We all have things we would like to change in our lives. Perhaps it’s a question of losing weight, or possibly exercising on a regular basis. Sometimes it could be about making time for a daily meditation. There are countless ways we would like improve our lives. That’s why New Year’s resolutions are so popular. People love to think about how they are going to change for the better. Following through with those changes can be a whole different story. If you ask someone why they didn’t keep those resolutions, most will tell you the same thing. They just didn’t have the willpower to change.
Everyone knows what willpower is–the ability to delay short-term gratification in order to achieve a long-term goal. It sounds so simple, right? If we want to lose weight, we just need to put the cookie down. Or actually get up when the alarm rings if we want to get an early morning workout before starting the day. Sometimes we can even put the cookie down, or get up early. After about a week, however, it becomes more difficult, We decide to hit the snooze button. We just don’t have the willpower to follow through on our personal commitments.
There is hope, however, for those of us who have trouble staying on a diet for longer than a week. We can actually build and strengthen our willpower to help us follow through and make our important goals. Willpower is like a muscle. With regular use and exercise, it can be strengthened and improved. But like a muscle, we can’t expect it to work at full speed twenty-four/seven. There must be recovery periods as well as proper nutrition if we want to see any improvement.
If a lack of willpower has ever been a problem for you, here are six ways to actually strengthen your willpower and finally check those New Year’s resolutions off your list.
Start Small: You wouldn’t start a cardio program by running a marathon on your first day out. The same is true with willpower. If you want to build your willpower, start with baby steps. Decide to make one change you feel will be a challenge, but not overwhelming, and commit to it for a week. For some it could be limiting television in the evening. Others could decide not to hit the snooze button in the morning. By starting with smaller exercises, you can build up your willpower endurance so you will be ready for those big challenges when needed.
Timing Is Everything: Just as your muscles fatigue during the day, so does your willpower. Even if you are a night owl, mornings are the best time to tackle the difficult or daunting projects. Just going through your day saps your willpower so starting that report you didn’t want to write anyway will be just that much more difficult in the afternoon.
Feed Your Brain: Exercising willpower takes a tremendous amount of energy–literally. When you focus on self-control, your brain uses more than the normal amount of glucose. If you deplete those glucose levels, your willpower will be depleted as well. The best solution is to eat small meals regularly throughout the day. Not only will you have more energy, you will be better able to avoid that midnight cookie call.
Have A Plan: Studies show one of the best ways to build willpower and self-control is to plan for temptation. For example, you have just started a paleo diet to finally lose that weight. All is going well until your friends invite you to dinner. Bread is your downfall, so you are tempted to decline the invitation. Instead of letting your diet rule your life, tell your friends about your new eating plan and request that the waiter not bring that warm bread basket to the table. You’ll be gaining support from your network, and avoiding temptation at the same time.
Wait It Out: Here is a very simple technique for building willpower. Wait for two minutes at the start of each meal before eating. Not only will it keep you from rushing through your meal, it will train your brain to recognize link between self-denial and reward. For bonus points, put your utensils down between each bite. Again, it is a simple form of self-denial, but it greatly increases the mindfulness of your actions.
Give yourself a break: As mentioned earlier, you can’t maintain willpower all the time. You need to give yourself a break in order to replenish the levels of self-control. Thirty minutes a day of “you-time” is a great way to fill that reservoir. Studies show that unstructured activity time is the most beneficial–it’s why kids have recess at school. They can’t be expected to maintain concentration every minute of the school day. The same holds true for you. Taking a walk or listening to music is a great way to replenish your energy levels.
If you ever told yourself you wanted to change, but just didn’t have the willpower to follow through with the plan, give these exercises a try. It is possible to increase the level of your own self-control, and that can go a long way to help you create a whole new batch of those New Year’s resolutions.