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6 Tricks To Boost Your Willpower

6 Tricks To Boost Your Willpower

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.

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    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.

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      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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      Last Updated on July 17, 2019

      The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

      The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

      What happens in our heads when we set goals?

      Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

      Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

      According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

      Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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      Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

      Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

      The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

      Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

      So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

      Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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      One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

      Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

      Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

      The Neurology of Ownership

      Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

      In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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      But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

      This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

      Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

      The Upshot for Goal-Setters

      So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

      On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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      It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

      On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

      But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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      Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

      Reference

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