Self-control. Self-discipline. Willpower. They all mean the same thing. You have the mental strength and attitude to do whatever needs to be done even if your emotions say ‘I don’t want to’.
Learning how to improve your willpower ultimately is a skill that helps you in all areas of your life, from your happiness to your levels of success to earning more money and improving relationships.
Willpower is taken care of by the prefrontal cortex, which is the area of the brain located right behind the forehead that helps us with things like decision-making. In order to work effectively and boost our willpower, we need to give our prefrontal cortex some TLC, which means feeding it with good-quality food, exercising and getting enough sleep.
Willpower works like a muscle, you either use it or lose it. Like any other muscle, willpower gets stronger when exercised but can get exhausted and weak by overuse and when we don’t give it time to recover.
Here are our TOP 10 tips to train and strengthen your willpower.
#1 Learn to Manage Stress
We all know that stress negatively impacts our body and health, but as it turns out, stress also depletes our willpower. When we are stressed out, we tend to fall back on old habits without being consciously aware of it. A constant surge of the stress hormone cortisol makes it hard to stick to the plan of creating new, healthy habits and depletes our willpower quickly by trying to fight our old go-to habits of dealing with stress like reaching for sweets or alcohol. Learn how to manage stress with healthier habits like relaxing music, exercise, meditation, visualization, taking a bubble bath, getting a massage, or watching a funny movie. Find what works best for you to manage your stress without having to resort to old, bad habits.
One of the fastest willpower workouts is to incorporate meditation into your daily routine and you can reap the benefits of meditation already after 2 to 3 days. A daily 10 minute meditation practice will help you to focus better, increase your energy levels and reduce stress and with that give a big boost to your willpower. If you don’t know where to start, simply sit or lie down and focus on your breath for a few minutes and when your mind starts to wander – which it will, because that’s the mind’s job – refocus on the breath. Don’t get frustrated, simply keep bringing your focus back to the breath every single time and eventually you will be able to slow down your thoughts.
#3 Get More Sleep
Getting enough sleep has a huge impact on whether or not your willpower gets replenished over night. Studies show that sleep deprivation, which already starts when you get less than six hours of sleep a night, produces chronic stress that impacts how your body and mind uses energy and your prefrontal cortex, which is in charge of willpower, takes an especially hard hit and loses control. However, if you get enough sleep, you give your body and mind a chance to recover from the stresses of the day and recharge your willpower reserves. Research found that people who get between 6 1/2 and 7 1/2 hours of sleep a night are the happiest, most productive people who live the longest.
#4 Exercise More
Another great way to give your prefrontal cortex and willpower a big boost that is often undervalued and easily ignored is to exercise more. Whether that’s a more mindful practice like yoga or an intense workout at the gym, physical activity has a hugely positive impact on your mind and willpower. Research is still exploring all the ways fitness positively impacts the brain, but it seems that the changes in cerebral blood flow is one of the major reasons because it can help to create brain cells. Additionally, the protein BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) also plays a huge part in brain health as it helps to protect and repair brain cells and let’s not forget the boost in mood we get through exercise by triggering the release of feel-good chemicals and hormones like endorphins, which promote brain health.
#5 Use Your Opposite Hand
This is a fun and simple tool to strengthen your willpower. Our brain is wired to use our dominant hand for simple things like brushing our teeth or pouring coffee into our mug. If you use your non-dominant hand, it takes a lot of willpower to stay focused. You don’t need more than an hour a day to get started and see results. If you use your opposite hand for more than an hour a day, you unnecessarily tire out your willpower and deplete it.
#6 Keep a Food Diary
Most of us don’t keep a food diary and if we do, we don’t log all the food we eat. Just think about that morning coffee with milk, did you write it down? Or the grapes you ate last night before going to bed… Keeping a food diary and logging everything takes a lot of discipline and will strengthen your willpower after just two weeks. Find an app that you like and start logging your food intake and you’ll be surprised how easy it is to build up your willpower. It doesn’t have to be a food diary, any similar logging of information will work, find what works best for you.
#7 Use Your Imagination
Our mind doesn’t make a difference between an imagined situation or a situation that we experience in real life. If you imagine lying on the beach on a deserted island, listening to the waves and tasting the salty ocean air, your body will start to relax, just like it would if you were actually there. If you imagine running late for that all important business meeting, your body will respond with tension and stress. Knowing how powerful imagination is, you can use imagination to your advantage when you train your willpower. Imagine you already have a strong sense of self-control and enough willpower to achieve anything you set your mind to. If you spend some time daily to sit down and get into the emotions and feelings of having strong willpower, you will program your subconscious mind to over time make this a reality.
#8 Be Yourself
It takes a huge amount of effort and willpower to suppress your personality, behaviors and preferences, which not surprisingly at all, depletes your willpower. If you change who you are in order to please others you have to exert incredible self-control to not let your true self shine through. However, if you stay true to yourself and follow your internal guidance and pursue your goals and dreams, you have plenty of willpower left to get through your day. Get comfortable with yourself and be who you are and your willpower reserves will stay intact.
#9 Create and Meet Self-Imposed Deadlines
Your willpower gets taxed when you try to tune out all distractions and want to become hyper-productive like when you try to finish a project that is due tomorrow morning. Use this principle by creating self-imposed deadlines that have some sort of penalty if you don’t meet them. Research shows that creating and meeting self-imposed deadlines is a great workout for your willpower and will strengthen it in no time. Start simple. Pick something from your to-do list that you have been putting off for a while and set a deadline for accomplishing it and make sure that you meet the deadline. A recent study showed that participants who followed this process for only 2 weeks, didn’t just get their to-do list done, but were also able to improve their diet, exercise more and cut back on alcohol and cigarettes.
#10 Remove Temptations
You only have a limited amount of willpower available in the day, so don’t waste it, but be very conscious about when and how you use it. Every single time you have to say no to a temptation that is right in front of you, you slowly deplete your willpower and it takes time to replenish it. So whenever possible, remove temptations from your life and keep your willpower reserves intact. For example, if you know that you have a sweet tooth but want to lose weight, keep candy out of your house. If you know that you have a tendency to binge watch your favorite Netflix series, but know that you have a tight deadline to finish a project, cancel your subscription for a month. Make your life easier and remove the temptations from under your nose.
Willpower is a limited resource that gets depleted as we go through our day and have to deal with stress and self-control. But like all muscles, willpower can be strengthened with the right tools and practice. The above effective ways all help to strengthen willpower, perseverance and focus, but don’t try them all at once. Think about training your willpower like training for a marathon. Start small and gradually build up as your willpower gets stronger.
BOOST YOUR WILLPOWER AND INCREASE HAPPINESS AND SUCCESS
Joschi & Monika