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Last Updated on August 2, 2018

How to Increase Willpower and Be Mentally Tough

How to Increase Willpower and Be Mentally Tough

Everyone has something they’d like to change. The desire for self-improvement and progression is innate. It is in our DNA.

Unfortunately, when it comes to change, old habits are hard to break, and it seems that we fail more often than we succeed. For those things that we struggle with, it also seems that our willpower is never quite enough.

What can we do about this? Are we doomed to live the same behavioral patterns of the past? Can we actually increase our willpower, and create lasting positive changes in our lives?

The answer is a resounding YES! Willpower is like a muscle and it gets stronger with regular use.

Recent research, as detailed in such books as, Willpower: Rediscovering The Greatest Human Strength by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney, The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, And What You Can Do About It by Kelly McGonigal, and Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, suggests that we are not forever bound to our poor habits, and that we can actually change, and increase our willpower in the process.

So how do we do it? How do we increase our willpower, and direct powerful changes in our lives?

To assist in this process, I’ve summarized the research on the subject into 15 “actionable steps” that, if built into habits, will yield powerful results:

1. Feed our brains with regular, protein rich meals

Don’t skip meals. Our brain is our decision making muscle and its ability to provide us with the necessary willpower to make correct decisions is influenced by whether it is sufficiently fed.

So we should eat regular meals, ideally low-glycemic foods, healthy proteins, vegetables and complex carbohydrates, so that we can avoid the glucose rush (associated with sweets and simple carbs) that immediately plummets.

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2. Keep it simple: work on one change at a time

Willpower can be increased, but it is a slow and gradual process (just like increasing muscle mass). So daily we are working with a fixed amount of it (although that amount can increase over time with practice).

We can’t change everything all at one, and we can’t massively change our lives at stressful times. If we want to see real change, we should start small, and tackle one long term goal at a time.

3. Take a bite of dark chocolate for a quick energy boost

Sometimes we are in a position where we need to make a quick decision, and it feels tough. We should take a bite of dark chocolate. Seriously. The small energy boost will help our brains with the decision.

Obviously, it is much better to eat healthy, slow burning foods to provide a steady source of fuel to our brains, but in the event of a “willpower” emergency, indulging a little isn’t a bad thing. It can actually help to increase our willpower.

4. Get a good night’s sleep

Adequate rest improves our self-control and provides an optimal environment for the brain to function. Rest reduces the body’s need for glucose, and it allows the body to make better use of what we have. Adequate rest is generally 7-8 hours a night for an adult, and 10-12 hours a night for a child.

Self-control requires brain power, and when we are tired, our bodies generally don’t deliver enough glucose to our brains.

5. Steer clear of temptation

People who have lots of self-control don’t need to exercise their willpower as often. Therefore, when willpower is required, it is strong and in steady supply.

So we can increase our willpower by not putting ourselves in situations where willpower is required – steering completely clear of those “danger spots” where temptation is present and willpower is necessary.

6. Develop small but powerful habits

Research confirms that good habits strengthen our willpower. Even if we start with something simple – like making our beds – this can have a powerful positive effect on our willpower. This occurs because these small habits build self-discipline and self-control, and that spreads to other areas of our life.

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7. Make sure our “to-do” list is manageable

Everyone has some form of a “to-do” list. We may not realize it, but this ubiquitous productivity tool may actually be increasing our stress, and decreasing our willpower.

When we create endless lists, and leave tasks perpetually undone, our subconscious nags us about it, and we end up worrying far more than acting. When we do this, we get in a bad mood, and our emotional state plays into our ability to resist temptation.

8. Take frequent breaks

It is impossible to exercise perfect self-control all the time. We simply “run out” of willpower and end up making poor decisions if we don’t supplement ourselves with rest and breaks.

Take a nap from time to time. Go grab a (healthy) bite to eat. Watch a little TV for a minute or two, and then get back to our tasks and goals.

When we do this, we’ll be refreshed, we’ll have more willpower and we’ll produce better work.

9. Meditate for 5 minutes a day

Take 5 minutes and just focus on our breath. Detach for only five minutes from the chaos around us.

Do we realize that every time our mind wanders and we have to get it back on track, we’re having to tap into our reservoir of willpower? The simple act of building self-awareness through mediation will help us in our impulse tendency.

When we become “mindful,” we are also engaging that part of our brain that we need for willpower, rather than just letting our impulses take over.

Here’s a 5-minute Guide to Meditation: Anywhere, Anytime

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10. Take it easy on the cocktails

This one should be glaringly obvious. Alcohol impairs our judgment, reduces our self-awareness, and impedes our willpower.

So be mindful of how much you’ve had to drink when making decisions and try to avoid an excess amount if you’re in a situation where you have to exercise willpower.

11. Plan in advance how to deal with our temptations

Do we have a plan to deal with our temptations? When we see that donut on the counter of the lunch room at work, do we have a plan to avoid it?

Don’t leave this answer to chance. Instead, write out an action plan however simple it may be.

Having a pre-determined plan can significantly increase our willpower when presented with the temptation.

12. Remember why we are doing this, and what it will cost if we quit

What is the purpose of changing our behavior in the first place? What are we trying to accomplish? What will we lose if we give in to our bad habits? Why do we want to change?

When we consistently remind ourselves of the answers to these questions, our willpower is increased to stick to our plans.

13. Do the opposite of what we normally do

Every time we modify our routines, we are exercising self-control. The more that we can exercise self-control, the stronger our willpower will be.

When we succeed in making small changes, we develop the ability to take on much larger ones.

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So start small. Consciously try to brush your teeth, eat, or open the door, with your non-dominant hand.

It may feel very strange at first, but it actually goes a long way to increasing our willpower.

14. Choose a reward in advance

For a given change, if we first determine a reward in advance, our willpower to follow through on our change will be increased.

Make it a game. Our brain is hardwired to pursue positive rewards. Don’t get down on yourself for the past. Just set a reward and make the change.

15. Anticipate roadblocks

Before we start down the path of a new goal, we should consider the roadblocks that may arise in our path. There is always resistance in the path of a positive pursuit.

When we anticipate them in advance, when they actually arise, we have stronger willpower to deal with them (since we’ve already contemplated them arising).

We aren’t struck by surprise, we are simply encountering something that was part of the original plan.

So there you go, 15 ways you can start doing now to increase your willpower. Your willpower is like a muscle, you need to exercise it often so it will grow!

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

More by this author

Ryan Clements

A lawyer turned marketing professional, entrepreneur and writer who writes about entrepreneurship, career and personal development.

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Last Updated on April 23, 2019

13 Ways Happy People Think and Feel Differently

13 Ways Happy People Think and Feel Differently

Let me begin by being 100% frank with you – everyone is capable of happiness.

Happiness is first a choice but it also takes persistence to maintain. Happiness is our birth right and my mission is to help as many people as I can live their happiest life.

My mission is to spread the message that everyone deserves happiness.

To live a happy life; however, you must do the work, gain the necessary knowledge, and increase your awareness.

You must fully embody this state and begin to think and feel happiness on every level of your being.

Often times, excuses present themselves and our mind gives us the reasons why we can’t be happy:

“I am too busy right now to focus on happiness”

“I will be happy when I finish school, when I have the money, when I am in the right relationship, when I have kids, when my children are older….”

“I would have had a happy life if this traumatic event had never happened”

“I don’t deserve happiness”

EVERYONE deserves happiness. The reason that you are here right now is because you have a purpose and you are on the earth to enjoy your journey.

Think BIGGER than your excuses. Push FARTHER than your complaints.

Don’t be pulled away from greatness. Get uncomfortable. At least these are what happy and successful people do on a daily basis.

This article highlights the top 13 tips and tricks of how happy people think and feel.

If you would like to begin embodying this life-changing state, then… Here are the 13 ways Happy People Think and Feel Differently:

1. Happy People Put Happiness First

Happy people have made the decision that their end goal is happiness.

Every situation, event, bad day ultimately ends with happiness.

To them, happiness is equivalent to sleep and water – it is a necessity to their life. To live an unhappy life is to have never lived at all.

The happy person asks,

“What would be the point of living if every day and moment were filled with negativity?”

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“Why would I deplete my energy on negativity when I expend less to be positive?”

They make happy-based decisions which means in EVERY MOMENT they choose happiness.

If their circumstances can’t change then they instead change their perspective, they look for the silver lining in the negative.

Happy people don’t let negativity steal their moments away – a positive mindset always prevails.

If you ask a happy person how their day was, they will always answer your question with a highlight or a lesson learned.

2. Happy People Embrace Pain

I know what you are thinking –

“No one is ALWAYS happy”

or …

“Even happy people get in bad moods”

and …

These statements are absolutely accurate.

Happy people aren’t always happy and they DO get into bad moods. They get overwhelmed, they feel defeated, and their feelings get hurt.

Happy people aren’t invincible and they feel pain just like everyone else. The only difference between happy people and people who let negativity run their lives is that…

Happy people quickly acknowledge their pain and they make a decision to find a way to transform their pain into something greater. They also use these 13 simple ways to shake off the sadness.

Happy people admit the negativity they feel and they do what it takes to get back into their natural state: happiness.

When your end goal is happiness, then you will find a way to achieve it no matter how much strength you have to muster.

3. Happy People Have a Happy Self-Image

We all have an image in our minds that we subconsciously live up to.

The reason that change is so hard is because our subconscious mind is programmed to live by how we define ourselves.

How are you currently defining yourself?

For happy people, they see themselves with a smile, positive outlook, and/or a bounce in their step. When an event or situation arises that brings in a negative emotion, they quickly change their state to resemble their natural self-image.

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When happy people are in a bad mood, it feels unusual to them because feeling negative isn’t aligned with how they see themselves.

When they feel upset, they acknowledge the negativity and look for a solution to bring their emotions to the level of how they perceive themselves.

Look at how you define yourself today – your mind and body are always trying to live up to the definition it is taught to believe.

Your body’s job is to keep you in a “normal” state because this is where it feels most comfortable.

If your self-image is happy, then your mind and body will naturally be brought back to where it feels at home. Your actions will be a clue to how you define yourself.

4. Happy People Have a Strong Support System

The happiest people know that it takes a village and they lean on others for support.

Happy people feel comfortable reaching out for help when they feel that their resistances are overpowering them. They quickly sense their negativity and they tell somebody.

Happy people ask for assistance when they can’t figure out a problem. Seeking help takes strength and it never gets in the way of their self-worth. Happy people appreciate the wisdom that their support system provides.

They have strong connections with the people who are close to them. They never trudge through tough times alone because jeopardizing their happiness for too long would be detrimental to their well-being.

5. Happy People Safeguard Their Minds from Negative Triggers

Warding off negativity is almost impossible when we live in a society that lives by what went wrong and feeds off of what could go wrong. News travels instantaneously so it would be unrealistic to shut this out of your life completely.

However, one strategy that happy people use to safeguard their minds is regulating their environment.

We have a lot of control on how we allow our environments to affect us. We can control our social media feed, the television shows and movies we watch, the books that we read, the people that we spend our time with, and the places that we hang out.

If happiness is your end goal, then take a good look at what is bringing you down. What triggers your unhappiness? See if there is anything in your environment that can be changed……

What we listen to, read, and who we hang out with influence our mind, what we think about, what we worry about, our reactions, and behaviors.

Happy people know what triggers a feeling of negativity and it feels out of alignment for them so they do what it takes to avoid it.

They might regulate their social media news feed to reflect the information that brings them positive energy. They might regulate the people that they spend their time with. It is important to hang out with like-minded people.

What are you triggers? How can you avoid the negativity in your environment?

These are ways that happy people regulate their environment and safeguard their minds.

6. Happy People Know When to Say “No”

Happy people know when to sit one out and say “no.” They do this to protect their happiness and well-being.

Life gets overwhelming – a lot of people need our attention and the to do list can seem never ending.

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Happy people give themselves permission to take the day off and they feel comfortable with saying “no” when their stress levels begin to climb. They understand that those around them aren’t benefiting from someone who is frazzled, overwhelmed, and tired.

A happy person identifies their negative emotion and then they quickly treat it to bring themselves back to their “normal” state, so that they can be at their best for not only themselves but for those around them, too.

A simple “no” can ultimately mean many more “yes’s” in the future because happiness has a long battery life. You can take a look at Leo Babauta’s article The Gentle Art of Saying No and learn to say no.

7. Happy People Are Good Evaluators

Happy people can quickly sense when something is off with themselves or others. They are very intuitive to happiness levels. When someone isn’t quite right, they are the first ones to notice.

Being able to evaluate happiness means that you can identify when negativity is lingering around for too long.

We all have bad days; however, the happy person evaluates often and quickly intervenes.

In other words, happy people frequently evaluate their state and immediately change when their pessimism is overshadowing their joy.

8. Happy People Bring Other People Up

What goes on inside of us is mirrored into our physical world.

What we think about literally consumes our life and is displayed in our work, relationships, and attitude.

Happy people naturally feel good inside and about themselves so they treat others the way that they treat themselves. It never feels forced to give a compliment or to help out a stranger.

When we are truly happy with ourselves, everyone around us has a better experience. Happy people are kind to themselves and because of this, it feels natural to them to want to make others’ happy, too.

9. Happy People Go After Their Dreams

Happy people are always following the joyful path. They make happy-based decisions and because of this, they always end up where they want to be.

It’s absolutely impossible to be happy by following an undesirable path, which is quite opposite for unhappy people.

Most people journey through life on a path they think they are “supposed” to be own. Warning signs (negativity) are often ignored because they truly believe that these feelings are a normal part of life.

Negativity is NOT normal.

The happiest people investigate the negativity in their life and quickly analyze the results. This process allows them to get back on the joyful path which ends in a desirable outcome.

Follow your happiness and your dreams will come true (If that isn’t motivation then I don’t know what is!)

In addition to happiness, here are 14 amazing things that happen when you live your passion.

10. Happy People Never Sweat the Small Stuff

The only expectation that the happy person has is that they remain in a joyful state.

They rarely have expectations for the events and people in their lives because they know that this is a sure way to get let down.

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The happiest people take life as it comes – you could say that they roll with the punches. When you don’t have expectations, thenyoue can just sit back and watch how beautifully life unfolds.

Happy people understand that bad things are inevitable, they are a part of life – The car will break, the kids will make mistakes, people will be late, and dinner will burn.

If it’s not anything seriously affecting their lives, then they don’t give their energy to it.

11. Happy People Rarely Have to Prove That They Are Right

Happy people remember that it’s more important to live up to what they believe. When you live your life aligned with your belief system, then there is no need to explain or prove yourself to others.

Differences in opinions are inevitable, but the happiest of people know it’s wasted energy to defend their position.

It is more effective to simply show people, through actions, how you think, feel, and what you believe.

Energy is saved, arguments are diminished, and credibility/respect are gained when we live by what we believe.

12. Happy People Smile (Even When They Don’t Want To)

Smiling is one of the healthiest things we can do; and happy people use this simple trick quite often.

It has been proven that smiling has the ability to boost your immune system, decrease stress levels, and can even make you look younger. The benefits of smiling have even been backed up by science.[1]

Better yet, smiling is contagious. When you engage in a quick smile, you are likely to brighten someone else’s day along with your own. It is no wonder why happy people smile often!

13. Happy People Live Life in the Present Moment.

When we are genuinely happy, we are living for the moment.

Happy people let go of the past, enjoy the present, and look forward to the future. They take the moments for what they are worth – they only invest their energy in what feels right to them.

Everyone is capable of living a happy-centered life. You deserve a life that you desire – your dream life. All you have to start doing is make happy-based decisions TODAY.

In every moment, decide on what makes you happy – decide on what gets you excited. Stop doing what you don’t love, don’t listen to the people that you dislike.

If you are engaging in something that isn’t bringing you joy, then quit doing it. Listen to your heart, stop ignoring the warning signs (negativity) because they are there for a reason.

I have observed, studied, and interviewed some of the happiest and most successful people along with some of the most miserable and self-loathing.

It starts with one decision – happiness.

The happiest, most successful people choose happiness with EACH and EVERY decision. And you can start doing this today.

Featured photo credit: Autumn Goodman via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Harvard Business Review: The Science Behind the Smile

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