All of us have the capacity to practice a high amount of willpower. And those who use it often are happier and healthier than those who simply can’t get a grasp on it. That’s because willpower improves everything in life. When you have the ability to hold back from reacting on instinct or to do something that will harm you or someone else, everything improves, including relationships, success, stress management, conflict management, and problems that you once had a hard time overcoming. Willpower can even help you live longer. For many people, willpower is one of the top virtues that they can have because it is so important in every area of life.
The chances are good that you are looking for some willpower to help you achieve some specific goal you have in your life, but the thing is that once you develop willpower in one part of your life, it will go far beyond that one area and affect your entire life. When you experience the benefits of it, it becomes much easier to implement in your entire life. Following are some ways to improve willpower in any area of your life.
1. Give Yourself Some Wiggle Room
I have a friend who is constantly fighting a battle with food. There is something inside of her that makes her want to eat 24 hours a day. Needless to say, she is constantly working with her willpower to avoid eating everything she can get her hands on. I asked her what she thought of willpower, and she said, “I think the hardest part of gaining will power is allowing yourself room to move.”
It is important to not become too crazy about what you’re trying to master in your life. She says that she is the type of person who wants to do it all or nothing, and that doesn’t work well when it comes to eating. Getting too serious about her willpower can literally make her not want to touch any food, which she knows is unhealthy. So, she has set boundaries around when she needs her willpower and when she can let it have a brief vacation.
For example, during her regular routine at her home alone, she will avoid eating unless she is hungry, but during a vacation at her parent’s house or out for dinner with her friends, she allows herself to eat on other people’s schedules. Creating this rule allows her to follow a routine that helps her stay comfortable and on top of her eating habits in her home, and comfortable when she is out of the home.
2. Practice Meditation
Meditation seems to be the number one answer for almost everything. It can’t really be good for everything, can it? Well, it seems that it can be!
Kelly McGonigal, PH.D., says the best way to boost your willpower is through mediation. Research has shown that when the brain meditates, it gets better at self-control skills, including impulse control, focus, and self-awareness. She says that in one study, participants experienced changes in their brain after eleven hours of meditation, and those changes included increased neural connections in areas of the brain that are important for controlling impulses, staying focused, and ignoring distractions.
It has been found that meditation increases the amount of blood flowing to the prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain that is involved in planning and personality development. In other words, you increase your ability to make plans and stick with them, which benefits your willpower in a big way!
3. Plan Out Your Day
If you have a plan for the day, then there is a good chance that you will stick to it. Putting a plan in motion in your mind, going over it, and having the intention to follow through with it, allows you to pause when you feel the need to do something that you shouldn’t do and refer to your plan. This will come in helpful if you know you are going to need willpower in your day to accomplish what you want to accomplish.
Research has shown that when you pause and focus on your plan for the day, your body reacts in the exact opposite way of the fight or flight response. You become calm, you relax, and you are able to make decisions after some thought, instead of making rash decisions.
Some people think it’s too strict to plan their days too tightly, but when you know what you want to accomplish, and when you don’t want to get off track, planning your day is important!
So, don’t be scared to plan your day down to the last detail. You can always change your plans if something unexpected happens, but when you have a plan in place, you’re much more likely to follow it. And, if you know what you are going to be doing, then you might as well create a schedule for yourself that allows you to do what you want to do and avoid what you want to avoid.
4. Plan Out Your Month!
If you want to take it a step further, plan out your month. We often say that we will start doing what we need to do tomorrow. We tell ourselves that we will start using our willpower tomorrow and stop doing the things that are harming us or others in some way. But does that normally happen? No. We continuously expect to make different decisions tomorrow, but it never proves to work out that way.
By planning out your month, you can set a schedule in place for how you want to live your life. Every day that you wake up and look at your schedule, you will be more likely to stick to it. The more you stick to it, the more habitual your life will become, and you will be able to easily make healthier decisions day after day.
After a while, your daily schedule may not require much willpower. Doing what you need to do, and saying no when you need to say no, will become a part of your daily schedule, and it will just be easy to do.
5. Focus On Your Breathing
When you are faced with a moment that you require willpower, slow down your breathing and focus on it. Breathe much slower than you normally breathe to activate the prefrontal cortex and make a shift in your brain and body that moves you from stress to self-control.
Self-control is what you’re after when it comes to willpower, so you will find that within just a few minutes of using this method, it will be much easier to use your willpower and make a choice you want to make.
6. Consider The Future
I often recommend living in the moment, but when it comes to ways to improve willpower, it is beneficial to look into the future and make your choice with the present and the future in consideration.
For instance, if you are faced with eating a very bad meal when you have committed to eating healthy, then you may be able to excuse the behavior by rationalizing that is just this one time. However, if you look into the future and think about the consequences of eating that meal, you may decide that it is not worth it.
When you look forward to the consequences of your actions, you will be more willing to practice using your willpower and making the right choice for you.
7. Look At Willpower (And What You Need It For) Differently
Many of us think that willpower is a punishment. It’s no wonder that it’s hard to improve willpower when we look at it that way. In order to make willpower our friend, we need to take a softer approach to it that helps us see it is a different light.
Willpower is actually a great way to be very kind to yourself. It allows you to make healthier choices for yourself in all areas of your life, so it is actually a tool that helps you create a better life. It’s not an evil thing, it’s an important part of treating yourself well. When you view willpower in this way, you will not be so resistant to it, and it will be easier to practice willpower and make decisions that benefit you.
You can also look at the things you require willpower for differently. For example, if you are trying to focus on your work and avoid distractions, then how you look at work will determine how much willpower you need. If you view work as an outlet for your creativity, or as a way to restore your energy and be beneficial to other people, then you will not need as much willpower to avoid distractions because you will want to work. But, if you view work as a torturous session that you have to spend hours on, then it’s going to be very hard to muster up the willpower you need to avoid distractions.
8. Respect Yourself
Respect your efforts, respect yourself. Self-respect leads to self-discipline. When you have both firmly under your belt, that’s real power.” – Clint Eastwood
My friend actually sent me this quote from Clint Eastwood, and she says she reflects on it often as she thinks about where she will need to use her willpower for the day. Because willpower and self-discipline are pretty much the same thing, it becomes obvious that self-respect is an important part of achieving both of those things.
Wanting the best outcome for yourself is important. Wanting the best outcome for your health, relationships, happiness, and anything else in your life will help you respect yourself enough to do things that produce those types of results.
It’s important to note that beating yourself up is not respecting yourself. A lot of people try to use willpower because they are beating themselves up about something. For instance, if someone feels like they are eating too much and that they are gaining too much weight, then they may try to use willpower to stop eating so much. But if they are viewing themselves in a disrespectful way, then willpower becomes more of a punishment. It becomes much harder to practice it when it is viewed as a punishment.
So take this point on improving your willpower very seriously. You need to respect yourself and what you are trying to do in your life in order to develop the self-discipline and willpower that you need to have the life that you want.
9. Consider Your Options
Some days are going to be harder than others to practice willpower. It may be hard to practice willpower when you are faced with too many options.
For instance, if you are at a party, and you are surrounded by unhealthy food, it can be much harder to muster up the willpower to eat healthier. In this case, limiting your options is necessary. Choosing to only go to the salad bar instead of the main bar at a buffet, for example, is a way that limits your options.
Sometimes it may be important to increase your options. If you know you’re going to a place where there are going to be no options for you available, then bringing your own options along will help you make the right choice.
For example, if you are going to a party where there will be lots of drinks and you want to avoid drinking, then bringing your own preferred drink will allow you the option of drinking something that makes you happy and avoiding what does it make you happy.
10. Use Stress Relief Strategies
Often we are faced with the need to use willpower during stressful times. Instead of trying to force yourself to make a decision while you feel stressed, practice a stress relief strategy that helps you calm down and reboot your self-control.
Breathing is definitely a stress relief strategy. So is exercising, listening to music, talking to a good friend, getting out in nature, doing something you love to do or even just visualizing something that you want to happen. All of these strategies can help you calm down and gain control over yourself and make better decisions.
Have one strategy that you can use anywhere you go. For instance, put music that calms you down on your phone and keep it with you at all times so that you can use it whenever the need arises.