5 Ways to Improve Your Willpower and Reach Your Dreams

“Argue for your limitations and sure enough they’re yours.” ~ Richard Bach

We live in a world of instant gratification. In a nanosecond we can send and receive data, speak to people around the world and have information at our fingertips like never before. The Internet of Things (IoT), has enabled machines to communicate in a web of connections that would make even the most brilliant brain spin!

Sometimes I think ‘creative’ types find it even harder to concentrate because there are so many ideas bouncing around inside our skulls, battling for attention. But it’s not the idea that matters so much as the willpower and energy to see it through to fulfillment.

As an aside, according to Dr. Steven Masley, the best predictor of brain performance and speed is aerobic capacity. How quickly we can run upstairs or up a hill correlates very strongly with cognitive shifting ability.

willpower-salmon-swimming-upstream

And in this fast paced era we are pushed to multi-task and be more productive than we ever thought possible. But there is a downside in all this technological advancement…

We live in the age of distraction – the anathema of focus. If it’s not smartphones, social media, Google, email’s waiting for response or cat videos that we can’t tear ourselves away from, (been there, done that) our minds are racing along thinking of all the work that needs to be done.

I frequently have to fight overwhelm, even when I’m organised.

Delayed Gratification

The concept of delayed gratification is becoming increasingly alien to us. What, we have to actually wait for something? You mean my fast food lunch won’t be ready in less than five minutes? No next day delivery?

Convenience can come at a price if we’re not careful. At every turn we are faced with temptation.

willpower-cupcake

Shall I eat that sugary donut? One last chocolate bar won’t hurt… I’ll watch one more episode of my favourite programme before I go to bed. Shall I quickly check Facebook? None of these things are necessarily bad; it’s just a question of what serves us in the moment in accordance with our life goals.

We are cramming so much into our days and that makes us crave instant results to achieve our goals faster. I constantly have to fight the urge to want everything now. I’m naturally impatient, although I have mellowed as I’ve matured.

The universe has its own pace and wisdom, and now I just try to stay true to myself and stay in the flow; follow my path and not get bent out of shape when things don’t work out how I’d imagined, or in the time scale I planned for. Progress is all important, and who we become as we grow and build on our strengths, overcoming our weaknesses is all that really matters.

It’s challenging to let go of attachment to results, but they do eventually come if we can harness our willpower more often than not…

willpower-quote-arthur-schopenhauer

So what is willpower? It is considered by social psychologists as the queen of all virtues.

It encompasses all aspects of existence, and is vital to live a happy and successful life.

We’ve all read the Bible story where Jesus is faced with every evil and temptation known to man in the space of forty days and forty nights. Who could survive that kind of onslaught except a deity?

Do we expect too much of ourselves? Or perhaps too little? Only you can decide what’s right for you.

For me, willpower is about being able to follow through on my decisions and act in accordance with my goals. It’s about personal power and the ability to make lifestyle changes, be self-disciplined and implement my best intentions. It’s doing what I must do, before doing what I want to do.

willpower-mahatma-gandhi

My children are learning about willpower when they force themselves to exercise self-control and complete their homework on time rather than spending all their time in more enjoyable pursuits.

I try to drive home the message that self-discipline is more important than IQ in predicting academic success.

When you exercise willpower you feel on top of the world. Our self-esteem gets a little boost when we realise we said ‘no thanks’ to that offer of a large wedge of chocolate cake. We start to believe in ourselves that little bit more as we follow through on our decisions and goals without deviation.

willpower-pianist

The thing about willpower and self-control is that it takes effort. Sometimes a lot!

Just ask anyone who has ever been deeply in love, (especially in the early stages) and they’ll tell you they have absolutely no willpower to regulate how often they think about the object of their affection!

It’s easy to see how avid gamers can get addicted to the Xbox and let their life slip away. Or with any other pleasurable activity for that matter…

Willpower is also tied in with awareness, because we don’t normally act in a way that’s detrimental to our wellbeing when we act consciously. Many actions and decisions mask unconscious needs and beliefs that are as yet invisible to us. After all, we are only human!

There’s no one better to learn from than Roy Baumeister when it comes to willpower.  In this detailed talk he covers how to make willpower work for you:

Whatever you may be dealing with right now, whether it’s to give up smoking, eat a more nutritious diet, get more exercise, start a meditation practise, complete a project, start a new project, or change any habit that may be holding you back, these five tips might also help to give you that extra ounce of willpower!

  1. Daily habits matter. Willpower builds momentum step by step. Repetition is a form of mesmerism, which propels us forward towards our goals. Daily habits are the ingredients in life’s recipe book. The longer we are in the mix and cooking away the closer we get to that tantalising dish at the end. Achieving mastery in any field requires repetition. Daily determination to exercise our willpower will make it stronger overall. Know when to use it and when to rest it.
  2. ‘Ego depletion’ can rear its ugly head whenever we try to create a new habit or activity. We may be already burdened by so many other tasks that the new routine feels almost impossible to implement. Ego depletion is a term coined by social psychologist Roy Baumeister (the world’s leading authority on willpower) and John Tierney as ‘a person’s diminished capacity to regulate their thoughts, feelings, and actions.’ Willpower is like a muscle and will get fatigued throughout the day with constant use.
  3. You have a finite reservoir of willpower to draw on during the day. We use the same units from our stores of willpower no matter what the tasks are. That’s why, after a busy day when you may have completed an intense job, made a multitude of important decisions and done all manner of mundane chores and your mind and body felt tired, you were more likely to cave in to temptation and decide to get a take-away instead of cooking a nutritious meal.  It has certainly happened to me! That’s why it’s best to tackle your most important jobs first, as early in the day as possible. Willpower slowly drains as the day wears on. Nine times out of ten the things I procrastinate to my ‘later’ pile never get done that day.
  4. Most of us can resist a variety of impulses, but if we are constantly faced with them the effort can leave us vulnerable and our willpower diminishes so that we are more likey to give in to the next temptation that comes our way. Once our reserves of willpower are used up it’s harder to focus. Interesting study on this phenomena: The Radish Experiment
  5. Visualising yourself completing goals can help to bolster motivation and fill those willpower tanks to the maximum. Start every morning with a personal success ritual (such as the Miracle Morning), that puts you in the right mindset to handle whatever challenges the day might throw at you. Tony Robbins is a strong advocate for this activity. This is an area where I’m personally using heaps of willpower!!

Brian Johnson highlights his five big ideas extrapolated from Roy Baumeister’s and John Tierney’s book on Willpower:

Delaying short-term pleasure for the sake of long-term goals is challenging for the best of us, but it can be immensely rewarding.  A new habit I’m in the process of developing every day is writing down three things I’m grateful for in the past, present and future.

Developing your daily willpower muscles will produce more mental stamina and strength, increasing your personal reservoir of willpower over time. Forgive yourself for succumbing to the odd temptation and enjoy the journey…

“Willpower is the basis of perseverance.” ~ Napolean Hill

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s