Seven Tips To Increase Your Willpower

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It’s the self-control to say “no” to too much eating, spending, video gaming, alcohol consumption and other indulgences that keep us from goals we’ve set. It’s something we all wish we had more of: willpower.

Willpower is the drive to resist short-term temptations to meet your long-term goals. Some describe it as a battle between logic and emotions. Maybe it’s turning down dessert to help you look better in the new dress you bought. It could be studying for the test you need to ace rather than watching several episodes of a favorite Netflix series.

Jenny Hartsock, MD, a hospitalist with Premier Health, has been on her own journey to find the willpower to make healthy changes in her life. 

Her weight had reached a high of 275 pounds in 2016, and she found herself unable to do physical activities she wanted to do. Over a year, she set diet and exercise goals and lost 83 pounds. She also trained for a hiking trip to national parks out West. Her most triumphant day was a 12-mile hike from a basin in the valley to the top of a mountain at Arches National Park in Utah. 

So how do you get more willpower?

Although your willpower may be fatigued in the short term, it can be strengthened over time – just like your muscles when you exercise.

Willpower Is Like a Muscle

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Experts believe that willpower is like a muscle. To a certain extent, you can build it up over time. On the other hand, you can also overuse it by constantly denying yourself one thing after another. This “willpower depletion” may weaken your ability to resist temptation. 

Although your willpower may be fatigued in the short term, it can be strengthened over time – just like your muscles when you exercise.

According to some researchers, willpower tends to be greater if you are working toward your own goals. If you’re making the sacrifice for someone else, it’s more of a drain on your willpower. 

Tips For Better Willpower

Here are seven tips to build better willpower:

  1. Don’t take on too much at once. Try setting small, achievable goals and focus your willpower on accomplishing those. Dr. Hartsock’s first goals were to cut back on snacks, lessen her portions at meals and drink at least 80 ounces of water a day. Losing 20 pounds with just those steps gave her more willpower to achieve new goals. “I’ll always need goals,” she says. “It’s all about finding what works for you personally.” 
  2. Plan ahead. Give your willpower a break by making decisions in advance: Schedule your menu for the entire week and even do some advance meal preparation. This will help you avoid impulsive stops at fast food restaurants on the way home from work. Before you go to a party or restaurant, decide whether you will drink alcohol and how much you will drink. Don’t try to squeeze exercise into what’s left at the end of the day. Instead, schedule it on your calendar at the beginning of each week or plan to go with a friend so you’ll be more likely to keep that commitment.
  3. Avoid temptation. Don’t buy foods you know you can’t resist. If you’re trying to stop drinking, stay away from events where drinking is the primary activity. If your willpower is being tested, try to put off the thing you desire until later or distract yourself with something else that won’t keep you from your goals.
  4. Strengthen your willpower. Mindfulness meditations may improve your self-control and help you act from intention rather than habit or craving. Physical and mental fatigue can lessen your willpower. Get enough sleep to keep your energy levels up.
  5. Try a food-tracking app for better eating. Dr. Hartsock notes this can help you avoid the pitfall of poor snacking. As she comments on her personal effort, “When I saw how many horrible, empty calories I was eating a day, it really triggered the guilt for me and it has helped me get control.” She has changed her favorite snack food to berries and given up processed snack foods.
  6. Reward yourself. If you reach a milestone, celebrate with something that won’t set you back. Take a walk in the park after taking a hard exam. Buy a new outfit after losing 20 pounds. Get a pedicure after running a 5K race.
  7. Get support from others. Join a running group. Find a walking buddy. Do meal planning with your spouse. Ask people you trust to help you achieve your goals.

Dr. Hartsock has faith in anyone’s ability to change. She says, “I personally am a living, breathing example of how any change is possible, and I remain optimistic that together we can overcome our struggles – no matter what they may be.” 

She concludes, “It’s OK to be afraid but it’s not OK to not try. Nothing is insurmountable. You can achieve anything you set your mind to. Have faith in yourself. Belief in yourself will get you anywhere.”

Small Steps: Rest Your Mind
To manage stress, take time to give your mind a break when roles and responsibilities pile up.