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Last Updated on April 22, 2020

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, have better self-control 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 May 22, 2020

What Makes a Good Leader: 9 Critical Leadership Qualities

What Makes a Good Leader: 9 Critical Leadership Qualities

The word “leader” makes you think of people in charge, high-ranking people: your boss, politicians, presidents, CEOs…

But leadership really isn’t about a particular position or a person’s seniority. Just because someone has worked for many years doesn’t mean s/he has gained the qualities and skills to lead a team.

Getting promoted to a managerial position doesn’t automatically turn you into a leader either. CEOs and other high-ranking officials don’t always have great leadership skills.

So what makes a good leader? What are the characteristics of a leader?

Good leadership is about acquiring and honing specific skills. Leadership skills enable you to be a role model for a team in any environment. With great leadership qualities, successful leaders come in all shapes and sizes: in the home, at school, or in the workplace.

The following are some of the many characteristics great leaders exhibit.

1. A Positive Attitude

Great leaders know that they won’t have a happy and motivated team unless they themselves exhibit a positive attitude. This can be done by remaining positive when things go wrong and by creating a relaxed and happy atmosphere in the workplace.

Even some simple things like providing snacks or organizing a team Happy Hour can make a world of difference. An added perk is that team members are likely to work harder and do overtime when needed if they’re happy and appreciated.

Even in the worst situations, such as experiencing low team morale or team members having made a big mistake at work, a great leader stays positive and figures out ways to keep the team motivated to solve the problems.

Walt Disney had his share of hardships and challenges, and like any great leader, he managed to stay positive and find new opportunities. In 1928, Disney found that his film producer, Charles Mintz, wanted to reduce his payments for the Oswald series. Mintz threatened to cut ties entirely if Disney didn’t accept his terms, and Disney chose to part ways. But in leaving Oswald, Disney decided to create something new: the iconic Mickey Mouse[1].

The key is to break down huge challenges into smaller ones and find ways to tackle them one by one.

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Think about the lessons you can learn from the mistake and jot them down because sometimes you win, and sometimes you learn.

2. Confidence

All great leaders have to exhibit an air of confidence if they’re going to succeed. Please don’t confuse this with self-satisfaction and arrogance. You want people to look up to you for inspiration, not so they can punch you in the face.

Confidence is important because people will be looking to you on how to behave, particularly if things aren’t going 100% right. If you remain calm and poised, team members are far more likely to as well. As a result, morale and productivity will remain high, and the problem will be solved more quickly.

If you panic and give up, they will know immediately and things will simply go downhill from there.

Elon Musk is a great example of a leader with confidence. He truly believes that Tesla will be successful, which he has shown many times through his actions. He converted 532,000 stock options at $6.63 each, their value on Dec. 4, 2009, before Tesla went public. It was a hefty bargain considering Tesla’s stock price stood at around $195 per share at that time. He doesn’t apologize for his beliefs and has drawn fire from just about everyone for his political actions.

You can’t instantly become a very confident person, but all the small things you do every day will gradually make you more confident:

  • List 5 things you like about yourself every day (something different every day), and you’ll appreciate yourself more.
  • Work on your strengths and do your best to enhance them.

3. A Sense of Humor

It’s imperative for any kind of leader to have a sense of humor, particularly when things go wrong. And they will.

Your team members are going to be looking to you for how to react in a seemingly dire situation. It would probably be best if you weren’t stringing up a noose for yourself in the corner. You need to be able to laugh things off because if staff morale goes down, so will productivity.

Establish this environment prior to any kind of meltdown by encouraging humor and personal discussions in the workplace.

As a president, Barack Obama exuded confidence and calm during stressful situations. But he was also known for his “dad jokes,”[2] his genuinely funny speeches at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, and appearing on Zack Galifianakis’s Between Two Ferns.[3] Obama’s sense of humor made him grounded, realistic, and honest, which no doubt helped during some tense moments in the White House!

Learn to laugh at yourself. Confident people laugh about their own silly mistakes, and when you do this, others will also trust you more because you’re willing to share your experiences.

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Be observant and learn from the jokes others make. You can also get a lot of inspiration from the internet.

4. Ability to Embrace Failure

No matter how hard you try to avoid it, failures will happen; that’s okay. You just need to know how to deal with them.

Great leaders take them in strides. They remain calm and logically think through the situation and utilize their resources. What they don’t do is fall apart and reveal to their team how worried they are, which leads to negative morale, fear, and binge-drinking under desks.

Great leaders do, in fact, lead, even when they’re faced with setbacks.

Henry Ford experienced a major setback after designing and improving the Ford Quadricycle. He founded the Detroit Automobile Company in 1899, but the resulting cars they produced did not live up to his standards and were too expensive. The company dissolved in 1901. Ford took this in stride and formed the Henry Ford Company. The sales were slow and the company had financial problems; it wasn’t until 1903 that the Ford Motor Company was successful and put the Ford on the map.

Get to the root cause of any problem so you can prevent it from happening again and learn from the mistake.

By asking “why” 5 times (or more) on why something happened, you can find out the key factor that caused the problem and can find the best solution to tackle the problem.

You’ll also learn how to prevent this from happening again in the future after finding out a problem’s root cause.

5. Careful Listening and Feedback

This is far more complex than it actually sounds. Good communication skills are essential for a great leader. You may very well understand the cave of crazy that is your brain, but that doesn’t mean that you can adequately take the ideas out of it and explain them to someone else.

The best leaders need to be able to communicate clearly with the people around them. They also need to be able to interpret other people properly and not take what they say personally.

The Dalai Lama, as a symbol of the unification of the state of Tibet, represents and practices Buddhist values. The Dalai Lama’s leadership is benevolent and aims toward truth and understanding, alongside the other Buddhist precepts. This is a great example for all leaders: if you want to give good directions to others, you have to get feedback from others to understand the situation properly.

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Encourage communication between team members and establish an open door policy.

Practice not interrupting team members when they’re talking. Instead, summarize what they say and ask for feedback after you have talked about your ideas.

6. Knowing How and When to Delegate

No matter how much you might want to, you can’t actually do everything yourself. Even if you could, in a team environment that would be a terrible idea anyway.

Good leaders recognize that delegation does more than simply alleviate their own stress levels (although that’s obviously a nice perk). Delegating to others shows that you have confidence in their abilities, which subsequently results in higher morale in the workplace, as well as loyalty from your staff. They want to feel appreciated and trusted.

Although Steve Jobs was known for focusing in on the smallest of details, he knew how to delegate. By finding, cultivating, and trusting capable team members, Jobs was able to make Apple run smoothly, even when he had to be absent for extended periods of time.

To know when and how to delegate work to team members, you have to be very familiar with each of them:

  • List out all of their strengths, weaknesses, and personalities.
  • Talk with your team members more to know about their passion and interests.

Take a look at this guide and learn more about delegation: How to Delegate Work Effectively (The Definitive Guide for Leaders)

7. Growth Mindset

Any good leader knows how important it is to develop the skills of those around them. The best can recognize those skills early on. Not only will development make work easier as they improve and grow, it will also foster morale. In addition, they may develop some skills that you don’t possess that will be beneficial to the workplace.

Great leaders share their knowledge with the team and give them the opportunity to achieve. This is how leaders gain their respect and loyalty.

Pope Francis has been unusually popular with many Catholics and many non-Catholics. His position isn’t totally traditional, which is part of his appeal, but he also has admirable leadership skills. Pope Francis’s TED talk[4] drew attention because he encouraged leaders to be humble and to demonstrate solidarity with others. This inclusive, kind, and respectful style of leadership is incredibly important for any situation.

It’s important to spend time talking with other team members individually to understand them.

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Find out team members’ current challenges and try to give feedback and encouragement so they will grow and do better.

8. Responsibility

Great leaders know that when it comes to their company, work place or whatever situation they’re in, they need to take personal responsibility for failure. How can they expect employees to hold themselves accountable if they themselves don’t?

The best leaders don’t make excuses; they take the blame and then work out how to fix the problem as soon as possible. This proves that they’re trustworthy and possess integrity.

Howard Gillman is the chancellor of UC Irvine. You might have heard of how the university rescinded a bunch of acceptances, and then changed its mind[5], This past spring, an unusually high number of accepted students decided to matriculate; the school initially responded by rescinding offers over things like missed deadlines. But the college realized this was a mistake and reversed its decision. Gillman and the university accepted responsibility and decided to move past their earlier bad decision.

Always ask yourself what you can do better or what you should change. Take responsibility and think about what you can do better to prevent this from happening next time.

9. A Desire to Learn

It’s safe to say that all great leaders will have to enter unchartered waters at some point during their career. Because of this, they have to be able to trust their intuition and draw on past experiences to guide them.

Great leaders know that there’s always something to learn from everything they have experienced before. They are able to connect the present challenges with the lessons learned in the past to make decisions and take actions promptly.

You can either recall what you’ve learned from your memories or search your notes (ideally, a software that you can access anywhere with things well-organized).

Warren Buffett, one of the richest people in the world, has mostly made the right calls. But in dealing with huge amounts of money, Buffett has also made several multi-million (and sometimes multi-billion) dollar mistakes. He has stated that buying the company Berkshire Hathaway was his biggest mistake[6]. From that poor choice, he realized that it was unwise to pursue “improvements” and “expansions” in the existing textile industry. Despite mistakes like this, Buffett has invested wisely, and it shows.

To effectively learn from the past, write down lessons you’ve learned from any mistakes you’ve made. Have all the lessons well organized, and when similar things happen again in future, take these lessons as references.

The Bottom Line

Leadership traits are learnable. If you practice consistently, you can be a great leader, too.

Make small changes to your habits when you work with your team, wherever that may be. Most of us aren’t presidents or CEOs, but we all work with other people, and our actions always impact others. This gives every person the chance to develop leadership skills and to stand out from the crowd.

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Featured photo credit: Markus Spiske via unsplash.com

Reference

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