How to Increase Your Willpower, Jeff Gero, Ph.D.
There are two separate words we can look at to understand willpower. Will, which is a mindset or focus on a desired goal for the future. For instance “I want to lose 10 pounds. The word power embraces our strong intention to achieve that goal. It takes willpower and self-control to delay immediate gratification of short-term temptations in order to achieve our goal. To succeed we must remember to keep our goal in mind. Affirm the goal daily. When waking and before going to sleep visualize your goal and success.
Annual Stress in America Survey asks participants a variety of questions’ When asked what holds them back from making healthy lifestyle changes they regularly cite lack of willpower as the No. 1 reason for not following through with such changes. A majority of respondents believe that willpower is something that can be learned.
Willpower, like any behavior can be strengthened with practice and self-control.
Willpower researchers, describes three necessary components for achieving objectives: First, he says, you need to establish the motivation for change and set a clear goal. Second, you need to monitor your behavior toward that goal. The third component is willpower. Whether your goal is to lose weight, kick a smoking habit, study more, or spend less time on Facebook, willpower is a critical step to achieving a successful outcome.
Ph.D.’s explored self-control in eighth-graders over the course of the school year. The researchers first gauged the students’ self-discipline (their term for self-control) by having teachers, parents, and the students themselves complete questionnaires. They also gave students a task in which they had the option of receiving $1 immediately or waiting a week to receive $2.
They found students who ranked high on self-discipline had better grades, better school attendance, and higher standardized-test scores, and were more likely to be admitted to a competitive high school program. Self-discipline, the researchers found, was more important than IQ in predicting academic success.
Other studies have uncovered similar patterns. Comparing willpower by asking undergraduate students to complete questionnaires designed to measure their self-control. The scientists also created a scale to score the student’s relative willpower strength. They found the students’ self-control scores correlated with higher grade-point averages, higher self-esteem, less binge eating and alcohol abuse, and better relationship skills.
The benefits of willpower seem to extend well beyond the college years. Studying self-control in a group of 1,000 individuals who were tracked from birth to age 32 as part of a long-term health study. Found that individuals with high self-control in childhood (as reported by teachers, parents and the children themselves) grew into adults with greater physical and mental health, fewer substance-abuse problems and criminal convictions, and better savings behavior and financial security. Like all muscles in the body, willpower can be strengthened with practice.
Now that we have seen the benefits of developing and utilizing willpower, this is what can be done to improve willpower.
1. Increase the ability to handle stress. Being under high levels of stress means that our body’s energy is used up in acting instinctively and making decisions based on short-term outcomes. Wait until your anxiety levels and willpower are back to normal before giving into what you don’t want to do.
2. Learn to meditate and relax. Meditation is simply the practice of focusing your attention on the present moment. By meditating you are training the brain to concentrate and resist the urge to wander. After just days of practicing meditation for 10 minutes, our brain will increase its ability to focus. As a result we will have more energy, become less stressed and have more self-control.
3. Sleep deprived individuals are more likely to give in to impulses, have less focus, and make other questionable or risky choices. Sleep deprivation impacts self-control and willpower in two main ways. Not only can it reduce your capacity to exercise willpower, but it can also lower the energy needed for willpower. When we don’t get enough sleep, our pre-frontal cortex (the part of your brain you use to exert willpower) is severely compromised. Brain cells are not able to absorb glucose which the brain uses for fuel.
4. Exercise and nutrition help build willpower by doing what is good for you. When you care enough about your body it will be easier to call upon willpower to make careful decisions and achieve your goal. Regular physical exercise will make you more resilient to stress and in general make you feel better physically and mentally. Exercise in particular is known for making us happy by releasing endorphins.
5. Be more mindful of your automatic craving or laziness When you come to a point that your craving is strong, stop take a deep breath and affirm your goal. See your goal as a challenge and that you are in charge, not your craving. Make a positive affirmation card to remind you of your goal. Place it where you can see it often. If the goal is to lose weight. (Eating healthy helps me lose weight) See yourself the way you want to be, feel it and be it.
Since it has been shown that willpower can improve with practice we begin with baby steps. Once you set a goal, test yourself. If you want to lose weight, eat only half of a regular desert. Or carry around a Hersey kiss and don’t eat it. That will build your will power. If you want to exercise, begin by walking and slowly increase over time. By practicing these tips you will increase the muscle of willpower and self-esteem. Wishing you much success with your goals.
Jeffrey Gero, Ph.D. is a pioneer in the field of stress management, is the creator of the Success Over Stress System. He delivered the first stress management program for the California Department of Corrections at San Quentin Prison; he assisted the Los Angeles Times with the stress surrounding the 1984 Olympics; he assisted Allied Signal with the stress and sabotage surrounding a plant closing; helped JPL (NASA) deal with the failure of the Mars Project; and, he assisted paramedics in the California State Firefighters Association with job stress.
He is former director of the Health Awareness and Stress Management.
Dr. Gero co-wrote and co-produced a relaxation and stress management program, has produced several stress management and peak-performance programs, and has authored a book entitled Secrets to Success at Work.