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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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Last Updated on March 21, 2019

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

Most gurus talk about habits in a way that doesn’t help you:

You need to push yourself more. You can’t be lazy. You need to wake up at 5 am. You need more motivation. You can never fail…blah blah “insert more gibberish here.”

But let me share with you the unconventional truths I found out:

To build and change habits, you don’t need motivation or wake up at 5 am. Heck, you can fail multiple times, be lazy, have no motivation and still pull it off with ease.

It’s quite simple and easy to do, especially with the following list I’m going to show to you. But remember, Jim Rohn used to say,

“What is simple and easy to do is also simple and easy not to do.”

The important things to remember when changing your habits are both simple and easy, just don’t think that they don’t make any difference because they do.

In fact, they are the only things that make a difference.

Let’s see what those small things are, shall we?

1. Start Small

The biggest mistake I see people doing with habits is by going big. You don’t go big…ever. You start small with your habits.

Want to grow a book reading habit? Don’t start reading a book a day. Start with 10 pages a day.

Want to become a writer? Don’t start writing 10,000 words a day. Start with 300 words.

Want to lose weight? Don’t stop eating ice cream. Eat one less ball of it.

Whatever it is, you need to start small. Starting big always leads to failure. It has to, because it’s not sustainable.

Start small. How small? The amount needs to be in your comfort zone. So if you think that reading 20 pages of a book is a bit too much, start with 10 or 5.

It needs to appear easy and be easy to do.

Do less today to do more in a year.

2. Stay Small

There is a notion of Kaizen which means continuous improvement. They use this notion in habits where they tell you to start with reading 1 page of a book a day and then gradually increase the amount you do over time.

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But the problem with this approach is the end line — where the “improvement” stops.

If I go from reading 1 page of a book a day and gradually reach 75 and 100, when do I stop? When I reach 1 book a day? That is just absurd.

When you start a habit, stay at it in the intensity you have decided. Don’t push yourself for more.

I started reading 20 pages of a book a day. It’s been more than 2 years now and I’ve read 101 books in that period. There is no way I will increase the number in the future.

Why?

Because reading 40 to 50 books a year is enough.

The same thing applies to every other habit out there.

Pick a (small) number and stay at it.

3. Bad Days Are 100 Percent Occurrence

No matter how great you are, you will have bad days where you won’t do your habit. Period.

There is no way of going around this. So it’s better to prepare yourself for when that happens instead of thinking that it won’t ever happen.

What I do when I miss a day of my habit(s) is that I try to bounce back the next day while trying to do habits for both of those days.

Example for that is if I read 20 pages of a book a day and I miss a day, the next day I will have to read 40 pages of a book. If I miss writing 500 words, the next day I need to write 1000.

This is a really important point we will discuss later on rewards and punishments.

This is how I prepare for the bad days when I skip my habit(s) and it’s a model you should take as well.

4. Those Who Track It, Hack It

When you track an activity, you can objectively tell what you did in the past days, weeks, months, and years. If you don’t track, you will for sure forget everything you did.

There are many different ways you can track your activities today, from Habitica to a simple Excel sheet that I use, to even a Whatsapp Tracker.

Peter Drucker said,

“What you track is what you do.”

So track it to do it — it really helps.

But tracking is accompanied by one more easy activity — measuring.

5. Measure Once, Do Twice

Peter Drucker also said,

“What you measure is what you improve.”

So alongside my tracker, I have numbers with which I measure doses of daily activities:

For reading, it’s 20 pages.
For writing, it’s 500 words.
For the gym, it’s 1 (I went) or 0 (didn’t go).
For budgeting, it’s writing down the incomes and expenses.

Tracking and measuring go hand in hand, they take less than 20 seconds a day but they create so much momentum that it’s unbelievable.

6. All Days Make a Difference

Will one day in the gym make you fit? It won’t.

Will two? They won’t.

Will three? They won’t.

Which means that a single gym session won’t make you fit. But after 100 gym sessions, you will look and feel fit.

What happened? Which one made you fit?

The answer to this (Sorites paradox)[1] is that no single gym session made you fit, they all did.

No single day makes a difference, but when combined, they all do. So trust the process and keep on going (small).

7. They Are Never Fully Automated

Gurus tell you that habits become automatic. And yes, some of them do, like showering a certain way of brushing your teeth.

But some habits don’t become automatic, they become a lifestyle.

What I mean by that is that you won’t automatically “wake up” in the gym and wonder how you got there.

It will just become a part of your lifestyle.

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The difference is that you do the first one automatically, without conscious thought, while the other is a part of how you live your life.

It’s not automatic, but it’s a decision you don’t ponder on or think about — you simply do it.

It will become easy at a certain point, but they will never become fully automated.

8. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

Marshall Goldsmith has a great book with the same title to it. The phrase means that sometimes, you will need to ditch certain habits to make room for other ones which will bring you to the next step.

Don’t be afraid to evolve your habits when you sense that they don’t bring you where you want to go.

When I started reading, it was about reading business and tactic books. But two years into it, I switched to philosophy books which don’t teach me anything “applicable,” but instead teach me how to think.

The most important ability of the 21st century is the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn. The strongest tree is the willow tree – not because it has the strongest root or biggest trunk, but because it is flexible enough to endure and sustain anything.

Be like a willow, adapting to the new ways of doing things.

9. Set a Goal and Then Forget It

The most successful of us know what they want to achieve, but they don’t focus on it.

Sounds paradoxical? You’re right, it does. But here is the logic behind it.

You need to have a goal of doing something – “I want to become a healthy individual” – and then, you need to reverse engineer how to get there with your habits- “I will go to the gym four times a week.”

But once you have your goal, you need to “forget” about it and only focus on the process. Because you are working on the process of becoming healthy and it’s always in the making. You will only be as healthy as you take care of your body.

So you have a goal which isn’t static but keeps on moving.

If you went to the gym 150 times year and you hit your goal, what would you do then? You would stop going to the gym.

This is why goal-oriented people experience yo-yo effect[2] and why process-oriented people don’t.

The difference between process-oriented and goal-oriented people is that the first focus on daily actions while others only focus on the reward at the finish line.

Set a goal but then forget about it and reap massive awards.

10. Punish Yourself

Last two sections are pure Pavlovian – you need to punish bad behavior and reward good behavior. You are the only person who decides what is good and what is bad for you, but when you do, you need to rigorously follow that.

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I’ve told you in point #3 about bad days and how after one occurs, I do double the work on the next day. That is one of my forms of punishments.

It’s the need to tell your brain that certain behaviors are unacceptable and that they lead to bad outcomes. That’s what punishments are for.

You want to tell your brain that there are real consequences to missing your daily habits.[3]

No favorite food to eat or favorite show to watch or going to the cinema for a new Marvel movie- none, zero, zilch.

The brain will remember these bad feelings and will try to avoid the behaviors that led to them as much as possible.

But don’t forget the other side of the same coin.

11. Reward Yourself

When you follow and execute on your plan, reward yourself. It’s how the brain knows that you did something good.

Whenever I finish one of my habits for the day, I open my tracker (who am I kidding, I always keep it open on my desktop) and fill it with a number. As soon as I finish reading 20 pages of a book a day (or a bit more), I open the tracker and write the number down.

The cell becomes green and gives me an instant boost of endorphin – a great success for the day. Then, it becomes all about not breaking the chain and having as many green fields as possible.

After 100 days, I crunch some numbers and see how I did.

If I have less than 10 cheat days, I reward myself with a great meal in a restaurant. You can create your own rewards and they can be daily, weekly, monthly or any arbitrary time table that you create.

Primoz Bozic, a productivity coach, has gold, silver, and bronze medals as his reward system.[4]

If you’re having problems creating a system which works for you, contact me via email and we can discuss specifics.

In the End, It Matters

What you do matters not only to you but to the people around you.

When you increase the quality of your life, you indirectly increase the quality of life of people around you. And sometimes, that is all the “motivation” we need to start.

And that’s the best quote for the end of this article:

“Motivation gets you started, but habits keep you going.”

Keep going.

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More Resources to Help You Build Habits

Featured photo credit: Anete Lūsiņa via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Sorites paradox
[2] Muscle Zone: What causes yo-yo effect and how to avoid it?
[3] Growth Habits: 5 Missteps That Cause You To Quit Building A Habit
[4] Primoz Bozic: The Lean Review: How to Plan Your 2019 in 20 Minutes

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