Hope you had a restful weekend.
Willpower is often seen as the end all and be all to reaching our goals. Most of us feel that some of us have it, while some of us don’t have much and are doomed to never reach our goals because of our lack of it.
It is true that some of us are better than others at delaying gratification and this was proven in a famous 1972 Marshmallow Study, where researchers tested children’s ability to delay eating a marshmallow for a specific amount of time, in the promise of an even greater reward. The result was that some of the children were able to refrain from eating it and others could not.
By definition willpower is the control exerted to do something or restrain impulses. We all have the ability to exercise willpower at different moments in our day and to delay gratification, but it is greatly impacted by our current mental and physical state.
In Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, willpower is referred to as somewhat of a bucket. We wake up with a full bucket of willpower – or maybe partially full depending on what has been going on in our lives the past few days – and as the day goes on it inevitably gets depleted as we use it repeatedly throughout the day and week.
We need to use our willpower to accomplish many things throughout the day; getting up at 5am for our workout vs. staying in bed, putting on a smile when dealing with a difficult boss vs. giving him a piece of our mind, making a smoothie for breakfast vs. getting a pastry at a coffee shop, eating the healthy lunch we packed vs getting burgers and fries with co-workers, getting to the gym after work vs. going for drinks with friends, being patient with our kids vs. losing our cool, etc…Every time we are confronted with a choice, it all draws from the same source of energy.
This is why it is so hard to rely simply on willpower to accomplish goals. You have so many choices to make in one day that sometimes there is little left in your bucket to make the right choices when it comes to everything.
This is not to say that you should feel sorry for yourself, and use this as an excuse for not doing what you promised yourself you would, it simply means that you need to change your approach.
If you’re low on willpower (which we all are sometimes). Do these 4 things:
- Take away options.
We want choice and options, but too much choice and too many options can also be a bad thing; it can actually make us feel overwhelmed and unhappy.
When we have to make so many decisions and weigh options constantly, it is easy to make bad choices that lead us to outcomes we didn’t intend, such as weight gain, low energy, feeling unhappy in our body…This is the paradox of choice.
In Atomic Habits, author James Clear says that when we place a constraint on ourselves, it can become much easier to get something done. Especially when a constraint forces us to start small.
Here are some examples he gives:
If you want to start exercising, set a rule for yourself where you are not allowed to exercise for more than 5 minutes. You have to stop exercising after 5 minutes.
This seems strange, but the idea is that 5 minutes is so doable that suddenly it is easy start adding more time, now that you have created a habit of exercising.
If you want to eat more vegetables, you could limit yourself to only one type of vegetable this week. By limiting the number of choices you have to make, it’s more likely that you’ll actually eat something healthy rather than get overwhelmed trying to figure out all of the details of the perfect diet.
- Develop a Ritual
Newton’s law of motion states that an object in motion stays in motion. This implies that it is always the start of setting a ritual into motion that is the hardest part. Once the ritual is in motion, it becomes difficult to stop, unless an extenuating circumstance forces it to stop.
This means that you can create a ritual around what you want your day to look like and eventually rely little on willpower to act on it.
Ritual if you want to start your day more positively and with energy: Wake up, meditate for 5miutes, put workout clothes on, drive to gym.
Ritual to eat better at lunch: Set an alarm to remind you to eat, grab your lunch from the fridge, head to a quiet space in your office or put on earphones and listen to upbeat music or audio book while you enjoy your meal.
- Use Temptation Bundling.
Researcher, Katy Milkman, from the Wharton School of Business, developed a strategy called temptation bundling that essentially “bundles” behaviors you are tempted to do with behaviors you should do, but often neglect.
The idea is that you are motivating yourself to do the tasks you’re struggling with by rewarding yourself at the same time by doing something you enjoy.
This formula links every ‘should’ with a ‘want’.
Love watching a particular show on NetFlix? Okay, you only get to do that after you go to the gym. Love chocolate? You only get to eat a piece of it after you have a healthy dinner.
If you find that you lack willpower in many areas of your life, remember that it is like a muscle that gets stronger the more we exercise it.
Practice delaying gratification in one area of your life one week at a time and see what positive things come from it. This will allow you to create the connection between delaying and achieving something worthwhile. For example; you delay going home by 30 minutes every day in order to go to the gym and after 2 weeks you notice that you have more energy, you have more patience with your kids when you get home, you are happier, you are more productive at work and you are sleeping better. Suddenly those 30 minutes are not a big deal any more, because they make your life so much better!
Hope these tips help.
Have a great week!
Certified Health Coach, Chek Holistic Lifestyle Coach
Co-Founder of Best Body Bootcamp
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