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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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Published on April 7, 2021

6 Signs Of A Controlling Person To Be Aware Of

6 Signs Of A Controlling Person To Be Aware Of

Some of the most manipulative people are so good at what they do that their words and actions can convince you into thinking they truly care about what’s best for you when in reality, it’s quite the opposite. The most common signs of a controlling person are rarely obvious to outside observers. And for someone enmeshed in a controlling relationship or friendship, it can be incredibly challenging to stay away from this toxic person, even if you’re aware of their emotionally abusive tendencies.

While it’s ultimately up to you to decide whether to preserve or leave a lopsided, unfulfilling relationship, it’s nevertheless critical to understand the following six signs of controlling people so you can better advocate for yourself and mitigate the influence of their manipulative tendencies in your own life.

1. They Push Their Own Personal Agenda

Do you know someone who always tries to micromanage the words, behaviors, and attitudes of people around them? Does this person act like they have the right to know anything they want about you, including your location, what you’re doing in a given moment, who you’re talking to online, or any other private information about you? And when planning events and special occasions, does this person dominate conversations, steer plans in their own preferred directions, disparage others’ suggestions, and refuse to collaborate with anyone who might disagree with them?

If you answered “yes” to some of the above questions, then those are clear signs of a controlling person whom you absolutely need to be cautious around. Controlling people are reluctant to even consider alternative ideas, let alone enthusiastically work with people who have differing views. They prefer to be the captain of every ship—regardless of how much or how little an issue personally impacts them—and they have an arsenal of manipulative tactics to deploy if someone stands in the way of them achieving their own personal agendas.

In long-term relationships with controlling people, you may feel constantly pressured to meet their demands, follow their schedule, and focus on whatever they feel is most important. It’s not an exaggeration to say that these people act like the universe revolves around them, which can be exhausting to deal with for their family members, friends, and colleagues.

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2. They Make Everything Transactional

Controlling people aren’t always self-centered, but they’re not too empathetic either. Empathy for them tends to appear in the form of strategic concessions they use as a means to get what they want. They typically view interpersonal relationships as transactional opportunities to extract more value from people surrounding them, which can have a draining effect on those they interact with.

For example, one sign of a controlling person may be their insistence on “keeping score.” This can involve doing nice things for you with the ulterior motive of demanding something from you at a later date in exchange for what you thought was just an act of kindness or a friendly support.

Perhaps they shower you in praise (also known as “love-bombing”) or gifts then blow up at you if you don’t intuitively know they’re expecting something back from you. None of us are mind-readers, but controlling people behave as though everyone else should think and act like they want others to and those who fall out of line are punished for failing to meet their impossible expectations.

A controlling person may also threaten to withhold support if you don’t adhere to their demands, but they do so in such subtle ways that the guilt they impose blinds you from the unreasonable nature of their behaviors.

Some statements to be wary of include:

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  • “I did ___________ for you. What do you mean you can’t do ___________ for me?”
  • “Remember how I helped you with ___________? That took a lot of time and energy from me, but I guess you didn’t appreciate my help.”
  • “I always give you ___________. Don’t you care about my needs too?”
  • “You’re so selfish!” or “You don’t care about me at all!” (gaslighting if you respond with hesitation or politely decline their request for help for perfectly valid reasons, such as not having enough time or resources to assist them)

3. They Criticize Everything

One of the most common telltale signs of a controlling person is their capacity to criticize anything and everything, even small things that seemingly don’t matter. As with many toxic traits in relationships, these problems typically start out so small that you may not even notice. At first, you may even agree with their criticism or at least be able to understand their perspective when they bring up an issue.

However, the criticism tends to get more intense, more constant, and more perplexing for people who maintain relationships with controlling people. You’ll likely notice how they rarely seem to criticize something they do. It’s almost always other-oriented and these types of people are so manipulative that any rationale they offer can seem plausibly legitimate.

Some warning signs of a controlling person who’s overly critical to the point of abusiveness include:

  • Criticizing things about you that you have little to no control over (e.g., appearance, disability, family)
  • Criticizing your personal choices and interests, such as educational pursuits, career, clothing, favorite music, time spent on your hobbies, etc.
  • Punishing you for expressing vulnerability by invalidating thoughts and feelings you share with them
  • Attacking you whenever you express an opinion counter to theirs

4. They Balk When Someone Criticizes Them

We all know the adage, “what goes around, comes around.” But this statement doesn’t apply as much to toxic, controlling people. They’d much prefer to dish out criticism without ever having to take it in return.

For instance, if your friend constantly talks about your appearance with little regard for your emotions but flips out if you make just a single comment about their appearance, there’s a possibility that they could have some hidden controlling tendencies left unchecked. Remember, these people aren’t just controlling in their behaviors towards others. They’re also actively trying to stay in complete control over every aspect of their lives, which includes how others view them.

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This seemingly insatiable desire for control can prompt them to lash out against even the smallest bits of criticism, leaving people around them too weary or scared to speak up again in the future. While it’s possible they may suffer from something called rejection sensitivity dysphoria, this does not excuse them from the consequences of their words and actions. They should seek professional help to better manage their reactions to criticism.

5. They Socially Isolate You

Not all controlling people do this, but for manipulative narcissists, socially isolating victims is a go-to strategy for maintaining control because it’s effective at preventing people from truly understanding how toxic their partner, family member, or friend is treating them. Think of it this way—if you don’t talk to many other people in your life, there’s less of a risk that you’ll damage their reputation by revealing their abusive tendencies.

Socially isolating others also gives the person more control over you and your life as it becomes more difficult to break away from them if you don’t have other healthier channels of communication and interpersonal support to turn to.

This process doesn’t happen overnight, nor is it something you can readily recognize as abusive. At first, it may seem reasonable, such as asking you to stop engaging so often with family members with whom both of you disagree on major social or political issues. As the social isolation progresses, they may suggest cutting people out of your life—especially if they don’t like that person, regardless of how you personally feel—or even conjure up high-stakes problems like “it’s me or them” under the guise of saving you from people in your life whom they don’t like for whatever reason.

In a controlling person’s life narrative, they’re always the protagonist who’s incapable of any wrongdoing. The blame is always redirected at someone else, whether that’s you or other people in your life. The more they isolate you from other supportive people in your life, the more susceptible you’ll be to falsely believing that they’re right and you “don’t need” your other friends and family when you have someone as perfect as this person.

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6. They’re Emotionally Abusive

It’s hard enough to be in control of your own emotions but when someone else is constantly belittling you and your interests or leveraging guilt and shame to manipulate you into saying or doing what they want, this can make it even more challenging to stay in control of your own life and emotional well-being.

Emotional abuse is another sign of a controlling person that is often overlooked in relationships. After all, human personalities vary widely in terms of passivity, and it’s not uncommon for one person in a relationship to be significantly more passive than the other. This becomes an issue when the controlling partner or friend exudes signs of emotional abuse, which can start subtly and become much more pronounced over time.

Concerning signs of emotionally abusive language or behavior to watch out for include:

  • Dismissing your needs and/or belittling your interests in counterproductive ways
  • Privately or publicly shaming or humiliating you
  • Making you feel as though you can never live up to their expectations or do anything right (according to their own vague, subjective standards)
  • Gaslighting you into thinking they said or did something that never actually happened (making you question your own reality)

Final Thoughts

It’s sometimes hard to see the negative things about someone with whom we have a relationship. We may sometimes unconsciously overlook the signs of a controlling person, especially if that person is someone we have known for a long time or are close to us. However, cutting them off your life is the best thing you can do for yourself. Just watch out for these six signs of a controlling person and take immediate action when you spot them.

More Tips on How To Deal With a Controlling Person

Featured photo credit: Külli Kittus via unsplash.com

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