Have you ever found yourself trying to eat healthier, start a new job, exercise more, and spend less money all to find yourself mentally exhausted and face first in a box of Oreos?
No? Me neither.
Maybe you were able to pull it off for a week, but eventually decisions became so hard and your mind just couldn’t stop churning. It seemed like nothing you wanted to accomplish happened.
Enter the concept of willpower. According to Kelly McGonigal, PhD and author of The Willpower Instinct, “the willpower response is a reaction to an internal conflict. You want to do one thing, such as smoke a cigarette or supersize your lunch, but you know you shouldn’t. Or you know you should do something, like file your taxes or go to the gym, but you’d rather do nothing.”
How willpower gets depleted
Willpower is finite. We only have so much, and it runs out as we use it. Each decision we make and each resistance depletes our one tank of willpower. McGonigal states that “trying to control your temper, ignore distractions, or refuse seconds all tap the same source of strength.”
Willpower is like a muscle. We can fatigue it, but we can also strengthen it by training it.
How to strengthen your willpower
- Minimize the number of decisions in the morning. If you start the day already depleting from your tank of willpower, then you’re more susceptible to decision fatigue later in the day. These seemingly simple decisions, such as – What am I going to eat for breakfast? What am I going to wear? Should I go to the gym? How am I going to get to work?, can start to add up. Examples of minimizing decisions include:
- Setting out your workout and/or work clothes the night before.
- Meal plan and know what you’re going to eat for breakfast.
- Pack your lunch the night before.
- Decide the night before if you are going to the gym. Then stick with it the next morning!
- Avoid temptation. If you are tempted, have an if/then plan. If you can’t eat ice cream without eating the whole pint (or tub), then don’t keep it in your house. Know your weaknesses, and make an if/then plan for when you encounter them. Some examples:
- IF I am craving ice cream and I really want it and decide it is worth it, THEN I need to go out of the house and buy it.
- IF I get less than 7 hours of sleep,THEN I will sleep in and either go to the gym later or go for a walk after dinner.
- IF I go to a party where there are sabotaging foods,THEN I will only eat foods that are gluten and dairy free.
- Rather than “I can’t,” think about “I choose to.” Instead of thinking about resisting, I find it helpful to tweak my mindset an think about my freedom of choice. For example, rather than thinking to “I can’t have a brownie,” I have found it beneficial to think “I choose not to have a brownie, because I’ve already had 3 cookies today, I don’t want it.”
Now, I am not saying that I have “mastered” willpower by any means, but these are just a few tips that I try to incorporate in my daily routine. Maybe, they will help you too. 🙂