We all set goals for ourselves, but how many times do those goals fall through? Everyone’s willpower could stand to use a boost now and then, and this article by Sheila Monoghan, published in Women’s Health offers some great tips on powering up your willpower.
Boost Your Willpower
Whether you want to steel your resolve against eating sweets and texting your ex, or take control of compulsive Facebook checking, these science-baked strategies will do the trick.
Do you marvel at your best friend, who can take two spoonfuls of chubby hubby and promptly return the carton to the freezer? Or at your husband who updates his resume every three months just in case opportunity knocks? Well, you, too, can acquire both of these types of willpower- the kind of self control you need when you’re trying to avoid something(such as treats) and the version you need when you’re not trying to avoid something (like professional responsibility). Read on to learn how to cultivate inner discipline.
When You Want to Avoid Temptation…
Doughnuts, bad boys, and second (and third) cocktails- just a few of the things that put our willpower to the test. It can also be hard to resist nonmaterial pleasures, like compulsively checking your eBay auction when you should be working. How to start:
Ditch the D Word
Making willpower a form of deprivation can set you up for backsliding. “You have to be motivated to exert self-control, and if you think willpower as a form of punishment, you can lose that motivation,” says Ethan Kross, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Michigan. Instead, give it a positive spin: Think of temptations as mini challenges to tackle, says Kross. Just allow yourself some wiggle room. Trying to steer clear of sweets? Keep them out of your kitchen cabinets, but indulge when eating out.
It sounds counterintuitive, but to focus your willpower, you may want to get a little unfocused. “A lot of data suggests that it helps to turn your attention to an engaging alternative,” explains Kross. “It’s the out-of-sight-out-of-mind approach.” When temptation strikes, stand up and take a quick walk around your office, or break out your sketch pad or guitar and get creative.
Fuel Your Resolve
According to a paper published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, some patterns of poor self-control can be attributed to drops in blood-glucose levels. “Glucose works to fuel brain activity,” says study coauthor Roy F. Baumeister, Ph.D.. a professor of social psychology at The Florida State University. That’s why hunger, fatigue, and stress- all of which deplete glucose levels- leave your brain less able to resist the lure of any temptation. Fueling up frequency on small, protein-rich meals can help keep your willpower humming all day.
When You Want to Tackle Something You’re Avoiding…
Who doesn’t want a bikini body and a balanced budget? But because accomplishing these things involves doing stuff you’d rather resist, it might seem as if you need the self-discipline of a monk. Not true. Try these:
When you want to make a sweeping change, you’ll improve your chances of long-term success if you take baby steps. “Regularly engaging in small acts of willpower can help increase your capacity for self-control in the long run,” says Mark Muraven, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at the University at Albany. For example, start by working out twice a week before shifting into high gear, or banking the cash you’d usually spend on a daily latte.
Time It Right
When the area of your brain largely associated with willpower- the prefrontal cortex- becomes overloaded with info, your resolve weakens. In a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, one group of people had to memorize a seven-digit number, and another group a two-digit number. When offered either a slice of cake of some fruit salad, the seven-digit bunch was more likely to choose cake. Why? “Cognitive load makes people more likely to make decisions based on emotions instead of reasoning,” explains study coauthor Alexander Fedorikhin, Ph.D., an associate professor of marketing at Indiana University Kelley School of Business. So if your goal is to log daily treadmill time or make healthier picks at the grocery store, it may be better to do those things in the a.m., when your brain is less likely to be overloaded with details.
See Your Success
Willpower outages often happen when we’re caught up in the moment and forget about the bigger picture. You might be dying to finish a project for the boss so you can show off your work chops, but your dawdling tendencies push it further out of reach. A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that people experienced a rise in self-control when they thought about their larger goals. “When the impulse to procrastinate arises, remind yourself of what is really important to you,” says study coauthor Brandon Schmeichel, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Texas A&M University. Write out your to-do list and place it in plain view, or take up a photo of the Louboutins you’ve promised to buy yourself when you finally snag that promotion.