Willpower and how to boost it
Have you thought today about eating some chocolate, having a glass or two of wine after work or delaying a certain task for the end of the week?
It surely happens from time to time that we all want to give in our desires and cravings that we usually try to resist – whether it is a sweet tooth that we have or the tendency to procrastinate.
We usually think that “the enemy“ we are talking about here is outside of us – whether it is the cake, the cigarette, the drink. But what will happen if we try to have a look into our inner world and consider that it all cannot happen without our active participation – after all, the cake cannot be eaten except we take the fork and put a piece of it in our mouth, or the cigarette will not get lit by itself.
Psychologists often refer to these competing parts of ourselves – the one that wants to lead a healthy and temptation-free life and the opposite one led by our impulses and desires as having two different minds or having a self-control and an impulsive self. They are not good or bad, they are just different and both part of who we are.
So here, it is the willpower that plays the key role. That is the ability to control ourselves and moderate our impulses. We are all born with this ability but do we use it effectively or to the same extent? Surprisingly or not, it was found that willpower can be learned and strengthened throughout our lives and here are some effective strategies do so.
First, let’s start with an overview of what happens in our bodies when we try to resist a temptation or try to get better at self-control. The part of the brain responsible for planning our actions and controlling our more primitive impulses is the pre-frontal cortex – the area just behind our forehead. When we are extremely tired, drunk or are in a similar situation, this brain part cannot use the energy properly and we are more inclined to grab the unhealthy junk food or delay our tasks for another time. So, one of the things you can do, is just get enough rest and sleep per night. Some meditation also does good to our willpower – only 10 minutes of meditation practice a day lead to better sleep at night and to a higher level of self-control. Nutrition is also crucial for our willpower to work properly – you have probably noticed that eating lots of sugar or junk food only makes you eat more of it and the achieving of your long-term goal seems more distant.
Furthermore, let’s have a look at a situation in which you fail to follow your healthy habits and give in the ominous temptation. Considering what “evil” you have done, are you being harsh and accusing on yourself? Probably yes. It is proven that such an attitude to a failure in your routine or desired new habit only leads to more of the same behaviour – in short you will try to comfort and relieve yourself for “having sinned”. But let’s think for a moment of the same situation happening to a close friend of yours. Would you use the same tough words and would you accuse him/her of being weak, a loser etc.? Probably not. You would rather try to comfort him/her, offer encouraging words and reassure them that next time they will do better. Then why not try to use this strategy to yourself too and see how it feels? Would there be any difference? It was found that accepting a setback in the process of achieving your goal and not being hard on yourself will boost your willpower and help for further steps.
Speaking about steps, do not forget that you should approach your objective patiently and gradually – step by step. Do not rush to reach an utopian ideal in a short time as you may find it is not even there.
Instead of this, you might try to think about the specific actions you are planning to take regarding the realization of your intention. Think about both the positive outcome you want to achieve and the obstacles that may occur. What can you do to prevent these obstacles to happen? Maybe you can take your training sack with you so that you go straight to the gym after work?
Last but not least, there is a very simple but powerful technique that you can use when you feel the unhealthy desire to give in to the craving of yours – surfing the urge. Start with noticing and registering your feelings and your sensations – what happens in your body when you are about to grab the chocolate cookie or buy the expensive pair of shoes you don’t really need. Try to be fully aware of these sensations. Then comes the more challenging part – try to accept them and just let them be there. You are watching them rise, begin more and more intense until they begin slowly to fade and go away – just like watching the waves in the ocean. You cannot stop them but you can learn to surf.