Willpower or self control is simply your ability to make a decision and stick to it. But while it can seem so easy to decide to eat a healthier diet, do regular exercise or quit smoking, the actual doing of it can seem nearly impossible.
Thankfully it’s not impossible, you simply need to know some techniques to get you to the point where you’ve broken or created a habit and then it is easy.
Practise your willpower with something easy first
One of the main problems with relying on your willpower to break a bad habit is that you’re often aiming too high to begin with.
Rather than trying to quit smoking or go to the gym every day of the week, try using your willpower on some other easier vice or virtue.
So if you want to get more exercise, try simply walking for five minutes extra a day to begin with. If you want to quit smoking, try sticking to only five or ten cigarettes per day to begin with. The success you’ll experience will give you the motivation to continue and improve.
Reward yourself for willpower
Dogs respond extremely well to reward, learning all kinds of new tricks based purely on whether or not they get a small morsel of meat by doing them. Humans aren’t that different, except that morsels of meat aren’t necessarily the reward we respond to best!
So think up some healthy rewards or treats, and use them to keep yourself on track. Whether you use gold star stickers, morsels of meat, or simply allow yourself an extra ten minutes in bed each morning, it doesn’t matter as long as it feels like a reward to you.
Willpower can crumble in the evening
Earlier in the day you’ll probably find your willpower is at its strongest. Later in the day, you’re tired and your resolve can begin to crumble. So avoid relapsing then by giving yourself rewards in the afternoon and evening, or by increasing distractions to take your mind off things.
Boost your willpower - get more sleep
Lack of sleep = no willpower. Research shows that when you get less than six hours sleep the prefrontal cortex, which helps control our behaviours, is less active.
Drug addicts, for example, have been shown to be more successful in quitting if they get eight hours or more sleep per night.
Willpower works best if you focus on the present
Rather than thinking about how strong you’ll be tomorrow or how long you’ve got to stick to your new regime for, focus only on the now, on today. For example, if you’re trying not to smoke, tell yourself to wait just another ten minutes. Then another ten minutes, and so on.
You’ll find that sometimes those ten minutes will accidentally become 20 and so on, and soon an hour is gone. Then it seems easier to go another hour etc.
Tailor your goal to maximise willpower
So you decide you’re going to cut 300 calories a day but somehow you can’t seem to cut any more than 150... great! Change your resolution to cutting 150 calories a day instead.
Once you’ve done that for a few weeks you may find it easier to cut the other 150 calories, or you may find that the new diet is working so well you’d like to stick to it. So choose your goal but be flexible too.