Willpower, I just learned, isn't something we're necessarily born with. And, to one degree or another, we use willpower everyday. We get up and go to work, rather than sleep in. We pay our bills rather than use that money for a vacation. Without knowing it, we exercise our willpower all the time. We simply do the things we know we should do. But there are times, like going to the gym or refusing that second slice of pie, when our willpower falls a bit short. Scientists have likened willpower to a muscle that can be strengthened with use. And just like a muscle, it can become fatigued when it's overused. Each act of resistance, over the course of a given day, actually lowers the chance that you'll be able to resist the next temptation. How how can you strengthen your willpower without going overboard? Here are five ways that you might find helpful.
1. Avoid temptation. If our willpower gets lower the more we use it each day, then avoid your worst temptations in the evening, and at night. For me, I stay away from the restaurant that serves my favorite cheesecake. Lunch, I can handle. Dinner? I get weak. I know this so, I only have dinner there on very special occasions.
2. Have a plan. Since it's impossible to avoid temptation all the time, use what psychologists call an "implementation intention." This is what I like to call my "if-then" or back-up plan. If I get the urge to--------(Fill in the blank with your vice) then I'll ------(Fill in the blank with your back-up plan that's a better/healthier alternative). It's easier to turn to your backup plan, in these times of internal struggle, then it is to try and think of something at the very instant your willpower is at its lowest.
3. Set yourself up for success. Do things a head of time that will make your task easier to accomplish. Things like, laying out your gym clothes the night before, and leaving your credit cards at home (and only using cash) when you go shopping. If you binge on junk food at night, then keep your fridge stocked with healthy and colorful (inviting) snacks instead. This can go along way towards making better choices a lot easier.
4. Do important tasks earlier in the day. I'm not big on going to gym so I schedule my workout time for early in the morning. If you're trying to lose wight, plan to do your food shopping early in the morning, when you can. This helps you to avoid making impulse purchases later in the day when your willpower is lower.
5. Have one goal at a time. It might feel exhilarating to have multiple goals set for yourself, but experts agree that the more goals you have, the greater the risk of failing at all of them. So start with one, and when you've accomplished that, then move on to the next one. Over-taxing your willpower in one area can cause fatigue in other areas, too. Remember to be gentle with yourself if you experience a slip-up. It's not the end of the world. Simply tell yourself that "it's okay" and then get yourself back on task.
Experts agree that the more you remind yourself of your priorities and intentions, the more likely you are to overcome the obstacles that may get in your way.
"Hop away from cheesecake, Irwin, hop away...."