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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

Two things human beings consistently want more of: money and willpower. Lack of willpower manifests from the smallest moments of our days (getting out of bed in the morning) to the largest decisions of our lives (deciding once and for all to get healthy).

While we can barely get ourselves to do the dishes, the happiest people have what seem to be unlimited amounts of inner drive keeping their engines revved. But just like any other muscle, we can grow our willpower muscle and lift out of even our heaviest habits. Here’s how:

1. Use the Six Month Rule

The rule in our household is simple: for very expensive, luxurious, unnecessary item we want to buy,  we wait six months. If we still want the thing in six months, we’ll have the money for it and if we don’t want it in six months, we’ve just saved our closet yet another piece of unloved junk.

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In the book Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, authors Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney report “People who had told themselves Not now, but later were less troubled with visions of chocolate cake than the other two groups…” Knowing you’re just delaying gratification is more a bolster to willpower than a simple, flat no.

2. Decide to Decide

That’s some of the best advice I have ever heard. Decide to decide. It means don’t put off making a decision – get a wedding invitation in the mail? Check yes or no and send it back immediately. When you make clear decisions more often, you limit your mind’s ability to be thrown off later when the decisions start to pile up. If there are easy decisions you can make right now, make them and give your mind more mojo for later when your willpower is really tested.

3. Build an Armor for Stress

According to one study, we fall back on habits in times of stress – whether they are good or bad habits is up to us. To build an armor of good habits against stress means we have to practice those good habits daily. Fortifying your willpower by practicing incremental, small habits every day, as simple as putting your sneakers by your bed so you can step right into them for an early morning run, means that when tough times hit (and they will) your stress response will rely on that healthy habit instead of a negative one.

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4. Do It For Yourself and No One Else

What is it about our mothers telling us to eat our spinach like Popeye that makes us take such displeasure in spinach? I’m convinced we all started liking spinach when people stopped telling us to like spinach. And researchers agree, they found that when people chose to exert self-control for purely personal reasons they were far more likely to succeed on self-control tests than those practicing self-control because of outside influence.

5. Imagine Having the Willpower You Want

We all know the cliche mind over matter, but what happens when we actually put it into practice? In one study, imaginations were tested by asking three groups of participants watching a movie to either imagine they ate a lot of candy, imagine they had none, or imagine they resisted eating candy during the movie but had it later. According to this article, the study observed the last group who imagined resisting the candy as much less likely to go for it later. They imagined having more willpower and so grew some extra reserves of it.

6. Take a Nap

You heard me. Go to sleep. Baumeister writes, “Rest is good. In general, self-control problems and difficulties seem to show up with people who don’t get enough sleep. The longer people have been awake, the more self-control problems happen.” You know that craving late at night for that midnight snack? Your body is exhausted and mildly (or majorly) stressed and it craves comfort, not the Doritos. Grab for your pillow before you grab for that extra snack.

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7. Put Your Mental Energy Into What is Working

Fyodor Dostoyevsky said, “Try to pose for yourself this task: not to think of a polar bear, and you will see that the cursed thing will come to mind every minute.” Concentrating on what doesn’t work for you keeps you from concentrating on what does work. When we think so much about how we are failing, how we are lacking willpower and how much we want that cookie, we’re missing the mental opportunity to reinforce thoughts of progress and how good it actually feels to be healthy.

8. Be Nice to Yourself.

You’re not choosing to do the easy thing. You’re choosing to do the hard thing. So understand that this won’t feel normal, natural or effortless. It’s going to require some resilience and some acknowledgement that you won’t be perfect. Learning how to stay in the game is the first step to hardwiring your willpower for keeps.

9. Get in the Mood.

Feeling depressed, anxious and irritable is no way to enact lasting change. To get those deep reserves of willpower bolstered up, you need to make sure your moods are helping you rather than hurting you. Getting your sleep regulated and predictable allows your mood to settle back to normal, making you more likely to practice the willpower you crave. 

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10. Build a Foundation to Plow Ahead.

Willpower requires fortitude and you don’t want to lose all your momentum by trying to change too many things at once. Make one change at a time and build from there. Baumeister says, “People will make five New Years’ resolutions. Each time you work on one, you’re taking away your capacity to work on the other. You don’t have any more willpower magically. You have the same amount.” One accomplishment will be encouragement enough to make the next one, and the next one, and the next one. Don’t deplete your resources, grow them bit by bit.

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Courtney Romano

Courtney is an actress, NASM-certified personal trainer, group fitness instructor and wellness coach.

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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