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.
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.
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.
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!
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.