Tips for Improving Willpower

Here are some brief tips for improving willpower from Jeff Hayden’s excellent book, The Motivation Myth . These will help you accomplish your goals without needing to depend on willpower, a resource that dwindles throughout your day.

What is Willpower?

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, Willpower is the ability to control yourself . It’s a strong determination that allows you to do something difficult (such as to lose weight or quit smoking). At its essence, willpower is the ability to resist short-term temptations in order to meet long-term goals.

Willpower is a limited resource

However you define it, willpower is a limited and dwindling resource.  You start the day with a certain amount and it fluctuates throughout the day and generally declines over time.

Willpower can be compared to a muscle that becomes fatigued with overuse. Studies show that repeatedly resisting temptation drains your ability to withstand future enticements.

Exceptional willpower is not a quality you are born with. Rather they’ve found ways to make decisions that don’t require willpower and determination.

Six Tips For Improving Willpower

Step 1: Eliminate as many choices as possible.

Choice is a problem because it forces you to decide what it is that you want to do. The more choices we need to make during the day, the harder each one is on our brain and the more it depletes your willpower.

The best way to eliminate choice is to develop good habits so that your brain can operate on automatic. This is what the brain does by default. Whenever it finds that it needs to so something again and again, it creates a new neural network to make repetition more efficient. Your job is to oversee your brain and make sure that this new habit supports you in the pursuit of your objectives.

Step 2: Make decisions at night so you need to make them tomorrow.

Pick easy decisions that will drain your store of willpower and make them at night before you go to bed.

The idea is to take as many decisions off the board as you can the night before, because that will allow you to conserve tomorrows mental energy for making decisions that really matter.

For example, lay out your clothes for tomorrow so you don’t have to decide or look for what you need. Also, if you want to workout first thing in the morning, have your workout clothes and shoes set out so they will remind you. Also make your to do list before going to bed. This will get the needs of tomorrow off your mind as well as set your priorities in advance.

Step 3: Do the hardest things you need to do first.

You have the greatest mental energy early in the day so focus on doing your most difficult challenges first. Don’t waste time reading email or the newspaper. Save your willpower for the crucial things.

Dive right into one of your highest impact activities and complete it. The feeling of getting it done will motivate you to accomplish even more.

Step 4: Refuel Often. 

Your willpower is tied to your blood glucose levels.

Maintaining steady blood-glucose levels, such as by eating regular healthy meals and snacks, may help prevent the effects of willpower depletion. So take periodic breaks to eat or snack.

Step 5: Create reminders of your long-term goals. 

Create tangible reminders designed to pull you back from the impulse brink. Post little stickup note on the refrigerator reminding you that you are not the kind of person who eats late night snacks.

Step 6: Remove temptation altogether.  

Control your environment to help your self-control. Make it automatic to follow the right routines.

If you are trying to lose weight, get high caloric snacks and deserts out of the house. Similarly, if you are attempting to eliminate alcohol or tobacco from your life, get them out of the house. “Out of sight, out of mind.” Don’t leave temptations around to “tempt” you.

Additional Information

For more information on Willpower check out this excellent resource from the American Psychological Association.

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