We all use willpower throughout our day. To be able to function in society (and stay healthy!) we have to constantly deny different urges. But it can be difficult sometimes. Here I’m going to give you 8 easy hacks to help strengthen your willpower to help you get through the day without giving in!
We make hundreds of decisions each day and a lot of those depend on us displaying some sort of willpower. We have to overcome our urges so we can stay healthy, be safe, be productive and not go broke! These urges vary depending on our situation:
- You might have to constant refrain from grabbing a cookie when you go by the office lunchroom.
- Or resist the urge to text your ex-boyfriend/girlfriend.
- Some time you need to force yourself to go to the gym at 5am, even though you would rather stay in bed.
- Holding off checking Facebook for the hundredth time that day.
- Or just switching off the TV after 7 back to back episodes of Orange is the New Black!
- Deciding against buying that cute purse that you saw in the store.
Most psychologists agree that willpower is a limited resource (see this article about willpower from American Psychological Association). It is often compared to a muscle. We can work the muscle repeatedly and not feel any ill effect. But if we overuse the muscle, we can experience fatigue. Willpower is exactly the same. We can exhibit willpower all day, but if we have to use too much, then our ability to resist urges will decrease!
But also, like muscles, we can strengthen your willpower. By repeatedly practicing small acts of willpower, you can increase our endurance to temptation.
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When the Willpower Bucket Runs Dry
No matter how much willpower we have, we all experience times when we just can’t resist anymore. We might indulge in a cookie (or 10!) or watch too much TV and then we feel bad about it later. Then we beat ourselves up for giving in to the urges. We then feel bad about ourselves and we’re more likely to indulge further. It’s a vicious cycle!
So what can you do to give willpower a helping hand? Well, now that you understand that willpower is a limited resource you can plan and prepare to help yourself overcome temptation.
Here are 8 simple hacks to help strengthen your willpower!
Setting goals is great. Without goals we often flounder and never improve our lives. Whether it’s a weight loss goal or a financial goal, we can all benefit from them. However TOO many goals can actually work against us.
For example, if I decided I wanted to get healthier, I might set the goal to exercise every day, give up sugar, quit alcohol, drink more water and meditate for 20 minutes a day. All great things that would make me feel much better. BUT…. if I try and do them all at once I will get overwhelmed.
I would constantly have to exercise restraint. My willpower would be tested numerous times a day. But the end of the first or second day I would be burnt out!
However, if I picked just one or two goals at a time it would be much easier for me to control my habits. If I picked to give up alcohol and sugar, and then give it 2 or 3 weeks (or more) until I’m used to these new habits, I can then focus on the next goal. Easier to maintain and manage!
2 . Avoidance
One of the easiest ways to resist temptation to to avoid it in the first place! If I don’t want to overspend my budget, then I’m not going to go to Target where I will be constantly tempted to buy things I don’t really “need” (OK, so I might WANT a bronze and wood vase, but I don’t NEED it – damn you Target!).
If you know that you always drink too much and regret it when you go to the bar with your friends, then suggest you meet somewhere else instead. A coffee shop or someone’s house. Without the free flowing alcohol, you are less likely to drink to excess and regret it in the morning.
Temptation is everywhere, so it’s not always easy to avoid. We have to go to the grocery store to get food, but if you’re on a diet the rows and rows of cookies, chips and soda can be hard to resist. So help yourself out. Never go to the grocery store when you’re hungry (this is good advice for anyone!), stick to the edges (fresh product, meat, dairy etc.) and avoid those sugar filled center aisles.
You might not be able to completely avoid your Achilles’ Heel, but you can certainly minimize you exposure to it.
There’s some things in our life that we do dozens of times a day and don’t even think about.
How many times a day do we type in our passwords? Why not use that repetitive activity to brain wash yourself a bit?! I know someone that changed their password to “quitsmoking4life“. So numerous times a day he got a clear reminder of what was most important to him at that time. He gave his willpower a little boost every time he unlocked his phone or computer.
Putting a photo of yourself at your ideal weight on the refrigerator or pantry door will make you pause before reaching for that 3rd helping of ice cream.
If you’re focusing on saving money (like for our Money Saving Program), post a copy of your progress somewhere you can see it. If you’re like me and spend too much money online (curse you Amazon!), then pin a copy of your budget over your computer. A visual reminder will help strengthen your resolve.
Now be careful that these reminders don’t make you feel guilty, that’s counterproductive and will weaken your willpower. They need to be positive reminders of what you’re aiming for.
I love routines! Once you’ve established a routine it makes life easier. Suddenly I don’t have to think about that thing anymore, it’s just an automatic part of my day. When I’m getting dressed in the morning, I don’t stop and think about each step. I glide (or stagger if it’s too early!) from task to task without giving it much thought.
The same with driving to work – how many times have you arrived at work and you don’t even remember half the drive there? That’s the beauty of routines! They automate your day and give your brain a break from constant decision making.
So if you are trying to eat breakfast every morning (to stop that mid-morning snack attack), then figure out a way to insert it into your everyday routine. It might take a week or two (or longer) for it to become a natural part of your routine, but once it is it will minimize the amount of willpower you have to exert to carry out the task.
This one goes along with “avoiding temptation”. You need to surround yourself with people who will support you, not make your life harder.
If you are trying to give up alcohol, then you don’t want to hang out with your friends that love to get drunk every night. This doesn’t mean you can’t be friends with them anymore, just avoid situations that make it hard to stick to your goal.
We all know that person who will wave the plate of cookies under your nose and encourage you to have “just one more”. Of course we don’t want to be rude, but that person also needs to understand you want to stick to your goal and they are testing your willpower.
Walking away from a plate of cookies on the counter is one thing, but walking away from someone offering you a cookie is a different act of willpower. It will take a more concerted effort to say no AND walk away, instead of just walking away. So the simple solution is to avoid those kinds of people as much as you can!
Your attitude will also effect how much willpower you have. If you are truly driven to lose 20 lbs because you know you need to do it for your health, you are much more likely to succeed than if you are trying to lose the weight because someone else says you should.
It’s the about being a people-pleaser vs. your internal attitude! If you want to succeed for yourself you will find it easier to exhibit willpower, than if you are doing it for someone else.
That’s often why people say they work harder on their own business than they ever did when they worked for someone else. When you are working for yourself you are much more driven to work hard because you know you will directly benefit. If you are working for someone else you might not feel the same level of motivation or might give up on a difficult task sooner.
Attitude is everything! Even just re-framing the way you look at a situation can help give your willpower a boost. Rather than saying “I can’t have sugar”, you should say “I don’t have sugar”. “Can’t” implies that it is not your choice and you are depriving yourself. By saying “I don’t” you are stating a fact about yourself. Like “I don’t jump out of planes” – that’s a fact and it’s not going to change! I do n’t need to use willpower to stop myself jumping out of a plane!
7. Self Care
When you are tired, stressed and hungry it is harder to exhibit self control and willpower. We’ve all had that situation when, after a hard day at work, we cheat on our diet and have a bowl of ice cream to make ourselves feel better.
We need to understand that when we are stressed that we are more likely to make bad decisions. If you always binge on ice cream after a hard day at work, then don’t keep ice cream in the house! Or put a sticker on it reminding you that you don’t REALLY want it (see Tip #2!).
If we look after ourselves it will help keep our willpower muscle strong. This is yet another reason why self care is so important. Meditation is a useful tool for strengthening our willpower. By being able to center and quieten your mind, you will be able to control your urges all the more.
There are many apps to help you learn to meditate, one of my favorite meditation apps is Headspace. It teaches, even completely beginners, how to meditate and quieten their mind. The benefits of meditation are numerous, so it’s a great habit to get into. Just 10-15 minutes a day can make a huge difference to your life.
Keeping a “Gratitude Journal” is also a great self care technique that can help build willpower. Gratitude journaling is very quick and simple but can have powerful effects on your life. By simply writing down 3 things that you are grateful for every day (I do mine at bedtime before I go to sleep) you will start to focus on the positive instead of the negative. Our brains naturally perceive negative emotions more strongly than positive ones. By retraining your brain to look for the positive in situations, you will change your outlook on many aspects of your life. And as we know, it is easier to exert willpower when we are in a positive frame of mind!
So we’ve covered how you should avoid situations or people that will test your willpower. But what do you do if you can’t avoid the situation or the person? You need to come up with a plan!
This is called a “If-Then” plan. “If” you’re in a certain situation “then” you need to respond in a certain way. By planning ahead you take away the necessity to make a decision on the spur of the moment (which isn’t always going to be the best decision!).
For example, it’s the evening of the office Christmas party. You want to go and socialize with your colleagues (and maybe talk to your boss about that promotion!), but you know everyone will be drinking a lot of alcohol and you’ve given up drinking. Of course you could politely refuse, but Jim from Accounting will keep insisting that you try his rum punch! So you need a plan BEFORE you get to the party, so you can avoid temptation once you are there. Maybe use the excuse that you’re driving and don’t want to drink? Or say that it will conflict with your medication. Whatever excuse you decide you use, if it is planned beforehand you are more likely to stick with it.
“If-Then” plans can be used in pretty much any situation! You just have to be prepared and plan ahead.
Strengthen Your Willpower
Individually these hacks might not give you a willpower of steel. But together you can use these tools to give yourself a fighting chance of overcoming all those temptations and urges you face every day!
What’s your favorite way to give your willpower a boost?