Willpower is our skill to control our own thoughts and the way in which we behave. According to the American Psychology Association, it is our ability to resist short-term temptations to be able to meet long-term goals. It is one of the key factors of both personal and professional success, and it is commonly referred to as self-discipline. Willpower can help us create lasting positive changes in our lives because it is the inner strength that guides us in moving toward our goals even though there are many challenges along the way.
Our willpower is like a muscle that can get exhausted when overused. But just like our physical muscles, it can be strengthened and improved. If you often find yourself giving in to temptations or you are impulsive most of the time, then you might need to make some improvements to your willpower. It will help you to run off or fight off the constant stream of temptations and distractions around you. To guide you, we will give you a list of the ways you can do to improve your willpower.
Importance of Willpower and Self-Control
Psychological concepts such as willpower and self-control are not merely based on a notion. Instead, they are based on scientific findings that indicate a need for such abilities for a successful life. A growing body of evidence is digging deep to establish stronger causal connections between strong willpower and success in life.
However, a prominent experiment that sheds light on willpower and success in life is famously known as, “marshmallow experiment.” It was conducted in 1972 by Walter Mischel, a psychologist and an avid researcher at Columbia University. A longitudinal study followed participants and tracked their academic and personal successes throughout their lives.
The participants were 4-years old when it started. They were offered marshmallows, which they could take right away or wait for another 15 minutes and get two marshmallows. The researchers then followed the children throughout their lives and deduced that the high-delayers (the ones who opted for two marshmallows after 15 minutes) were more successful in their lives, achieved greater academic success, had healthier marital relationships, and lower divorce rates.
The conclusion that Mischel and his researchers drew significantly summarizes the importance of willpower in our lives. They deduced that the willpower to delay instant gratification for the future possibility of rewards helps form a buffer protecting from vulnerabilities in life later on.
What Might Weaken Your Willpower
One of the worst things that can weaken your willpower is self-criticism. Though common misconceptions might lead you to believe that self-guilt might induce more motivation and self-control, the opposite of this is true. Self-criticism leads to feeling bad about oneself, which correlates with lower motivation levels and shatters self-control. We give in to more temptations when feeling bad about ourselves to cover our guilt.
The Constant Bombardment of Temptations
Marketers know what makes us lose our self-control and weakens our willpower. Therefore, they ensure that the supermarket aisles are first filled with the most tempting items so that your mind already kicks in the reward-seeking mode. This mode fills you with the need to give in for instant gratification and blurs any futuristic views.
In this mode, people make extra purchases, even of the unnecessary items at the time being. The same stands true for our real lives. An eye on the greater objective does not falter with short-term rewards that might endanger the long-term goals.
It is why it is imperative to hone your willpower and exercise it for your benefit. However, the important thing is not to overdo it.
Following are the top 10 ways you can improve your willpower today:
1. Learn How to Manage Your Stress
To improve your willpower, you need to learn how to manage your stress. When you are under high stress levels, your body’s energy can be used to act instinctively, which results in making decisions based on short-term outcomes. Therefore, whenever you feel overwhelmed or tempted when stressed, it’s better to stop for a while and take a few deep breaths. That can be a great start in managing your stress levels and improving your willpower.
2. Do the Opposite of What You Usually Do
Your resolve can be strengthened over time by practicing. In fact, even if you are not trying to correct a specific habit, even then, you just modify your routine; you are already developing self-control. For example, you can brush your teeth using your non-dominant hand. When you become successful in making a small change, then it means that you can also work toward accomplishing something more fundamental.
3. Create Plans to Break Your Bad Habits and Stick to Them
Whenever you create plans to break your bad habits, you need to see to it that you stick to those plans. But how can you encourage yourself to do so? Well, self-affirmation can help you gain more self-control. To be able to stick to your plans, it’s better to tell yourself “I don’t” instead of “I can’t” because it is more effective at helping you stick to your plans and break your bad habits.
4. Exercise and Eat Healthy
This is probably the most ignored route to improving willpower. It’s because exercising and eating healthy is a great way to train the brain, which can also make you a lot more resilient to stress. You can do relaxing and mindful exercises like yoga, or you can also do intense physical training. Don’t forget to eat healthy as well. It’s because good nutrition and exercise can also make you feel better aside from improving your willpower.
5. Expect Some Roadblocks
When you begin pursuing a goal, you need to consider that there are things that might interfere with your plans. Therefore, to improve your willpower, you need to always assume that glitches may come up and your motivation may weaken because of them. The solution to this is to have a fallback that can help you accomplish your aims.
6. Choose a Reward for Yourself in Advance
When you are trying to change your behavior, it also works to choose a reward for yourself in advance, which you will give yourself once you’ve accomplished your objectives. For example, if your goal is to exercise every day, your reward can be giving yourself a piece of chocolate. That way, whenever you think about exercising, you will think that you are doing it because you want the prize waiting for you. Focusing your attention on the end goal will keep you from focusing on pain of the activity you are trying to accomplish.
7. Use Your Imagination
One of the powerful techniques in improving willpower is using your imagination. It’s because our body responds to imagined situations often in the same way it responds to experienced ones. Therefore, if you imagine that you are in a relaxing place, your body will respond by relaxing as well. The same goes when you imagine being late for work because your body will tense in response. To improve your willpower, use your imagination to your advantage.
8. Set Realistic Goals
Being ambitious is not wrong, but you should not regularly go all out. It’s because when you set unrealistic or unachievable goals, you are already losing the game before you even start playing. When you set an unrealistic goal, the process may seem inspiring at first. However, when you start to realize that you can’t accomplish it, your self-esteem will decrease, and so as your willpower. Therefore, you should set big goals to motivate you but still be achievable.
9. Accomplish Your Goal One Step at a Time
Many people give up on their goals not because they lack willpower but because they are overwhelmed by the goal they want to accomplish. If you feel overwhelmed, the solution is to break your goal down into manageable pieces. After that, you can line them up in a sequence that guarantees success.
Aside from guaranteed success, this strategy can also help you not put yourself in a state of willpower depletion. It’s because when you accomplish each sub-goal, you will have satisfaction and pride in yourself, making it much easier for you to accomplish the next one. And once you’ve fully accomplished the goal, you will feel stronger rather than feeling exhausted.
10. Do Not Overdo Your Willpower Training
As mentioned earlier, willpower is like a muscle that can be strengthened through training. But keep in mind that everything is good in moderation; therefore, you should avoid overdoing your willpower training. It’s because when you become a self-control maniac for a long period, you will eventually burn out. Remember that just like the muscles in your body, your willpower also needs to recharge every once in a while.
These are some of the best ways we can recommend for you to improve your willpower. Your poor habits might be difficult to break, but as long as you keep your goal in mind and continue strengthening your willpower, everything can be possible. Keep in mind that you can always become a better version of yourself because the power to do that is always within you. For more self-improvement tips, you can also check our post on the 10 Amazing Ways to Improve Your Well-Being.