Willpower is more than avoiding the doughnuts in the break room or waking up early to hit the gym. There are three components to willpower according to Dr. Kelly McGonigal, author of The Willpower Instinct.
I will. This is the motivation to find energy to what I may find unpleasant.
I won’t. This is the ability to recognize and resist what is inconsistent with my long-term goals.
I want. This is understanding what I value, dream of, and really want; this gives strength for the I wills and I wont’s.
When we live consistent with our values and long-term goals, we are typically more content and happy.
These five simple options that will help increase your willpower:
- Practice self-compassion. We all have times when our willpower is weak. Being self-critical causes a stress response, which shifts brain into a reward seeking response. Instead, forgive yourself for giving into temptation. Try self-affirmation and kindness, acknowledging that you are trying.
- Learn how to better manage your stress. High stress uses up the brain’s limited energy to find ways for immediate relief. This typically means decisions are made based on short-time outcomes and we lose sight of our long-term goals. Learn your stress responses and how you are best able to cope. Try deep breathing or distraction for quick relief.
- Practice self-care. Getting proper nutrition and enough sleep makes a big difference in the efficiency of the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that controls willpower. Both provide the energy the brain needs to function. Additionally, incorporate regular exercise in your routine. Physical exercise creates beneficial stress that has a positive affect on the prefrontal cortex. Routine exercise increases willingness, courage, happiness, and intrinsic self-worth.
- Practice mindfulness or meditation. Research has shown these practices increase our ability to focus, stay attentive, manage stress, and be self-aware. Being purposeful in focusing only on your breath for just five minutes at a time shifts your brain and body into a state of training. This engages the same systems that are needed for willpower.
- Postpone things to gain focus on what’s important now. When facing a temptation, consider a ten minute delay of gratification. Telling yourself “not now, maybe later” reduces stress hormones and allows time to distract yourself. Postponing also means delaying the urge to quit a healthy step, such as exercise. Make a ten-minute commitment to continue, because feeling “like it” comes secondary. Feelings are changed by action.
As you implement these practices in your life, you will see your willpower increase.
Written by: Ann Sheerin, LPC