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How To Increase Your Willpower? Just 10 Simple But Powerful Tricks

How To Increase Your Willpower? Just 10 Simple But Powerful Tricks

The box of cookies was staring at me from the cupboard. Even though I was full from lunch, I wanted one so badly, I could almost hear the little red devil standing on my left shoulder, telling me to go for it. My hand reached toward the box…

But then another voice spoke up, that of the little angel standing on my other shoulder, reminding me of my goal to fit into my wedding dress.

Later, up in my office, those same imaginary characters appeared again as I struggled to write a blog post. “You can do it!” said the little angel, “Just stick with it! You’ll get through this block!”

On my other shoulder, meanwhile, the little devil whispered in my ear to take a break. “Why don’t you go downstairs for a cookie break?” he said, “What will it hurt?”

These are two classic examples of willpower challenges, and if you’re anything like me, those kinds of internal conversations happen on a daily basis.

As Stanford psychologist Kelly McGonigal writes in her book The Willpower Instinct, willpower is essentially a competition between two parts of yourself: the version of you that goes for the long-term goal, and the version that goes for gratifying immediate impulses. Depending on your stress level, your energy, and your mindset, your brain is going to meet any willpower challenge in a different way.

If all we ever did was gratify our immediate impulses, not much of value would ever get done (plus we’d probably all be 500 pounds!), so it goes without saying that willpower plays a huge role in determining our success in life — including our physical health, relationships, financial security and professional success.

So if willpower is so important, what can we do to get more of it? Lots, it turns out!

Physiology of Willpower

Recent advances in neuroscience have mapped willpower to three distinct areas of the brain, in the prefrontal cortex (PFC):

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“I will” power: This resides in the upper left side of the PFC, which helps you stick with boring, difficult or stressful tasks.

“I won’t” power:  This resides in the upper right side of the PFC, which helps you say “no” to the cookie, the illicit sexual encounter, the temptation to check your text messages while driving…

“I want” power: Located in the middle of the PFC and lower down, this section keeps track of your goals and desires. It remembers what you really want, and the more rapidly its cells fire, the more motivated you are to take action or resist temptation.

These three areas of the brain together form your willpower, and when these areas of your grey matter are underfueled or underactive, your impulsive, “lizard brain” takes over. Nothing worthwhile gets done, and the things that do get done are ones you’ll later regret…

Knowing that an underfueled PFC wreaks all kinds of havoc, what can you do to fuel up these regions of the brain and make sure your willpower is working for you? Start with these four willpower boosters, which are aimed at ensuring that your brain’s frontal region is operating at its peak:

1. Get enough sleep.

Have you ever noticed how easily distracted you are after a sleepless night? “You can sleep when you’re dead,” the saying goes, but the truth is, when you don’t get at least 8 hours, the willpower parts of your PFC shut down, and the impulsive centers of the brain become over active, which makes it almost impossible to stay on task. A good night’s sleep helps make the prefrontal cortex better able to regulate the systems of the brain that direct you toward immediate gratification.

2. Meditate.

Meditation makes the systems of the brain that control willpower work more efficiently. More than that, though, it actually makes these parts of the brain bigger and better-connected to the regions that they’re supposed to be controlling!

Even just 10 minutes a day of meditation for a couple of months, or a couple of months of regular exercise has been shown to literally grow the prefrontal cortex. You’re literally changing the physiology of your willpower!

3. Move your body (ie, exercise)

We tend to think of exercise as something that’s good for our muscles and bones, but it turns out it’s just as important for our brains! Just like with meditation, even a couple of months of regular exercise will make the parts of the brain that control willpower bigger, denser, and better connected, making it easier for you to say no to distractions and yes to what you really want.

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4. Eat a low-glycemic, plant-based diet.

Big spikes and drops in blood sugar levels wreak havoc with how the brain uses energy, and according to research, shifting to a more plant-based diet actually changes how the brain functions. Research suggests that a vegan diet has the most powerful effect, but any dietary shift toward low-glycemic and/or plant-based will help.

Willpower as a Muscle

The four tips above will go a long way toward boosting your willpower, but there are lots of other things that help, too.

Willpower is “like a muscle that can be strengthened with use, but it also gets fatigued with use,” says John Tierney, co-author of Willpower, with Roy F. Baumeister. Anything that requires self-control will fatigue your willpower muscle, so you have less self-control for any other willpower challenge that pops up.

If your boss ticks you off and you exercise your self-control not to blow your top, for example, your willpower muscle has less in reserve. Now when you go home, instead of making yourself a salad as you’d planned, you’re that much more likely to opt for the leftover cheesecake instead. Or if your spouse or child does something irritating, you’ll find it much harder to keep your cool.

The good news is, just like a real muscle, you can make your willpower stronger! The next four tricks have to do with either strengthening your willpower muscle, or helping to prevent it from being fatigued in the first place.

5. Do the most important thing first.

When you wake up in the morning after a good night’s sleep, your willpower muscle is at its peak strength. As your self-control is taxed throughout the day, your reserve of self-control will go down, so if there’s something really important that you want to get done — especially if it’s something that requires willpower to accomplish — you’re best off to do it as early in the day as possible.

As I like to say, “The thing I do first is the thing that gets done.”

6. Make it a habit.

When something is a true habit, it fires on its own, and doesn’t require willpower for you to make it happen. For example, I don’t have to mentally arm wrestle myself into brushing my teeth at night — I do it without thinking. If you can turn something into a regular routine, you’ll be saving your willpower reserves for other things, effectively boosting your willpower quotient.

7. Take on a willpower workout.

If you want to strengthen a muscle in your body, you use it. It’s the same for the metaphorical muscle of willpower: people who exercise their willpower frequently often have better self-control.

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In Willpower, Tierney cites one study in which students were asked to watch their posture for a week. At the end of the week, those students performed better on self-control tasks — tasks that had nothing to do with sitting up straight — than students who had not been exercising control all week.

Other ideas for working out your willpower muscle include not using contractions when you speak, only speaking in complete sentences, saying no instead of nah or yes instead of yeah, or avoiding the use of profanities. “All these things require mental effort,” says Tierney, “And the more you do that, the more it builds up that muscle.”

8. Change your environment.

If something is constantly tempting you, it drains your willpower. If you’re trying to avoid eating unhealthy snacks, for example, simply putting candy or junk food where you can see it next to you will deplete your willpower. On the other hand, as Tierney says, “putting it away in a drawer or putting it across the room makes it easier for you because you’re not actively resisting the temptation.”

One well-known study found that hungry students who were forced to resist the temptation of eating chocolate chip cookies did not perform as well on subsequent tests of focus and self-control as students who had not been asked to previously exercise restraint. Simply keeping temptations out of sight can go a long way to keeping your willpower muscle from getting fatigued.

In a similar vein, if there’s something you want to accomplish, you can change your environment so you need to use less willpower to do it. For example, I know a guy who wanted to establish a daily running habit, but once he was up and out of bed and on with his day, he just couldn’t switch gears to put on his running clothes.

His solution: he went to sleep in his running clothes and left his shoes and socks on the floor next to the bed. Now when he wakes up in the morning, he puts his shoes on first thing and runs right out the door, with almost no willpower required!

A Counter-Intuitive Willpower Trick

9. Practice self-compassion.

Conventional wisdom would say that liberal doses of self-criticism are necessary to whip ourselves into shape. Spare the metaphorical rod, spoil the child, as it were. But conventional wisdom is wrong.

Study after study has shown that when you experience a setback to a willpower challenge, self-compassion will beat out self-criticism every time.

As McGonigal says in this Psychology Today article, research subjects “who practiced a self-compassionate mindset [rather than beating themselves up] showed greater willingness to learn from and improve on their self-perceived weakness, mistake, or failure.”

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In another study quoted by McGonigal in The Willpower Instinct, women dieters were invited to a lab, ostensibly to taste test some candies. In reality, they were subjects in an experiment on willpower and self-compassion.

Upon entering the lab, the women were asked to choose a donut from a tray and eat it, then drink a big glass of water (in order to make them feel uncomfortably full). They were then taken to a room with different kinds of candies, and told to eat as much as they wanted. Unbeknownst to the subjects, the candies had been carefully weighed by the researchers in advance, so they’d know exactly how much each woman ate.

Before being shown into the “candy tasting” room, half the women were given a simple self-compassion intervention, something like, “We’ve noticed that a lot of women feel really badly after eating the donut. Please remember that we asked you to do it, and everyone breaks their diet sometimes, so don’t be too hard on yourself.”

Exhibiting the classic “What the Hell Effect,” the women who didn’t get the self-compassion intervention binged on the candy, whereas the women who got the self-compassion intervention ended up eating one third the amount of candy as the control group!

So the next time you fail at a willpower challenge, remember that you’re human, leave the rod behind and and treat yourself the way you would a beloved friend.

And one final tip:

10. Surround yourself with people who are doing the thing you want to do.

McGonigal shares in The Willpower Instinct that one of the biggest factors determining whether you’ll be overweight and out of shape is whether your friends and family are overweight and out of shape. Much as we might like to think of ourselves as mavericks, it turns out that human beings really like to feel normal, so much so that we’ll unconsciously take on unhealthy behaviors in order to be like everyone else.

The reverse is also true, however: if the people you’re close to are healthy and fit, statistically you’re likely to be the same.

And this doesn’t just apply to health and fitness. As McGonigal writes, “Surrounding yourself with people who share your commitment to your goals will make it feel like the norm,” and hence make you more likely to stick with your commitment!

Whatever your goal, you’ll increase your willpower simply by finding or creating a tribe of fellows.

How to Become a Willpower Wonder

So there you have it: ten tips to increase your willpower. Pick one to try out this week and see what happens. Once you’ve incorporated one of these tricks into your life, pick another one to add, and pretty soon you’ll be a willpower wonder!

Featured photo credit: Working Writers Club via workingwritersclub.com

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Last Updated on December 13, 2018

There Is More to Life Than  ____________

There Is More to Life Than  ____________

I decided to leave the title of this article open ended, because I’d like you to fill in what words best fit that blank. We’re all unique individuals from different walks of life, and in different stages of life; so, that sentence will have a different meaning for each of us.

If you’re a busy working professional, why are you working in the job that you have now?

Is it because it’s something you’re passionate about and brings you a lot of satisfaction? Or, is it because you studied that in college and just found a job that hired you for those skills? Perhaps it’s because of the money that you’re earning, or know you can earn down the line?

What if you’re about to retire? You’ve got, say, 2 to 3 more years before you hit your ‘deadline’ for retiring. Have you done all that you’ve wanted to do in the past 30-40 years? Any unfulfilled goals or dreams? Are you happy with the outcome of your life to date, all the decisions and/or risks that you’ve made thus far?

I’m sure many of us started working after college in hopes of earning a good living–to be financially stable and able to afford the ability to experience and do things that we love. We start establishing a career, and with time, tick off boxes on our bucket or ambition list. As you look back on the last couple of years, just how much of your time has been spent doing things that you enjoy and love–the things that give you a great sense of fulfillment and meaning?

Have you become a slave to the economy, a slave to your work, or a slave to your kids? Or have you found a balance between work and pleasure?

When is Enough Ever Enough?

Sadly, many of us live to work.

Realists would argue that if you truly want to work to live, you still need the finances to back that up. No money no talk. That is how the world runs today. So if you don’t earn or make enough dough, it’s hard to truly enjoy life; it’s hard to be happy without money.

So, in this quest to provide just that, many of us end up spending our whole lives pursuing wealth and a life of status and material wants. But, is it ever enough? Is there such a thing as having too much money? And, at what expense?

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Many wealthy entrepreneurs, millionaires and even billionaires have come to agree that money doesn’t bring you all the happiness in the world. It’s good to have, but it doesn’t truly satisfy all desires. There comes a point where you would have ‘had it all’ and still feel a sense of emptiness: an empty void that needs to be filled, not with money or material possessions.

So the question is then, what more is there to life if not for financial stability, status or material possessions?

How do we make work a part of life instead of having it consume our life entirely? Perhaps we need to go back to look at the word life itself.

What is Your Purpose in Life?

What is the nature of life? What does life mean to you? Is there a purpose?

If we seek jobs, all we will find are jobs. But if we have a sense of purpose in how we are productive; if we seek a calling, then we will find more than a job. We will find our contribution to humanity and we will find more to life. Would you agree?

Research has shown that having purpose and meaning in life increases overall well-being and life satisfaction, improves mental and physical health, enhances resiliency, enhances self-esteem, and decreases the chances of depression. So it should be noted that to be happy in life isn’t always enough, because happiness is a surge of emotions that does not last. Instead, it’s more important to find and have meaning in life.

Meaning is not only about transcending the self, but also about transcending the present moment. While happiness is an emotion felt in the here and now, it ultimately fades away, just as all emotions do; positive affect and feelings of pleasure are fleeting. The amount of time people report feeling good or bad correlates with happiness, but not at all with meaning.

Have You Been Going on a Wild Goose Chase?

Ironically, the single-minded pursuit of happiness is leaving people less happy. “It is the very pursuit of happiness, that thwarts happiness”, according to Viktor Frankl, a famous Austrian Neurologist and Holocaust survivor. Going back to the common example of pursuing riches in order to be happy is exactly what makes many so unhappy.

So again, look at the statement “There is more to life than ______.”

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Have you answered it meaningfully? If you’ve read on this far, and are now wondering how to take that first step to figuring out what your true purpose is in life, fret not; I’m here to help you reframe your mind and actions, so that you can embark on a journey of finding true meaning to your life.

Everything that you can do and accomplish in life are bounded by 7 Cornerstone Skills. These are the true essentials needed to achieve excellence. They’ll put you on a path that gives great meaning and satisfaction in life. And, the best thing of all? They already exist in each of us. We just don’t always make the most of it, or sometimes we aren’t even aware of the power that each of these skills have to help us in life.

On it’s own, each skill is unique and can help you through different stages of life, or problems. But as a whole set, these 7 Cornerstone Skills will give you full transformation over any situation. No matter what phase of life you’re in, what you’re striving to achieve, or what feel you’re lacking, your pursuit of meaning in life will be much faster when you’re able to make use of not one, not two, but all 7 Cornerstone Skills.

The 7 Cornerstone Skills

So let me give you a glimpse into what these 7 Cornerstone skills are.

Creativity

Creativity empowers you to find unique solutions to problems, and see things in ways that you least expect.

It goes beyond the artistic impressions and aesthetics, and is a crucial building block of change.

Learning

Without Learning, you will not be able to advance and progress in life. Yet, there are many of us who always fall behind not because they don’t have the intellectual ability, but because they don’t know how to learn effectively.

Memory

And then we have Memory, one of the most vital components, because without that you have nothing to fall back on, nothing to gain from all the learning or experiences that you’re exposed to on this earth.

And with an ever increasing amount of information available, how can you store up as much knowledge as you can without overloading?

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Focus

And with any and everything that you do, a certain amount of Focus is always given.

Whether it’s the career ladder that you’ve been climbing, or the responsibility of being a parent, Focus is a flow that allows you to push towards the progress that you’re striving for.

Without focus, we find ourselves lost, demotivated and stuck in a rut.

Motivation

Many of us aren’t happy in life or with our jobs and responsibilities because we lack Motivation, and an overarching purpose as I already mentioned earlier. Motivation helps drive you forward, and gives you the focus achieve your purpose.

Habits

If you realize, every new day that comes is filled with routines. Whether it’s getting ready for work in the morning, putting your kids to bed in the evening, or setting aside time during the weekends for family time and activities, it all happens as a result of habits that you’ve built over time.

Therefore Habits dictate a big part of your life. Pursuing happiness, money or meaning all have a dependency on your habits. If you find yourself being controlled by bad or negative habits, it’s more likely to hinder you from being productive and reaching those goals.

Time

This also ends up leading to bad use of Time, or poor time management.

You might feel like you haven’t built a stable career yet because you lack proper time management. You find yourself spending a lot of time being busy, yet producing little outcomes.

Or certain habits might be consuming time that you can be using for other more productive tasks.

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Perhaps you’re on your way to retirement, and feel like it’s too late to find new meaning to your life. There’s not much time left to embark on a new journey again.

Are You Ready to Live Your Best Life?

The simple fact is, that if you can sharpen these 7 Cornerstone skills, you will realize that finding meaning in life, or reaching the goals and ambitions that you’ve set out for yourself, no matter what stage of life you’re in, is very attainable.

There is no magical method to having life figured out. The skills have always been there since day 1, you just need to know how to use it to the best of your advantage.

And I’m here to show you just how you can do that. Lifehack is all about equipping you with the best and most effective ways to increase your productivity, motivation and focus to achieve true Purpose in life, in as little time as possible.

Embark on a transformational journey with us as we show you how to learn and improve your 7 Cornerstone Skills so that you’ll come out a new person, ready to either pursue your existing goals at a much quicker rate, or to find new goals to pursue without being limited by time, age or responsibilities.

If you’ve been wanting a change, or been stuck in a rut for a while now, here is your chance to get started on pushing towards progress again.

Anyone can transform, anyone can change. Are you ready to live your best life? Click here to start your journey!

 

Featured photo credit: Caroline Hernandez via unsplash.com

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