How do I increase my willpower?
So, you’ve finally accepted that you need to make some changes in your life. You’re spending too much time watching TV when you should be working or studying, and you have a few bad habits that are affecting your health and wellbeing such as drinking too much alcohol and eating too many take-aways. You’re motivated to make changes… but do you have the willpower to follow through and achieve your goals?
You know from previous experience that your willpower is a limited resource. Although you wake-up feeling positive and full of good intentions, by the end of the day, when you’re feeling tired, hungry, or anxious, is when your willpower has crumbled in the past.
So are there any techniques that can help you maintain your resolve when you’re at your most vulnerable? The answer is YES; read on to find out how to support and sustain your willpower and improve your life.
Be who you want to be
Start by visualising the person you want to become, and change your identity. Think and behave like the person you want to be. Build willpower by doing something relatively easy that your new identity would do – but your old self wouldn’t do, such as giving up sugar in coffee, using the stairs instead of the lift, or cycling to work. Enjoy the sense of achievement you get when you behave like your new identity. See yourself becoming the new person. Think of your willpower as a muscle. The more you exercise it – the stronger it will become. Embrace a little discomfort!
Change your friends and your environment
When you’re trying to grow into the person you want to be, the process is much easier if you’re surrounded by people who share the qualities you aspire to. Conversely, if your friends, family and work colleagues are unsupportive, or feel threatened by your choices, you’ll have a much harder time trying to make, and maintain, significant change. The same can be said for the environments you chose to spend time in. Do you want to be in the gym, or a bar; at a networking event, or watching TV; hiking, or surfing the internet? Pay attention to how each environment makes you feel. Are you motivated or drained? Are they helping or hindering your willpower?
In order to make progress, it may be necessary to distance yourself from the people and places that no longer reflect your new personality and lifestyle, and align yourself with those that do. It may sound harsh, but sharing a history with someone doesn’t guarantee you have a future together, and you can’t make a significant, lasting change without altering some key elements of your life. So ask yourself if your environment, and the people in it, are helping you grow - or holding you back.
Disrupt your habits
Habits are developed over a lifetime, and can be very hard to break, but understanding what drives them can help you chip away at them bit-by-bit. All habits have a cycle that they go through. Known as the ‘habit loop’ it involves three stages:
1. The trigger or cue
2. The routine, action or behaviour
3. The reward
Armed with this information, you now have the ability to disrupt an existing habit loop by changing one or more of the three stages that make up the cycle, so that it’s more in tune with your new identity and life goals.
For example, if you want to lose weight, but are regularly buying a chocolate bar on the way home from work, identify the habit loop:
1. The trigger: You’re feeling hungry after a hard days work, and you think you deserve a treat.
2. The routine: You go into the shop that’s on your route home, and you buy the chocolate.
3. The reward: Satisfying your hunger and enjoying the smooth, delicious, chocolate taste.
So the simplest way to change this particular habit might be to take a different route home; one which doesn’t have a shop, so that you’re unable to carry out the routine. The only problem with breaking the habit completely and going cold-turkey is that by the time you get home you’ll be even hungrier, and you’ll also be irritable because you missed your treat. So you’re going to need super-strong willpower to control your hunger until dinner-time.
An alternative solution, that won’t require quite so much willpower, but will still help towards your goal of losing weight, would be to disrupt the habit by replacing the chocolate bar with a low calorie snack or piece of fruit. That way, you’ll still have a small treat, and something satisfying to stave off the hunger.
So, if cutting out a bad habit entirely would be too difficult for you… disrupt it instead.
Piggyback your habits
Another trick involving habits is to add, or piggyback, a new, goal oriented stage onto an existing (good) habit, so that you eventually do it without thinking and it becomes part of your daily routine. For example, if you’re trying to increase your fitness level, you might insert a couple of ‘star jumps’ between having a shower, and getting dressed each morning, and then gradually increase the number day-by-day.
Whatever your goals, removing as many temptations and distractions from your environment as possible will help sustain your willpower. If you’re trying to eat only healthy food, be sure to throw away the half-eaten tub of ice cream in the freezer. If you want to improve your focus while working, turn off your cell phone and download a self-control app on your laptop to block distraction websites such as Facebook and YouTube for a set period of time. Don’t allow anything to divert your attention from being the person you want to become.
Forgive yourself and move on
Finally, don’t be too hard on yourself when things don’t go to plan. You’ll have ups and downs; fabulous successes and flat out failures. The key to success, as in life generally, is to learn from your mistakes, and then get back in the saddle. Live your best life!
Thank you for reading this blog post. If you have any thoughts to share, or ideas for future posts, please do let me know. I would love to hear from you.