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How to Increase Willpower and Be Mentally Tough

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How to Increase Willpower and Be Mentally Tough

Everyone has something they’d like to change, and the desire for self-improvement and progression is innate. Unfortunately, when it comes to change, learning how to increase willpower and break bad habits is tough, and it seems that we fail more often than we succeed. For those things that we struggle with, it seems that our willpower is never quite enough.

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?

This is absolutely possible, as willpower is like a muscle, getting 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.

How can you learn how to increase willpower and direct powerful changes in your life?

To assist in this process, we’ve got 15 actionable steps that, if built into habits, will yield powerful results around willpower.

1. Feed Your Brain

Skipping meals is simply bad for your brain and even worse if you want to learn how to improve your willpower. The 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.

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

You can check out some of the best brain foods here.

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2. Work on One Change at a Time

Willpower and motivation can be increased, but it is a slow and gradual process (just like increasing muscle mass). We are working with a fixed amount of it daily.

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. Use Dark Chocolate for an Energy Boost

Sometimes we are in a position where we need to make a quick decision, and it feels tough when we haven’t yet learned how to increase willpower. Taking a bite of dark chocolate offers a small energy boost that helps 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 by eating chocolate isn’t a bad thing. It can actually help to increase our willpower and reduce stress levels.

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[1].

Self-control requires brain power and high energy levels, and when we are tired, our bodies generally don’t deliver enough glucose to our brains. Sleep is essentially as you’re working on how to have more willpower.

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.

You can increase your willpower by not putting yourself in situations where willpower is required and steering clear of those “danger spots” where temptation is present and willpower is necessary.

6. Develop Small but Powerful Habits

Research confirms that good habits help us as we are learning how to increase 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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For more tips on creating good habits in life, check out this video:

7. Make a Manageable To-Do List

Everyone has some form of a to-do list, whether it’s on paper or not. 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, grab a (healthy) bite to eat, watch a little TV for a minute or two, and then get back to your tasks and goals as you’re learning how to increase willpower.

When you do this, you come back refreshed, and you’ll have more willpower to produce better work.

9. Meditate for 5 Minutes a Day

Take 5 minutes and just focus on your breath. Detach for only five minutes from the chaos around you as you work on how to strengthen willpower.

Every time your mind wanders, you have to expend energy to get it back on track, tapping into your reservoir of willpower. The simple act of building self-awareness through mediation will help you in your 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.

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

10. Avoid Alcohol

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

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. Make a Plan for Temptation

It’s impossible to avoid all temptation as you’re working on how to increase willpower. For the cases when you run into it, you need to have a plan in place to help you resist it and avoid making poor decisions. For example, if you know your co-worker always brings in doughnuts on Fridays, and you’re on a diet, what plan can you put in place to avoid caving to temptation and grabbing two or three?

Having a predetermined plan can significantly increase our willpower when presented with the temptation.

If you need help in this area, check out Lifehack’s Free Guide: The Dreamers’ Guide for Taking Action and Making Goals Happen.

12. Remember Your “Why”

What is the purpose of changing our behavior and learning how to gain willpower in the first place? What are we trying to accomplish, and what will we lose if we give in to our bad habits?

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 You 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.

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When we succeed in making small changes, we develop the ability to take on much larger ones. You can start small with this by consciously trying 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.

Our brain is hardwired to pursue positive rewards when learning how to increase willpower. This can be as small as a piece of chocolate or as big as a vacation. Match the task to a reward in order to make the most of your willpower.

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, we have stronger willpower to deal with them when they actually arise.

Final Thoughts

Learning how to increase willpower requires time. You can’t build a muscle overnight; it will take weeks, months, or even years of digging deep and adding to your willpower reserves. However, once you’ve done this, making decisions and resisting short-term temptations will be easier than ever before.

More on How to Increase Willpower

Featured photo credit: Ev via unsplash.com


[1] Sleep Foundation: How Much Sleep Do We Really Need?

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Ryan Clements

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

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