In his book ‘The Way to Willpower’, Henry Hazlitt defines willpower as
“the ability to keep a remote desire so vividly in mind that immediate desires which interfere with it are not gratified.”
I view it as the mental strength required to break bad habits or start behaviour that leads to positive habits.
Either way it is whatever stops me (or more usually doesn’t) from dipping into the packet of chocolate Tim Tams when I am in the kitchen.
Willpower is directly related to your level of self-control. Strong willpower helps you resist temptation, whilst weaker willpower makes it far more likely that you will give in to destructive behaviours. If you have willpower you are more likely to manage your life in accordance with your chosen goals. Without it you will never take the appropriate actions to change your life.
Here are 5 ways to strengthen your willpower:
1) Don’t go hungry
When your glucose level falls this substantially reduces your ability to maintain self-control and focus. So to maintain your willpower, it is important to have eaten properly. However Tim Tams aren’t the solution here. According to Roy Baumeister, author of ‘Willpower : Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength’, you should eat foods with a low glycemic index: most vegetables, nuts and many raw fruits (like apples, blueberries, and pears), cheese, fish and meat.
2) Constantly remind yourself of your goals
You can maintain your willpower by constantly reminding yourself of all the benefits associated with accomplishing your goals. This is best achieved by writing a sentence or short paragraph on what success would entail and keeping it on the refrigerator door or close to your PC where you can see it, read it and be reminded of it on a regular basis. This helps to deepen the desire for success, and as this desire becomes stronger it will become increasingly easier to resist other temptations.
Author Kelly McGonical emphasised the role that desire plays in strengthening willpower in her book ‘The Willpower Instinct’ where she describes that “desire is the brain strategy for action . . . it can be both a threat to self-control and a source of willpower. When dopamine points us to temptation, we must distinguish wanting from happiness. But we can also recruit dopamine and the promise of reward to motivate ourselves and others. In the end, desire is neither good nor bad – what matters is where we let it point us, and whether we have the wisdom to know when to follow”.
3) Develop a new behaviour in one area of your life
By developing a new good habit in one part of your life it becomes much easier to make additional changes in other areas. For example, developing an exercise habit will enhance your willpower and make it easier to develop additional positive habits. This technique is especially important if you believe that there is so much wrong with your life, that you don’t even know where to start. Instead of trying to tackle multiple problems at once you are more likely to succeed if you implement a single habit such as exercising which will have beneficial spill over effects into other areas of your life. This is because a stronger self-control in one area increases your all round self-control.
According to author, Heidi Grant Halvorson, in her book ‘Succeed’ she shares that “recent research has shown that engaging in daily activities such as exercising, keeping track of your finances or what you are eating—or even just remembering to sit up straight every time you think of it—can help you develop your overall self-control capacity. For example, in one study, students who were assigned to (and stuck to) a daily exercise program not only got physically healthier, but they also became more likely to wash dishes instead of leaving them in the sink, and less likely to impulsively spend money.”
4) Get to work straight away and do a hard task first
One easily formed willpower habit is starting work straight away once you arrive and even better with a hard or unpleasant task. This habit provides a huge uplift in momentum for the day ahead because you are into your daily routine with a big win.
5) Finish the day by completing a task
In a similar vein you can build your willpower by developing the habit of finishing your day with the completion of a task. By not leaving it unfinished for the day you go home ‘on a high’ with a sense of accomplishment.
For more on building self-control and willpower contact us at Mental Toughness Partners.