momentum and the motivation you need to keep going and making progress toward your ultimate goal.
8. Let go.
Like Kenny Rodgers tells us in The Gambler, “You got to know when to hold them and know when to fold them.”
Not every goal you make is going to be winner. There will be occasions when calling it a day and letting a goal go is your best choice.
If you’re unable to generate much enthusiasm about a goal you’re pursuing, you may be trying to conform to external expectations instead of pursuing your own passions.
How to Supplement Your Willpower:
1. Create positive habits.
Positive habits are simple things you can do to reinforce your willpower. You might start by choosing to make healthy decisions and incorporating them into your daily routines.
For example, order some fruit with your sandwich instead of French fries. Choose to walk instead of visiting with your co-workers on your 15-minute break. Go to bed at the same time each night instead of whenever you feel like it or after watching “just one more” episode of late-night TV.
Over time, these positive choices will boost your willpower as they become automatic habits.
2. Change your environment.
I try not to keep ice cream in my freezer because, if it’s there, I’ll probably eat it. The same goes for cookies and other sweets. If they are not there, I won’t eat them.
Help boost your willpower by removing temptations as much as possible. This will keep you from having to struggle with them.
If you’re trying to develop healthy eating habits, then keep junk food out of your kitchen or store it on shelves that are high up and difficult to reach. If you want to cut down on your screen time, then cancel some of your streaming subscriptions.
3. Develop distractions.
Your brain is unable to NOT do something.
Don’t believe me?
Don’t think of a pink elephant.
No matter what you do, don’t think of a pink elephant.
What are you thinking about right now?
A pink elephant, right?
The thing about trying to stop thinking about something is it can wind up taking over your brain. That’s why “It’s a Small World” will keep playing in your mind as you drive back to your hotel from Disneyland.
If you find visions of donuts or cigarettes dancing through your head, find something to do to distract yourself. Go for a walk, call a friend, or break out today’s Wordle puzzle and work through it.
What you’re doing is giving yourself some space to stop that mental loop. This will give a big boost to your willpower.
4. Research your options.
Today it is easier than ever to research options. In fact, unless you’re living in a cave in the mountains (and if you are, how are you reading this?), you probably have access to technology and other tools that can help make finding solutions to many of life’s problems a lot easier.
Search the internet or look for helpful apps you can download to your phone or tablet. You can also find groups where you can chat with others who are dealing with similar situations and want to boost their willpower too.
5. Let others help.
As the clergyman John Donne said 400 years ago, “no man is an island”.
What he meant was, as we go through life, we will all need support. If you would like to boost your willpower in a certain area, let your family and friends know how they can assist you.
If you find that you’re still stuck, consider working with a therapist who specializes in issues like yours. You can ask your primary care doctor for referrals or contact organizations like the American Psychological Association.
Start Boosting Your Willpower Today!
As Heidi Grant Halvorson points out, you can develop your willpower. What’s key is to strengthen it, you need to exercise it regularly. You also need to know when to give it a rest.
If you find you are still struggling, have the courage to reach out for help so you can you take advantage of other available resources and strategies that are available today.
Like most people, you probably agree that having more willpower can make life better for you, and the people around you. Use these tips to boost your willpower and begin creating a better life, today!