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6 Willpower Hacks to Help Achieve Your Goals

6 Willpower Hacks to Help Achieve Your Goals

Some of the most rewarding and exhilarating times in life are when you achieve something you set out to do, right? You feel on top of the world! The opposite is also true: some of the most testing and depressing times in life are when you really want to have or do something, but you can’t muster up the willpower in that moment to do what you want.

What is willpower anyway, and what makes you have more or less of it? Willpower is, to put it simply, a combination of self-discipline and control over yourself and your behaviour. You especially need more willpower at those times when you exert yourself to do something that doesn’t come easily.

If you have ever thought that you don’t have willpower, the good news is that you were wrong. Willpower is not a gene, it works like a muscle. And the more you practice it, the more you will have. But like any muscle building, you also have to be careful not to overdo it and wear yourself out.

Here are the top six willpower hacks to help you achieve your goals.

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1. Boost your energy supply

Studies have shown that exerting your willpower reduces your energy and blood glucose levels. Replenishing glucose is key to having more willpower because willpower is a mental muscle that is directed by glucose levels. When your sugar levels in your blood are low, you will most likely find it more difficult to control your urges.

So, the better the food that you eat, the more willpower you will feel. Leading professors and health psychologists suggest the following for a quick boost. Eating any foods that are naturally high in sugar will give you the boost you need, so carrots, raisins, almonds, or apples, for example, will fuel your brain. Also, drinking lemonade will give you a quick glucose hit without the caffeine of other sodas.

2. Reduce the amount of decision making

You already know that willpower gets depleted the more you need to practice self-control. Did you also know that making decisions uses up your self-control? In other words, the more decisions you make in a day, the lower the self-control you will feel by the end of the day.

If you want to strengthen your willpower muscle, start planning ahead more often and try to decrease the number of decisions you make on a daily basis. If you are running around like a headless chicken all day making decisions, you are not going to have a lot of willpower left by the end of the day. An alternative is to start brain-dumping, taking your main thoughts and concerns out of your head and getting them onto paper. Those thoughts are taking up energy that can be better used elsewhere.

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3. Finding a connection in the moment

Think back to the last time you struggled to muster up the willpower to do something, whether it was avoiding the delicious donut in the bakery on your way to work, or finding the energy to go to the gym. What tends to happen in those moments is that you focus only on that moment and subconsciously disconnect the intention from the overall goal or value. The more disconnected you feel from what you are doing now and what you want in the future, the harder it will be to take action.

Always keep top of mind what is most important to you and connect what you are doing now to the future. Your ‘future-self’ will be so thankful for it. Keep focused on how this will benefit you in the future if you can keep pushing forward at the hardest times.

4. Inhibit the ‘pleasure seeking’ part of your brain

You have a very strong part of your brain that is constantly seeking pleasure and it never gets tired. This is actually why we procrastinate at a very ‘basic’ level: it is normal. However, this doesn’t always serve us, of course. As a result, it doesn’t make sense to go to a bakery and have a coffee when you are trying to avoid the pastries.

Don’t make things harder for yourself, make them easier! Your brain is using precious energy in that moment fighting those temptations, and it’s depleting your willpower. Don’t try to ignore or block out distractions, rather aim to eliminate them. Whether it’s at work when you need to focus more or in your personal life, make things easier for yourself if you can.

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5. Don’t be so hard on yourself (yes, it makes it worse)

Thing you can expect to face when you embark on any type of change are, of course, challenges and hard times. It doesn’t make sense to think that change is going to be an effortless and easy ride, or that if you struggle at times then there is something wrong with you.

Ironically, we expect things to be easy and when they aren’t, a lot of negative self-talk usually follows. When you feel bad about yourself and guilty because you didn’t follow through on your intention, research shows that you will almost certainly go back and do what you didn’t want to do.

On the other hand, when you are kinder to yourself and you show more self-compassion, you give yourself more motivation to keep going. This happens because you are talking to the part of you who wants to change, and not that part of you who feels like you can’t.

6. Strong habits means stronger willpower

Another great way to strengthen your willpower muscle is to start doing simple, challenging exercises more often by giving yourself small goals throughout the day. Let’s imagine you are at the gym and you have done 50 sit-ups. Push yourself to do one or two extra. It’s a small challenge, but it builds more discipline, not to mention confidence!

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Think about your daily life at home. How about putting away those clothes on the floor or doing the dishes before you go to bed? They are small actions, but ones which in due course make your willpower muscle stronger.

If you know that you could do with a little more willpower in your days, start by employing these six top willpower hacks today and you will achieve far more in a few months than you have in years.

 

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Kirstin O´Donovan

Certified Life and Productivity Coach, Founder and CEO of TopResultsCoaching

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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

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