We’ve all been there: you’ve gotten up on the wrong side of the bed, or you’d have preferred not to get up at all. Making it through a difficult day – or, indeed, through a rough patch in life – is often a matter of willpower. What is willpower, though, and how can you improve it?

Willpower is, for our purposes, a combination of forward-thinking, positivity and a mindfulness of the future. It’s an understanding that problems are transitory, and maintaining the right attitude is essential. If you’re struggling with maintaining your willpower, here are six tips to get you in the right frame of mind.

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1. Plot your progress toward your goals.

Is it a cliche to suggest that you keep your “eyes on the prize?” Maybe, but that doesn’t mean it’s not effective. We all have goals in life, and for the most part, failure to achieve those goals only happen when we lose interest or let our commitment flag.

Keeping track of your progress isn’t just a way of reminding yourself of the endgame, but also to remind yourself how far you’ve already come. Losing weight or preparing to run your first 5K are great examples. There are bound to be ups and downs along the way, and you’ll have setbacks. Dwell not just on the numbers you’ve chosen as a goal, or on the ones getting in your way, but on the reasons for achieving that goal. Remember that mathematics are not the only thing that hang in the balance.

2. Read about the lives of famously successful people.

History has provided us with a great deal of inspiration, ready for the taking. If you’re looking for a new role model or just a few words of encouragement, you don’t need to look any further than the biography section in your local library or book store.

Think about what interests you, and what you want to accomplish. Find somebody who’s had success pursuing your same interests, whether it’s something as simple as a hobby, or changing the world with humanitarian efforts. It might feel like you’re being talked down to when (for example) Warren Buffet gives you budgeting advice, but knowing that he’s been where you are now should go a long way toward improving your willpower.

3. Cope with stress and other difficulties by “getting gritty.”

Angela Lee Duckworth’s wonderful TED Talk about the power of grit could be very instructive if you’re looking for ways to inspire yourself.

Ms. Duckworth has a background as a junior high math teacher, and what she found out about students’ success in the classroom didn’t have nearly as much to do with IQ as she’d suspected. The characteristic of “grit” – that is, the determination in each of us to overcome our weaknesses, deal with stress, and reach for success – turned out to be the single greatest asset a student could have.

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4. Forgive your own mistakes, and use them as inspiration.

There may be no more serious barrier to achieving success than allowing past mistakes to discourage us and cloud our judgment. Most of us are too familiar with the quintessential film scene where the protagonist goes to a bar to drown his failures in liquor. It’s an extreme example, not still pretty instructive about the many non-productive ways we can deal with failure.

Forgiving yourself for your mistakes is the first step; after that, you need to burn those mistakes like fuel to power yourself toward your goals in life. Why did you fail? What did you learn? What can you do better next time? Failures are not dead ends; they’re essential steps on a longer road.

5. Keep your past triumphs in mind at all times.

It might at first seem counter-intuitive to dwell on the past in order to build a successful future. The thing is, this type of thinking may well be the gateway to achieving power and passion in all of your pursuits.

Is it so hard to believe that meditating on – and taking inspiration from – your own successes in life is a great way to duplicate your triumphs? If the difference between hope and false hope is nothing more than evidence, then what better evidence could you ask for than the fact that you’ve faced similar challenges earlier in life and come out the other side triumphant?

6. Have faith that it’s going to get easier.

Very few problems last forever. As such, a healthy amount of optimism will help see you through just about any troubles you’re having. Unlike the world of physics, where things seem to thrive on entropy, life for most of us has the wonderful tendency to self-correct.

“Faith” is sort of a murky and imprecise word, so let’s make things a little more straightforward: let’s imagine that faith, in this context, represents a way for us to firmly believe that a thing will come to pass even while we work hard to make it so.

Featured photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons: Celestine Chua and PersonalExcellence.co via flickr.com

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