Instant Willpower

Your willpower is your inner strength. It is the force by which you accomplish what you desire, and it comes from deep within. I think it’s pretty safe to say that most of us, at one time or another, have failed at something due to a lack of willpower. Our hearts just weren’t in it, right?
Well, that couldn’t be truer. Luckily, it’s possible to strengthen your willpower with a few easy exercises. I’ll detail just how it’s done so the next time you desire that something come to pass; you’ll have the fortitude to see it through.

First, it’s important to look at just what willpower is. Let’s break it down. According to Webster dictionary willpower refers to: control over one’s impulses and actions; self-control.

Wow. That’s a pretty simple definition for something so difficult to do in practice. Nevertheless, it’s accurate. Willpower is simply control over your impulses, or base desires, in order to ensure a specific outcome. When something you want to do arises but ends up being in conflict with your long-term goals, your willpower/self-control/self-discipline is what kicks in to keep you on the straight and narrow. Have you ever wanted to say something to someone, but decided it would be more prudent to be silent? You bit your tongue, right? That’s willpower in action.

So, now that we have clearly defined willpower and given an example anyone can relate to, how do we strengthen it? Willpower, while a mental concept, can be strengthened in the same way physical muscles can: by using it.

Willpower is a finite source. Research has shown that every time you exercise your will in a given situation, such as saying no to a second helping of pie, you deplete your daily reserve of willpower by an amount proportionate to the decision. What this means is that if you say no to something that’s easy to say no to, you’ve still got quite a bit of willpower in reserve. However, if you find yourself in a situation where it’s extremely difficult to refuse something, and you still do, you’ve used up a very significant amount of your willpower and may very well acquiesce to another request you would normally have refused.

The first thing you can do in order to dramatically increase your willpower reserves is to structure your life in such a way that temptation is minimized. For instance, if you have difficulty saying “no” to food, you might want to stay away from all-you-can-eat restaurants and buffets. Not putting yourself in a situation in which you know you may buckle is the easiest and arguably the most obvious way of keeping your self-control intact.

It’s also a good idea to try to tackle the more difficult decisions during calm periods in your life. Remember how earlier we learned that a person only has so much willpower to exercise each day? Well, if you try to take on too much at once, you’re destined to fail.
Take for instance someone who wants to drink less. It’s an admirable goal and for most, certainly an attainable one. However, if you’re in the habit of enjoying one or two drinks a night, it might not be a good idea to try to exercise your willpower immediately after a relationship fails—or during a particularly stressful time at work.

During periods like these, we are constantly using our self-control throughout the day on a variety of things. Have you ever been so stressed you felt like screaming in the middle of the office? Why didn’t you? That was your self-control kicking in. What about the time someone upset you for some reason and you wanted to let them have it but restrained yourself? That was your self-control coming to the rescue as well.

Every day we are faced with opportunities to lash out and satiate our more basic needs, but we don’t. Each time we choose not to do this, we use up a little bit of our willpower reserve.

Whenever an opportunity for immediate gratification rears its ugly head, stop for a moment and think of your long-term goal. Problems with self-control typically arise when we’re caught up in the moment and lose sight of long term goals. Imagine for a moment that you’re trying to lose weight for an upcoming event. If, in the course of your normal day you’re invited out to a restaurant that serves unhealthy (albeit delicious) food, it is likely you will accept and blow your diet; especially if the invitation comes when you’re hungry.

The reason for this is because in exercising self-control for the prior several days, or even weeks, in order to lose weight, you’ve been depleting your willpower reserves to such a point that the lunch invitation combined with hunger in the moment is enough to overcome your already weakened resolve.

However, in this situation, instead take a moment and visualize yourself having successfully completed your goal, odds are it will reinvigorate your willpower to the point that you can say no to the invitation and eat a healthy lunch. This is not to say that you should constantly look to the future and avoid the present, but when a situation arises that threatens to derail your hard work, it may be wise to focus on the end game in order to neutralize the temptation and remain in control.

Another way to increase your self-discipline is to make it a habit to avoid putting things off. Procrastination is the antithesis of discipline, and the more you find yourself procrastinating the weaker and punier your willpower muscles are becoming.

As with anything, begin by starting small. If you notice dishes in the sink, get up and wash them rather than wait for the sink to fill up. If your carpet is dirty, don’t wait for your regular cleaning day to do it, get up and do it now. If you notice that both of these examples deal with light cleaning, it’s because laziness goes hand in hand with procrastination. Both are relatively harmless in small amounts, but tend to build on each other the more you do it until one day you wake up and realize that your willpower and discipline are almost non-existent.

Once you conquer the demons of laziness and procrastination, you will be ready to start taking proactive steps to increase your self-control and begin to galvanize that iron will that rests within us all.

One easy, proactive way to flex the muscles of your will is to drop a small bad habit. Habits come in all shapes and sizes and can be pretty difficult to break, even the small ones. It’s better to start with something that’s more a minor annoyance rather than tackle something like smoking or nail-biting right off the bat.

Take flossing for example. Most people don’t do it, but it’s extremely beneficial to your oral health. You can begin by flossing once every night before or after you brush. Research has shown that it doesn’t really matter if you floss before or after you brush, so long as you actually do floss, so when you decide to do it is entirely up to you. The beauty of doing something like this as a willpower exercise is this: since you’re adding something beneficial to your health into your daily routine, you’re not only strengthening your willpower but reaping the benefits of flossing as well.

Anyhow, begin by flossing every night before you go to bed. If it happens that you forget during the first few days or weeks and find yourself already in bed without having flossed, you know what to do. Get up, out of bed, and go floss your teeth. You may just find that getting up out of bed to go floss your teeth isn’t as much of a pain in the neck as you thought. You may not even think about it at all and just get right up. In either case, what you’re seeing is the foundation of self-discipline you’ve already laid by curbing laziness and procrastination. See how it all starts coming together?

A similar exercise to the previous one, and definitely something that will help build your willpower, is to go out and learn something useful, even if it’s something you‘re not particularly interested in. Choosing something that comes in handy in everyday life, such as cooking, is great because once you’ve learned the skill, you have something else that you can do. Learning something boring yet useless will still work for the purpose of this exercise, but why pick up a useless skill?

If you’re like me, then cooking is definitely interesting. There are, however, a host of things you can choose from like automotive repair or spelling and grammar. The point, though, is not to casually study the skill but to make a point to learn it and excel. Anyone can pick up a book on literature and thumb through it while watching Maury, but that isn’t going to do anything for your willpower. Consciously doing something that you’d rather not do and making an effort to see it through to completion will. Aside from that, you’ll learn something that may come in handy later on, and that’s never a bad thing.
Now, we’ve officially conquered laziness and procrastination, and suffered through learning a subject or a skill that we had no prior interest in.
The next step is to start setting mini-goals and holding yourself to them. Mini-goals can be anything, but they should be something that requires at least a little bit of effort, such as getting up earlier, exercising regularly or even doing household chores.

Give yourself a one week timeframe for accomplishing your mini-goal and make sure you do it. Take exercise for example. Set a goal to exercise for 30 minutes a day for an entire week. Set aside the time, schedule it in your planner and no matter what, make sure you get it done.

Once you’ve completed one or more mini-goals for a week, you can easily continue extending the timeframe of your goal week by week, until it becomes habit.

See how far we’ve come? It all began with wanting to increase the strength of our willpower, and now here we are talking about creating positive habits and changing our lives.

Speaking of changing lives, once you’ve gotten comfortable with setting and completing mini-goals, the time has come to take the ultimate test of willpower and begin setting larger goals – with end dates. These goals can be anything from quitting smoking to getting physically fit to changing your career. Whatever it is, the goal must be difficult yet achievable.

Whatever the goal is, it is extremely important that you set a timeframe for completion. If you followed the steps described here, your willpower has surely come a long way, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t need a reminder to stay on track now and again. After all, we aren’t robots.

Strengthening your willpower isn’t as difficult as it sounds, provided that you follow a concise, accurate plan, and keep at it. You may find that you falter or fail now and again on the path, but don’t sweat it, everyone does. Just keep your goal in mind and remember to reward yourself for a job well done.

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