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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.

More by this author

Courtney Romano

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

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Last Updated on April 19, 2021

The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

Think of yourself as a cup. Each day, you wake up full. But as you go about your day—getting tasks done and interacting with people—the amount in your cup gradually gets lower. And as such, you get less and less effective at whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing. You’re running out of steam.

The solution is obvious: if you don’t have anything left to pour out, then you need to find a way to fill yourself up again. In work terms, that means you should take a break—an essential form of revitalizing your motivation and focus.

Taking a break may get a bad rap in hustle culture, but it’s an essential, science-based way to ensure you have the capacity to live your life the way you want to live it.

In the 1980s, when scientists began researching burnout, they described this inner capacity as “resources.” We all need to replenish our resources to cope with stress, work effectively, and avoid burnout.[1]

When the goal is to get things done, it may sound counterproductive to stop what you’re doing. But if you embrace the art of taking a break, you can be more efficient and effective at work.

Here are five ways on how you can take a break and boost your productivity.

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1. Break for the Right Amount of Time, at the Right Time

When I started my first job out of college, I was bent on pleasing my boss as most entry-level employees do. So, every day, I punched in at 9 AM on the dot, took a 60-minute lunch break at noon, and left no earlier than 5 PM.

As I’ve logged more hours in my career, I’ve realized the average, eight-hour workday with an hour lunch break simply isn’t realistic—especially if your goal is to put your best foot forward at work.

That’s why popular productivity techniques like the Pomodoro advocate for the “sprint” principle. Basically, you work for a short burst, then stop for a short, five-minute break. While the Pomodoro technique is a step forward, more recent research shows a shorter burst of working followed by a longer pause from work might actually be a more effective way to get the most out of stepping away from your desk.

The team at DeskTime analyzed more than 5 million records of how workers used their computers on the job. They found that the most productive people worked an average of 52 minutes, then took a 17-minute break afterward.[2]

What’s so special about those numbers? Leave it to neuroscience. According to researchers, the human brain naturally works in spurts of activity that last an hour. Then, it toggles to “low-activity mode.”[3]

Even so, keep in mind that whatever motivates you is the most effective method. It’s more about the premise—when you know you have a “finish line” approaching, you can stay focused on the task or project at hand.

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There are many applications and tools that can help you block distracting websites and apps (such as social media) for specific periods of the day. Similarly, you can also use some mailing apps like Mailbrew to receive all the social media content or newsletters you don’t want to miss in your inbox at a time you decide.

So, no matter how long you work, take a break when you sense you’re losing steam or getting bored with the task. Generally, a 10-15 minute break should reinvigorate you for whatever’s coming next.

2. Get a Change of Scenery—Ideally, Outdoors

When it comes to increasing a person’s overall mental health, there’s no better balm than nature. Research has found that simply being outside can restore a person’s mind from mental fatigue related to work or studying, ultimately contributing to improved work performance (and even improved work satisfaction).[4]

No lush forest around? Urban nature can be just as effective to get the most out of your break-taking. Scientists Stephen R. Kellert and Edward O. Wilson, in their book The Biophilia Hypothesis, claimed that even parks, outdoor paths, and building designs that embrace “urban nature” can lend a sense of calm and inspiration, encouraging learning and alertness for workers.

3. Move Your Body

A change of scenery can do wonders for your attention span and ability to focus, but it’s even more beneficial if you pair it with physical movement to pump up that adrenaline of yours. Simply put, your body wasn’t designed to be seated the entire day. In fact, scientists now believe that extended periods of sitting are just as dangerous to health as smoking.[5]

It’s not always feasible to enjoy the benefits of a 30-minute brisk walk during your workday, especially since you’ll most likely have less energy during workdays. But the good news is, for productivity purposes, you don’t have to. Researchers found that just 10 minutes of exercise can boost your memory and attention span throughout the entire day.[6]

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So, instead of using your break to sit and read the news or scroll your social media account, get out of your chair and move your body. Take a quick walk around the block. Do some jumping jacks in your home office. Whatever you choose, you’ll likely find yourself with a sharper focus—and more drive to get things done.

4. Connect With Another Person

Social connection is one of the most important factors for resilience. When we’re in a relationship with other people, it’s easier to cope with stress—and in my experience, getting social can also help to improve focus after a work break.

One of my favorite ways to break after a 30-or-so minute sprint is to hang out with my family. And once a week, I carve out time to Skype my relatives back in Turkey. It’s amazing how a bit of levity and emotional connection can rev me up for the next work sprint.

Now that most of us are working from home, getting some face-to-face time with a loved one isn’t as hard as it once was. So, take the time to chat with your partner. Take your kids outside to run around the backyard. If you live alone, call a friend or relative. Either way, coming up for air to chat with someone who knows and cares about you will leave you feeling invigorated and inspired.

5. Use Your Imagination

When you’re working with your head down, your brain has an ongoing agenda: get things done, and do it well. That can be an effective method for productivity, but it only lasts so long—especially because checking things off your to-do list isn’t the only ingredient to success at work. You also need innovation.

That’s why I prioritize a “brain break” every day. When I feel my “cup” getting empty, I usually choose another creative activity to exercise my brain, like a Crossword puzzle, Sudoku, or an unrelated, creative project in my house.

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And when I’m really struggling to focus, I don’t do anything at all. Instead, I let my brain roam free for a bit, following my thoughts down whatever trail they lead me. As it turns out, there’s a scientific benefit to daydreaming. It reinforces creativity and helps you feel more engaged with the world, which will only benefit you in your work.[7]

Whether you help your kids with their distance learning homework, read an inspiring book, or just sit quietly to enjoy some fresh air, your brain will benefit from an opportunity to think and feel without an agenda. And, if you’re anything like me, you might just come up with your next great idea when you aren’t even trying.

Final Thoughts

Most of us have to work hard for our families and ourselves. And the current world we live in demands the highest level of productivity that we can offer. However, we also have to take a break once in a while. We are humans, after all.

Learning the art of properly taking a break will not only give you the rest you need but also increase your productivity in the long run.

More on the Importance of Taking a Break

Featured photo credit: Helena Lopes via unsplash.com

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